Looking for natural, safe ways to prevent or kill lice?
Permethrin and Pyrethrin: Losing the battle
The insecticides that have been the over-the-counter treatments of choice for head lice eradication are permethrin and pyrethrin, commonly known as Nix rinse and Rid shampoo. These products work by penetrating, then changing the chemistry of the nerve cells of lice causing eventual paralysis and death. They have been effective for years until the past decade or so, when certain genetic mutations started appearing randomly in lice, decreasing their susceptibility to this treatment.
So are we destined to be overtaken by lice or are there other options that may be as, if not more, effective and potentially much healthier?
Can Nature Come to the Rescue? Definitely!
It may seem as though all of this talk of super lice is bad news for the school-aged, lice-susceptible crowd, but I don’t think we need to be concerned. Personally, the side effects of the chemical insecticides under question scare the heck out of me anyway, so I would not likely use them on myself or my child anyway. Remember, the skin is our largest organ and anything that comes into contact with it is taken up directly by the body. So if we put toxins on our outsides, they will, no doubt, make it to our insides, burdening our liver and wreaking havoc on our hormone balance, at the very least.
Just because the mainstream chemical-based treatments are losing effectiveness, our hands are hardly tied when it comes to our battle against lice. In fact, this is an ideal time to research safer and more natural options (as I presume you’re doing right now!) that will eliminate the threat of both regular and “super” lice. As usual, nature doesn’t leave us high and dry, as there are many natural options. Let’s take a look at what’s been proven effective to date when it comes to essential-oil-based lice treatments.
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The Natural Lice Killers: Pure Essential Oils
Essential oils are the liquids of a plant that are extracted either through steam distillation or cold pressing. Considered to make up a sort of immune system of the plant, these oils alter their chemical composition on a constant basis in order to help the plant adapt to and survive the changing environment. A few of the specific purposes of an essential oil when it’s still inside the plant are: antibacterial and antifungal activity, deterrence of insects and other animals, and prevention of competing vegetation from growing nearby.
Essential oils are rich in what are called monoterpenes, chemical compounds with various beneficial characteristics including, in the case of tea tree oil, insecticidal properties. In fact, the two major constituents of tea tree oil, 1,8-cineole and terpinen-4-ol, have demonstrated anticholinesterase activity, which is similar to that of over-the-counter chemical insecticidal lice treatments.
That all sounds great, but if you’re like me, you want solid proof that something works before you try it on yourself, or more importantly, your children. I’m happy to say there is plenty of scientific proof that tea tree oil does, in fact, destroy lice. Consider the following:
One 2012 study examined the efficacy of two natural substances: tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) oil and nerolidol (3,7,11-trimethyl-1,6,10-dodecatrien-3-ol) against lice and and nits (eggs). At a 1% concentration, tea tree oil was found to kill 100% of head lice within 30 minutes of application. Twice that concentration (2%) of tea tree oil resulted in the failure of 50% of the eggs to hatch after 4 days.
Another study completed in 2010 compared the efficacy of tea tree oil and lavender oil, pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide, and a “suffocation” product for the treatment of head lice in school children. Impressively, 41 of 42 (97.6%) of the tea tree oil/lavender oil treatment group were louse-free one day after the final application, whereas only 10 of 40 (25%) from the chemical insecticide group were free from lice after the last treatment.
One small study of 119 children in Israel, aged 6-14 years, found that a natural product containing coconut oil, anise oil and ylang ylang oil, applied to hair three times at five-day intervals, was as successful the chemical insecticide used by the control group. Both had a 92% success rate in the eradication of lice and no significant side effects.
So you can see that tea tree oil, although probably the most popular essential oil for use against lice, is not the only one that can be effective. Lavender, Ylang Ylang, even Rosemary essential oils can induce similar results. And the best part of this treatment is the fact that the essential oils are also very healing. So any irritation that you may experience as a result of a lice infestation will likely be subdued by using these amazing oils.
Now that we’ve established that essential oils are a safe and effective alternative to chemical insecticides for lice eradication, let’s discuss how exactly to best use these oils for treatment and prevention of lice.
How to Use Essential OIls to Prevent or Treat Head Lice
First and foremost, be sure to purchase a fine-toothed lice comb to comb through the infested hair daily. Soak the comb in rubbing alcohol between uses. Next, use one or more of the following methods for treatment and/or prevention:
Use this oil in a travel spray bottle to spray on hair and scalp prior to and following exposure to lice.
Apply this spray to the scalp just prior to bedtime and leave it in overnight. In the morning comb out dead lice and nits.