Your children are back from school and started doing their assignments. You are happy with their dedication. You see them scratching their head and wonder what they are thinking so hard about. You go near them and ask what’s bothering them and their answer shocks you. They are scratching their head because something is biting them. Well, this may seem like a script for a commercial, but it is reality. Head lice are an annoying reality that parents need to be prepared for.
Using store bought products for head lice treatment in kids (or for adults) is not a good idea. You need something natural. And for that, look no further than essential oils for head lice. More specifically, tea tree oil for lice. Here, we will discuss all about head lice, tree oil for lice and other oils including witch hazel, olive oil and coconut oil.
What Is Lice?
Lice are disgusting. Lice are annoying. Lice are a parasite that sucks or feeds on the human blood. And, that’s not it; there are three types of lice that attack different body parts. There are the head lice, the body lice and the pubic lice. We will be talking about the pediculosis capitis, more commonly referred to as the head lice, also pediculus humanus var. (But, the treatments mentioned here with tree oil for lice can be applied on the other lice as well.)
The Journal of Pediatric Health Care published a 2005 study that evaluated the effect of Pediculosis capitis on children (1). Lice might be a common term, but head lice are different from the other two forms of lice. This is an important piece of information because anyone suffering with the problem of head lice need not have body lice or fleas.
How Does One Get Lice?
This is going to be a shocker – people are not affected with head lice because they leave their heads dirty or unclean, au contraire, head lice thrives in a clean environment because here they get to stick to the scalp and hair better. Lice are transferred through physical contact. It is contracted via head to head contact with any infected person. Children are more susceptible to head lice because while playing and in school, they touch heads.
Sharing the hats, combs and scarves of a person with head lice usually does not transmit the lice; however, there is a small possibility. A study on school children with lice found that the carpet of the school had no lice. Hence, one can rest assured that lice are not transmitted from clothing, although, a little bit of caring won’t hurt.
Are lice common?
Lice are common in children because of the increased likelihood of head to head contact. And if someone in the house has head lice it spreads to other family members due to hugging and cuddling. And as girls usually have longer hair than boys, they are at increased risk of attracting head lice.
How To Know If Someone Is Affected By Head Lice?
Head lice are parasites or tiny insects that live in the head and are white or grey in color. It lives on the scalp and is considered harmless, except for the discomfort, irritation and embarrassment it causes. It is a contagious problem. If someone in the house is affected with head lice, the probability of others getting infected increases. Someone can get affected with head lice in the following ways: –
- Head to head contact with someone affected with head lice.
- Sharing hair grooming products including combs increases the risk of head lice.
- Clothing, hats and other fabrics also increases the risk of head lice.
Young children, usually those in preschool or playschool, are more susceptible to head lice. And when the children this small are affected with head lice, they pass it to their parents and siblings through hugs and cuddling.
The task of identifying whether a person is infected with head lice is by looking at the scalp and seeing live head louse moving in the scalp. Lice lay eggs on the scalp which are called as nits. Nits are hard to remove even with brushing. And nits are oftentimes confused with dandruff.
Symptoms of Head Lice
Extreme itchiness of the scalp is the symptom of head lice. Lice need to feed on human blood and they do it every 5 hours. Their bites, saliva and droppings lead to scalp itchiness. Another symptom is the feeling of something crawling in the head or scalp. Regular itching can also result in redness and soreness.
Stages of Lice
The presence of lice in the head can be categorized into three stages (the life cycle of a louse): –
- Nit – Nits are lice eggs which the louse leaves on the scalp and it sticks to the hair, just above the scalp. These eggs remain on the hair for about 9 days before hatching into nymphs.
- Nymph – The nits that are hatched are called nymph. The nymphs the mature into adults capable of recycling in 10 days. The shells of nits are also visible on the scalp.
- Adult stages – An adult louse has six legs with claws. It is about 3 mm and is grayish white in color.
Difference Between Nits And Dandruff
Nits and dandruff look alike and it can be confusing. How can one distinguish between nits and dandruff? It’s simple; brush the hair. Nits stick to the hair and do not come off when the hair is brushed. Dandruff on the other hand comes off the scalp.
Signs That You Have Lice
It is important to know whether you have lice to start its treatment. So, what are the signs of lice? Some of the common symptoms of head lice are as follows: –
- Tickling on the head.
- Itchiness that aggravates at night. (Because lice feed at night.)
- Continuous itching during the day. It may lead to soreness.
- Nits on the hair shaft.
- Even, neck bumps point towards head lice.
Plan of Action If Head Lice Is Determined
Once it has been established that the itching of the scalp is due to head lice, the first step is not to panic, as head lice do not result in any dangerous illnesses. Lice are more of an inconvenience than a threat. One should be aware that there are many natural remedies of taking care of head lice. However, lice can spread fast and action should be immediate. Steps to be taken include:
- Treat the individual affected with lice.
- Clean the house to avoid future issues.
Regular Treatment Of Head Lice
Generally, people rush to a pharmacy to buy ointments and lotions to treat louse, but these store bought products are full of harmful chemicals and pesticides. Some of the ingredients used in the ointments have brain-related side effects.
And to make matters worse, most lice are resistant to the ointments, which means that you are applying chemicals on the head without any benefits. There are botanical and synthetic substances to deal with lice.
That brings us to ever beneficial essential oils and other oils and natural products that eliminate head lice and soothe the discomfort.
Research On Tea Tree Oil For Head Lice
Tea tree is native to Australia. The oil is extracted from the Melaleuca alternifolia tree and has been used in medicine by the Aborigines for centuries. Tea tree essential oil is a popular essential oil and is used in treating the head lice issues. However, some experts believe that more research and scientific evidence are needed to ascertain if tea tree oil gets rid of head lice.
However, a 2012 study published in the journal Parasitology Research analyzes the effect of tea tree oil and nerolidol on Pediculus capitis or head lice and the nits or its eggs. The study was done on school children for a period of 6 months. The study found that tea tree oil was more effective eliminating the nymph and adult lice. The oil also reduced the number of nits. Tea tree oil may treat children and kill lice (2).
A 2010 randomized control trial published in the medical journal BMC Dermatology also had positive results for melaleuca oil and lavender oil in treating head lice. The trial concluded that both lavender oil and tea tree oil could be natural alternatives to store bought products (3). The store bought products had pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide, which were found to be less effective than the oils.
Another comparative study published in the International Journal of Dermatology in 2007 analyzed different treatment products for head lice on primary school aged children. The oils that were tested were tea tree essential oil, lavender essential oil and peppermint essential oil. It was tested against DEET, a common active ingredient in insect repellents.
The study found that tea tree oil was the most effective standalone product in head lice remedy. The blend of tea tree oil and peppermint oil could repel lice effectively; and, the blend of tea tree oil and lavender oil prevented the lice from feeding on the scalp. The researchers said that although the results were promising, more tests were needed (4).
There are several other uses of tea tree oil in combating head lice. Some people use the tea tree oil while washing fabrics to remove the head lice. However, there is no research on this subject. More research is needed to ascertain that tea tree oil is the effective treatment against head lice.
(Note: The researches mentioned here have strict sourcing guidelines. Gya labs segregate peer-reviewed studies from academic research institutions as well as medical associations.
Tea Tree Essential Oil Recipes For Head Lice Treatment
Tea tree essential oil is a potent essential oil with strong anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal properties. The oil can kill head lice and prevent infestation. It is one of the natural ways of treating louse issues. How to apply tea tree oil on the scalp? Here are some recipes with tea tree oil to be applied on the scalp for lice removal.
1. Witch Hazel And Tea Tree Oil For Lice
Witch-hazel or witch hazel is a miracle medicine for the skin. It consists of tannins that have several therapeutic properties for the skin. The combination of tea tree oil and witch hazel is an easy to make recipe, which results in a non-greasy product.
When applied on the head, it gently removes lice and nits. Both the ingredients have strong antifungal properties that are effective against louse. However, before applying witch hazel, one must perform a small skin patch test.
Recipe With Witch Hazel And Tea Tree Oil
- 15 drops of tea tree oil
- 10 tablespoons of witch hazel
- 10 milliliter water
How To Use?
- Store the mixture in a spritzer and spray it on the hair and scalp; or,
- Use a cotton ball and apply it on the scalp.
- Use this mixture thrice a week.
2. Tea Tree Oil Mixture With Coconut Oil Head Lice Remedy
Coconut oil is a popular oil that hydrates and nourishes the scalp. In the blend of tea tree oil with coconut oil, the essential oil acts as a germicide, whereas the carrier oil acts as the hydrating agent. The combined effects of both oils destroy the nits, nymphs and lice. (Olive oil or coconut oil with tea tree oil may kill lice in the nymph and adult stages, and prevent head lice infestations.)
- 5 drops of tea tree essential oil
- 2 tablespoons of fractionated coconut oil
How To Use
- Apply the oil mix on the scalp with cotton ball or use your fingers.
- Massage the oil on the scalp and apply the oil on the hair strands.
- Take a towel and wrap it around the head.
- Do this every day for one to two weeks till the lice are eliminated.
3. Tea Tree Oil with Olive Oil for Lice Removal
Tea tree oil with its germicidal properties eliminates nits and lice from the scalp and hair. The olive oil in this recipe supplies the scalp with antioxidants that protect and nourish the hair.
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 6 drops of tea tree essential oil
- Half a tablespoon of margosa oil or neem oil (optional)
How To Use
- Using a clean cloth or cotton ball apply the mixture on the scalp.
- Make it a hair mask by covering with a towel.
- Leave it on the hair for up to an hour.
- Use it twice a week for a month
4. Remove Lice with Tea Tree Essential Oil And Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender and tea tree essential oils are antifungal, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory oils. Blend these two oils with a suitable carrier oil for dilution. The essential oil combo remove all types of lice from the head.
- 3 drops of tea tree essential oil
- 5 drops of lavender essential oil
- 2 tablespoons of jojoba oil
- Small jar
How To Use
- Mix all the ingredients and store it in a jar.
- Apply on the hair two times in a day for a week.
- Allow the oil to sit on the scalp and hair for at least an hour.
- Wash off with natural shampoo.
5. Remove Lice with Tea Tree Oil Conditioner
Conditioning is the second step in the hair care process. Shampoo cleans off the sweat and dead cells; conditioner makes the hair more manageable. Conditioner made with the essential oil of tea tree removes the lice keeps the hair healthy.
How To Use
- Shampoo the hair with organic shampoo.
- Mix 3 tablespoons of herbal conditioner with 6 drops of tea tree essential oil.
- Apply the mix on the scalp and hair; start from the roots to the hair.
- Apply this once a week.
DIY Shampoo with Tea Tree Oil For Head Lice
Shampoo cleans the scalp and removes dirt and dead cells. It also regulates the sebum on the scalp. A concoction of shampoo and tea tree oil will eliminate lice.
- Half tablespoon of Vitamin E Oil
- Half tablespoon of Jojoba Oil
- 15-20 drops of tea tree essential oil
- Quarter cup filter water
- 2 tablespoons of coconut milk
How to Use
- Take all the ingredients in a jar and close the lid.
- Shake it thoroughly. Shake it before every use.
- Take a tablespoon every time you apply.
- This jar should last for a month.
6. Essential Oils For Lice – Tea Tree And Peppermint Oils
It’s not just the irritation, the head lice also damages the hair. Too much of itching can cause soreness in the scalp. Tea tree oil efficiently removes the lice, but the menthol in peppermint cools and soothes the scalp. Use this blend when the itchiness is severe.
- 4 drops of peppermint essential oil
- 2 drops of tea tree essential oil
- 2 tablespoons of castor oil
How to Use
- Apply the mix of oils on the hair with a cotton ball.
- Allow the oil to absorb for at least 1 to 2 hours.
- Wash it off with mild or organic shampoo.
- Use it twice a week.
7. Tea Tree Oil With Apple Cider Vinegar Concoction for Lice
Vinegar was used in traditional medicine to tackle infestation, including that of lice. When vinegar is mixed with tea tree oil, their properties get enhanced and lice run for cover. It also prevents lice from making your scalp its abode.
- 10 drops of tea tree essential oil
- 16 tablespoons or a cup of apple cider vinegar
- 6-8 drops of organic shampoo.
- Jar for storing
How To Use
- Mix the jar to form a homogenous mixture.
- Apply it on the hair from roots to the tip.
- Keep it on the hair for 30 minutes before washing it off.
- Use a conditioner after washing the hair.
8. Tea Tree Oil And Rosemary Oil For Removing Lice
The essential oil extracted from the plant Rosmarinus officinalis has antifungal properties that can eliminate lice from the scalp. When combined with tea tree oil, rosemary essential oil successfully killed lice and nits (eggs) from the scalp and hair roots.
- 5 drops of tea tree essential oil
- 2 drops of rosemary essential oil
- 2 drops of carrot seed essential oil
How to Use?
- Use a cotton call to apply the oil mixture on the hair roots.
- Allow the mixture to sit on the hair for 2 hours.
- Rise off the oil with normal water after 2 hours.
- Do this twice a week to get lice free hair.
Risks of Using Tea Tree Oil On Scalp
Tea tree oil is considered safe for use when it is properly diluted with carrier oils, serums and lotions. However, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) has issued some safety measures while using tea tree oil (5). The oil from tea tree contains certain compounds that may cause allergic reactions in some people.
These allergic reactions may be contact dermatitis or swellings. Research has also found that regular long term use of tea tree essential oil by prepubescent boys can cause breast tissue enlargement. There was a case where a boy witnessed breast growth after using lavender and tea tree oils. However, further evidence is needed.
One safety feature that almost everyone universally agrees upon is the ingestion of tea tree oil. This oil must never be ingested. When taken internally, tea tree oil causes nausea, dizziness and rashes. It some cases one may lose muscle control.
Tea Tree Oil Dosage
What is the proper dose of tea tree oil for head lice treatment? Experts say that there is no scientific proof of tea tree oil dosage. A few studies have shown that 1% to 5% tea tree oil in a mixture with carrier oils a good ratio. The oil must be applied on the scalp and hair once a day for at least 4 to 6 weeks to see good results.
Use Tea Tree Oil With Care
Tea tree essential oil for head lice therapy is generally considered to be safe. The oil can also be blended with other essential oils to enhance the treatment. But, there is a need for more research before tea tree oil is prescribed as a treatment for head lice. It is better to consult a dermatologist or trichologist before using tea tree oil for treating head lice.
Natural Home Remedies For Head Lice Care
Essential oils are not the only way of dealing with head lice problem. There are several other home remedies available for head lice. Most doctors advice that the best way to take care of head lice should be natural, inexpensive and effective. Here are some of the other methods of dealing with head lice.
Whether you choose essential oils to treat lice or buy pharmacy product, combing has to be included in the treatment method. Combing is the oldest method of removing lice from the hair.
Combing out lice and its eggs from the hair is an effective way of dealing with head lice. Oiling, shampooing and conditioning the hair will make it easier for the comb to pull out the lice.
Things Needed to Comb Out the Louse and Nits
- One-sided or two sided plastic or metal combs. (It is better to use metal combs.)
- Clean soapy water in a bowl.
- Magnifying glass
- Apple cider vinegar or a hair detangler.
- Lots of clips to hold the hair.
How To Use Comb To Pull Out Louse And Nits
Make sure you (and your child) have ample time before starting this process. This entire process is mundane, exhaustive and time consuming, so be prepared beforehand before starting the combing.
- First untangle the hair by using the apple cider vinegar or hair detangler solution.
- Now, using the wide comb teeth comb the entire hair.
- Make sections of the hair and clip it.
- Now, use the lice comb and comb the hair from the roots to the tip. The nits can be seen on the comb.
- Use the soapy water to clean the comb and wipe it dry with a paper towel or napkin.
- Do this for every section. Comb several times in one section till there are no visible lice on the comb.
- Once a section of hair has been cleaned, take a new clip and twist the hair in a way that helps you remember that the section has been cleaned. Do this for all sections. Now, you know why we need lots of clips.
- After combing the hair, place the head under a tap and wash the hair and wash with tea tree oil shampoo.
- To prevent future infestations clean all the tools, including the clothes and fabrics worn.
- Clean the surrounding area.
- Continue this treatment method twice or thrice a week till the lice is removed and the itching and tingling stops.
Coconut Oil Overdose
A 2010 study published in the International Journal of Dermatology showed that coconut oil was effective in killing lice than most over the counter products (6). The oil can suffocate the lice if it is left on the head overnight. In the morning, use a comb to remove the lice and nits from the hair.
How To Use Coconut Oil For Lice
- Clean the hair and pat it dry.
- Apply coconut oil on the scalp. Apply more oil than you usually do.
- Put a plastic cap on the hair as you are going to leave it overnight. You can also leave the oil on the scalp in the morning for 6 to 8 hours.
- After the stipulated time, comb the hair as mentioned above.
Use All Garlic Products
Garlic has been used as a home remedy for lice since ancient times. The journal Pharmacognosy Review published the history and medical properties of garlic (7). The easiest way of getting rid of lice is to rub garlic on the head. One can also use garlic essential oil with tea tree oil to eliminate lice. Garlic paste is also used as a hair mask.
How To Make Garlic Hair Mask For Lice
- Peel garlic cloves. Take 10 to 15 cloves.
- Use a mortar and pestle and crush the garlic cloves.
- Add two tablespoons of lemon juice to the paste.
- Apply this on the scalp and put a shower cap on the hair.
- Leave it on the hair for at least 30 minutes.
- Rinse the hair thoroughly with a nice smelling organic shampoo to get rid of the pungent smell of garlic.
Liquid Lodine For Lice
Horse lice are treating by bathing the horse in iodine infused water. Human head lice can be treated with just a few drops of iodine on the scalp. Many people who had had head lice have vouched for iodine treatment for lice. Two to three drops of iodine on the scalp is enough to remove lice.
Apple Cider Vinegar Treatment for Lice
We have mentioned earlier that apple cider vinegar can be blended with tea tree oil to eliminate lice. However, apple cider vinegar can be used as a standalone treatment for lice. Applying apple cider vinegar on the hair roots loosens the grip or glue of the nits, making it easier to remove the eggs. Apply apple cider vinegar on the scalp, spray it on the hair or rinse the hair with it. Later, comb the hair to remove the ice.
Head Lice And Hair Cut
Should I cut my hair if I have head lice? This is one of the common questions asked by people with head lice. Some adults also tell the children to keep the hair short to protect it from infestations and infections. But, cutting the hair is not a solution to head lice. It has been time and again explained in this lengthy article that head lice and nits are found hear the hair shaft.
So, unless you are planning to shave off your entire hair, don’t bother cutting the hair to deal with lice. Natural home remedies and essential oils are enough to take care of lice problems. There is no need to cut your hair.
Head Lice and Pets
Do the lice that affect humans affect the pets? Don’t worry. The head lice will not bother your furry friend. You need not worry about them. (But, do keep the essential oils away from your fur kids.)
Taking Care Of House After Lice Infestation
After taking care of the head lice problems, the house needs to be treated to prevent further infestations. Although it was mentioned at the beginning of the article that head lice are seldom found on clothing and fabrics, it is a safe practice to take care of the house, furniture and fabrics to prevent future cases of head lice. Here are some ways of making sure the head lice stay gone forever.
- Wash the fabrics, clothing, bed sheets and pillow covers in hot water. Add a few drops of tea tree essential oil while washing or rinsing it.
- Dry clean the products that are machine unwashable. If you can discard these items then do it. These products generally include kids’ toys and stuffed animals.
- Wash and wipe the combs. Another way of dealing with combs is to wash them in hot water, place it in plastic bags and throw it in the freezer for two days.
- Wash the curtains, floor and furniture.
Can We Prevent Head Lice?
Reading about all the treatment methods makes one ponder whether prevention is better than cure. But, if you have children, then preventing head lice becomes very difficult. Children play and wrestle with other children all the time and can get infected.
However essential oils can be used to prevent head lice. The essential oils of tea tree, lavender, rosemary, nutmeg, peppermint and cedarwood can be used to prevent lice. A 1996 study published in the Complementary Therapies in Nursing and Midwifery evaluates the effectiveness of essential oils in treatment of head lice (8). The ways of preventing head lice with essential oils are as follows:
- Add a few drops of essential oil in the shampoo.
- Spraying diluted essential oil solution on the hair while children go out to play.
- Spraying essential oils on the hat.
Head lice are unavoidable, especially if you have small children in the house. However, prevention, treatment and cure can be done with essential oils. Tea tree essential oil with its antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties is useful in treating head lice.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does witch hazel kill lice?
Witch hazel is a natural way to treat lice. It can be applied to the affected region after blending with essential oils including tea tree oil.
Will tea tree oil kill lice?
Research has shown that tea tree oil is effective in killing lice. When it is mixed with other essential oils including lavender, it is more effective in eliminating lice.
What can I mix tea tree oil with for lice?
Any one or some of the below mentioned ingredients can be mixed with tea tree oil to get rid of lice problem: –
1. Coconut oil
2. Witch hazel
3. Lavender essential oil
4. Olive oil
How much tea tree oil do you need to kill lice?
Use one drop of tea tree essential oil in a tablespoon of carrier oil and apply to the affected region till the symptoms stop.
- Parasitology Research. (2012). Activity of tea tree oil and nerolidol alone or in combination against Pediculus capitis (head lice) and its eggs. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00436-012-3045-0
- BMC Dermatol. (2010). A randomised, assessor blind, parallel group comparative efficacy trial of three products for the treatment of head lice in children–melaleuca oil and lavender oil, pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide, and a “suffocation” product. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20727129/
- Int J Dermatol. (2007). A comparison of botanical and synthetic substances commonly used to prevent head lice (Pediculus humanus var. capitis) infestation. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17442090/
- Tea Tree Oil. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/tea-tree-oil#cautions
- Efficacy of chemical and botanical over-the-counter pediculicides available in Brazil, and off-label treatments, against head lice ex vivo. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-4632.2009.04335.x
- Pharmacogn Rev. (2010). Extracts from the history and medical properties of garlic. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249897/
- Complement Ther Nurs Midwifery. (1996). The potential effectiveness of essential oils as a treatment for headlice, Pediculus humanus capitis. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9439284/