How To Get Rid of Lice

November 14, 2012 · 28 comments

in Bad Things, Embarrassing, Family, Hair, How-To, Kids, Why Hildie's tired, Yuck

For so many years our family never had lice. I though we were somehow immune. Foolish, foolish me. My seven-year-old brought it home toward the end of the last school year and was kind enough to give it to everyone in the house. We battled it off and on all summer and into the fall and finally–FINALLY–we are lice-free. We tried pretty much everything to get rid of it and I’m here to tell you everything I learned about how to kill the lice without killing yourself. Seriously, some days after picking the nits on six kids, committing suicide seemed pretty tempting. (Totally kidding! But if your kids have had lice you know what I’m talking about.)

First of all, I hope you never need this post. When I have friends who smugly tell me that they’ve never had lice I kind of wish they would get it just so they know I’m not a total whiny-baby. It really is that bad. But I would never be so cruel as to actually wish it on someone. That would be too, too mean.

If your kids don’t have lice, yay for you! I hope they never do. But if you live someplace warm your days are numbered. I don’t know what it is about warm places but lice really seem to love it a lot more. If you are reading this post because you just found a louse in your child’s hair (or your own! Yuuuck!) or even worse, if the school nurse just did, please take a deep breath.  When I found a louse in my hair I felt like setting my head on fire and running screaming down the street. Do not do this! Fight the instinct! Lice are actually not a big deal. I know they seem like a big deal. You’re talking about live bugs! In your hair! Sucking your blood! It’s like a mini horror movie. But lice are not the end of the world. Nobody is going to die of the bubonic plague. You won’t get some horrid disease. It’s just embarassing. But you’re in good company. Most moms I know have been down the Lice Road and have nothing but empathy for you. But they still don’t want your kids coming around theirs. Nothing personal.

So, you’ve just found a louse. Your first instinct is to go get some lice shampoo at the drugstore and that’s that, right? Au contraire. Lice shampoo is only about 10-20% effective. There are now lice that are completely resistant to traditional lice shampoos. We happen to have a Brazilian strain here in Texas that chemicals don’t seem to effect. Isn’t that lovely?

The first weapon in your anti-lice arsenal is this: a Licemeister comb. The traditional lice combs are completely worthless. You need a comb with strong metal teeth that are incredibly close together. These are usually not carried at Walgreens or CVS but hopefully those dullards will get with the program and start carrying them (although they do carry them online. How dumb is that? Like you’re just supposed to live with lice for ten days while you’re waiting for the comb to arrive!). If you live in the Austin area they can be found at People’s Pharmacy. Or you can do a search here to find one locally. The combs are about $15 and completely worth it. Every parent needs one of these!

There are essentially three phases of lice: eggs (called nits), babies (called instars. Which is way too pleasant of a name. They ought to be called Baby Death Suckers or something similarly alarming), and full-grown revolting adult lice.

The good news is that lice can’t jump. The bad news is, well, everything else. Lice are sneaky bugs that move really fast. While they won’t jump from head to head, they can run from head to head pretty quickly. We all know not to share hairbrushes or hats. That’s good advice. Sleepovers are a really common place to pick up lice. All those lousy heads sleeping right next to each other . . . . My head is itching just thinking about it.

A nit looks like a super teensy little grain of rice. The one way to tell the difference between a nit and a regular old hair flaky is that a nit is really hard to get off the hair shaft. Like, almost impossible. You can get them off with the Licemeister or your fingernails or you can do what one of my friends does: she just pulls the individual hair out. If you’ve got a big infestation your child will probably not be too thrilled about that. Nits are usually found around the back of the head near the neck or behind the ears. Grown up lice live towards the crown.

If you’ve found a nit, you’ll want to check for live lice. This is my preferred method: Get your licemeister, a white bowl filled with warm water (the bowl doesn’t have to be white but that’s easiest for spotting lice) and a bunch of paper towels. I never let my kids touch my iphone or ipad but I let them have a turn playing games while I’m on lice patrol. (Because of this whenever I hear the sounds for Arabella’s favorite game “Where’s my Water” I automatically get the heebie-jeebies. It’s my Pavlovian reaction since she never plays the game any other time.)

Brush the hair thoroughly. (Keep your hair brushes in the freezer during your infestation. Lice can’t live in frozen temps.) Pin up all the hair except for a section at the back of the head.

 

Starting right next to the scalp, pull the lice comb through a small section of hair.

After each pass through a section of hair, rinse the comb in the bowl of water. You may see some lice on the comb and that’s horrifying and depressing and strangely satisfying all at the same time. But they’ll come off the comb once you swizzle it around in the water. See all those teensy black dots? Those are baby lice. They’re like the tiniest little back grains of rice.

After you’ve rinsed off the comb, wipe it on a paper towel. The licemeister comes with a pick to clean out the tines, but I usually save that til the end. The white paper towel is an excellent way to see what’s come out of your child’s head. Repeat this across the loose section of hair then take another section from the hair clip. Repeat until you’ve gone through all the hair. Heaven help you if you’ve got daughters with long curly hair. If you have boys, lucky you. It’s about a million times easier. A nice buzz cut is a good idea too. Just make sure you pop the clippers in the freezer when you’re done.

 

Please don’t be in denial. If you see something suspicious, just treat it. Lice isn’t like a cough where most likely it will go away. It’s only going to get worse.

Now that you’ve found some lice you’ll probably want to do a search on the internet to find a method of curing it. We’ve already talked about the lice shampoo. Forget about that. My doctor recommended a new prescription shampoo that costs $195. That’s totally out of my budget but maybe you’re OK with that. If so, go talk to your doctor.

You’ll find lots of natural cures like mayonnaise, olive oil and tea tree oil. While tea tree oil is somewhat effective as a lice deterrent, it’s not going to get rid of the lice that are already living on your kids’ heads.  As for mayo and olive oil, they simply don’t work. I’ve soaked my kids’ heads with olive oil, wrapped them in plastic wrap all day, then rinsed off after 12 hours. There were still live lice after all that. Olive oil might smother some lice but all it takes is one pregnant louse to ruin your sanity. I have eight people’s heads to try out methods on (six kids plus mine and my husbands. Yes, we’ve all had it at one time!), so when I say something works or doesn’t work, remember that I’ve had to kill a lot of lice.  A lot.

After bewailing my pestilence-filled life over the interwebs, one of my favorite bloggers came to the rescue. Karen from SuburbanCorrespondent shared the news that changed my life. There is a sure-fire way to cure lice and all you need are a few bottles of Cetaphil cleanser and a blow dryer. Yes, Cetaphil cleanser. Not the lotion. You want the Gentle Cleanser for all skin types. It’s about $8-12 per bottle.

cetaphil lice
The cetaphil treatment is actually patented. You can read all about it here. basically it’s 95% effective and the best part is that there isn’t the massive laundry overhaul that normal treatment requires (although I do that anyway since it can’t hurt. If you want to wash everything I high recommend using a laundry mat where you can get everything clean in one two hour period) and there is no nit-picking required (unless your kids go to school at a place with a no-nit policy).

Please go to the official website to read about the details of the treatment (yes, you first have to check a box saying you promise to read the directions completely). But here is the gyst: in an orderly fashion squirt an entire bottle of Cetaphil on your child’s head. it’s got to cover absolutely every hair. The first time I did this treatment I really skimped on Ada’s head because she has short-ish hair and it’s not terribly thick. It seemed like all the hair was saturated with Cetaphil even though I’d only used about a third of a bottle. Sure enough when I went to blow dry her hair, there were several areas that hadn’t gotten any Cetaphil on them. If you’re going to all this trouble, please follow the directions exactly! Consider this your #1 most important job!

Once the hair is throughly saturated with Cetaphil, use a comb to remove as much as possible. If your kids have fine hair you can even use the Licemeister. Wipe the excess Cetaphil on the towel. You’ll probably see little lice getting combed out. Die, lice, die!

Now comes the most trying part. You have to blow dry the Cetaphil-covered hair. The reason this method works is that the lice are essential trapped and smothered. They are not killed by the chemicals in the Cetaphil so there is no danger of building up resistance like lice previously have with the over-the-counter shampoos. And unlike mayo or olive oil, the lice are trapped and all air is cut off. There is no stopping a louse that wants to run for it when it’s merely covered with oil.

The problem with the blow-dry is that it takes forever. Like at least half an hour. My kids and I both sit down while I do it or my legs will start to get tired after a while. But it must be done. Once the hair is dry, send your kids to bed (it’s got to stay on overnight so do it in the evening) and rinse it all out in the morning.

This process must be repeated once a week, three times. Due to the louse’s life-cycle, three times one week apart is necessary. It’s a pain, yes. But so is starting the whole process over again. Commit to three weeks or you’ll regret it. I know after the second week you’re going to feel like the third week is overkill. It’s not. Just do it.

I would like to bear my testimony that the Cetaphil method really does work. I pity you if you have lice but there is help (besides shaving your kids bald or never leaving the house). May the lice gods smile on you!

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

suburbancorrespondent November 14, 2012 at 3:32 pm

You are a better woman than I – if the boys get it, I buzz their hair right off. I am SO GLAD the Cetaphil worked for you, too. Thanks for spreading the word! And thanks for acknowledging that, even though lice are not the bubonic plague, they still have the potential to totally ruin your life, at least temporarily. I completely understand that impulse to set your own head on fire.

I’m going to order my comb right now. Oh, and when I found a nit, I snipped the entire hair off with a pair of scissors. That way I could be sure of getting it.

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Cheri November 14, 2012 at 3:55 pm

WHERE WERE YOU IN JUNE!!!! My mother-in-law got the Brazilian strain of lice and spent 8 weeks trying everything you mentioned in this post, EXCEPT the licemeister (LOVE that name!) and the Cetaphil. She almost lost her mind AND her scalp. (Excessive brushing, picking, and blowdrying led to bleeding. UGhh!)

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Lucky Red Hen November 14, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Somewhere says throw all the items that have come in contact with the lice in the freezer for a few weeks. I’m sorry, but my freezer barely has room for the 2 year-old frozen mystery meat that I’ve forgotten about much less pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, mattresses, etc. We had to throw away the most favorite of all favorites stuffed animal to be sure we got rid of the lice. Luckily we found two more of this obscure toy and bought them for replacement and back up.

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Jenn November 14, 2012 at 4:24 pm

I am putting this in my back pocket because we both know I’ve dealt with this WAY more times than I think is fair! Love the testimony part!! No I’m going to go scratch my scalp!

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Tiffster November 15, 2012 at 6:12 am

I read this yesterday. And had lice nightmares last night. I decided I’m going to order that comb and have cetaphil on hand, just in case. Do you need an entire bottle for EACH treatment??? Yowsa.
NASTY.

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Fairy Grandmother November 15, 2012 at 10:10 am

WOW! What a production! I knew you were fighting it when I moved from Austin, but I had no idea it had gone ON AND ON! And who would have guessed that treatment, let alone tried it? Only a truly desperate mother! But I’m so glad you wrote about it! I am not immune just because I live alone. I DO tend kids! I hope the world reads this.

Question: After you rinse it all out, are the little nits still stuck to the hair? Do you still have to comb them out?

Now tell us how to get rid of those little weevil bugs in the pantry – FOREVER! (Don’t tell me to move into an igloo!)

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TL Perez January 8, 2014 at 9:48 am

Weevils are definitely disgusting! You do need to throw out the flour, rice,etc and clean your current containers. However it is easy to prevent future infestations. They hate bay leaves. Just 1 dried bay leaf in a container, even the big 10 gallon storage containers has kept my house weevil free for over 10 years. Good luck!

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Aleece November 15, 2012 at 11:22 am

Oh, your timing couldn’t be better. Here I thought with a family of boys that I was off the lice hook. That was until last week. Thank you for saving me from buying every lice removal product that Walgreen’s sells. Cetaphil, here we come!

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Arianne November 15, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Reading this post totally gave me the heebie jeebies and now I can’t stop scratching my head!

I had lice twice, once in high school and once in collage while living in India. The baffling thing is that in India, my hut-mate, who slept on a mat 2 inches away from my mat, under a mosquito netting, and we both had waist length hair, did NOT get them and I did! HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE? Anyway, even thinking about finding those horrible things in my kids’ hair makes me want to cry. I think it took me 3 years after the 2nd lice incident to stop constantly feeling my hair roots for nits! EEEEEEWWWWW!

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Ben November 16, 2012 at 5:52 pm

I wonder if instead of using a hair-blower for 30 minutes, if you could get one of those old perm-dryers. You know, the old plastic bowl that goes over you head at the salon thing? I swear I’ve seen a couple of those at Goodwill. Then again, that just might be where lice come from.

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Hildie November 17, 2012 at 10:09 am

Those old fashioned hair dryers aren’t very strong so I think it would take two hours. I’ve considered it, though!

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Nikki November 22, 2012 at 1:30 am

Was your daughters hair still super sticky after it was dried? I applied it to my daughters head about 7hrs ago, dried and dried and dried then gave up and put it in a shower cap to give her a break. Just went back to dry and every louse I found (and pulled out)was dead but her hair was still super, super sticky. So we dried for another 45 mins, put it back in the cap and sent her to bed.
This is my first go around with lice as a parent; I’ve been lucky for 14 years. I’m really hoping that we get rid of it right away as we have 4 kids!

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Hildie November 27, 2012 at 11:10 am

Once the hair had dried it felt fine. Maybe a little stringy but nothing too strange. I had combed a ton of cetphil out of it first, though. If you dry it and there’s still too much cetaphil maybe it will be super sticky.

Also, make sure you are using Cetaphil Gental Cleanser for all skin types. The bottle looks just like Cetphil cleanser for normal to oily skin and also like the cetaphil lotions. Maybe that’s the problem.

Good luck!!!!

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Michelle December 26, 2012 at 2:01 am

I got lice (I think from a trip to S. America — I’m pretty sure I could ID the hotel) when I was preggo and that comb saved us. My dh would comb every night while I tried not to vomit (I was in the morning sick stage).

My head itches now.

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Michelle December 26, 2012 at 2:06 am

p.s. Another way I’ve seen/experienced to test if they are nits vs. dried skin flakes is that they ‘pop’ when pushed between the flat-ish parts of your fingernails. I know it’s gross, but it helps to know if you have never seen one.

Thanks to my mission companion for that knowledge. I was fortunate to never get them on my mission (don’t ask me how).

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Darlene May 26, 2013 at 11:54 am

Cetaphil TOTALLY works! We had the distinct pleasure of headlice while on vacation in Florida. Bought the cetaphil and voila’ it worked!

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Petra November 18, 2013 at 9:34 pm

I have very long and thick hair and once had lice. Using the comp was very painful until I put a lot of hair conditioner on it. Since it is often white, you see the nits and lice very good and it does not hurt. I highly recommend the conditioner!

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joan April 25, 2014 at 4:54 am

i put cetaphil,and its been 14 hours,but i still can feel them.what to do?keep longer,or wash?and still do 2 more treatments if this failed?

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sandy June 20, 2014 at 1:54 pm

My daughter has experience hope you washed it out but if I was you do it every 7 days 2 more times . Make sure you use that comb.Faithfully . Really only thing that you will make sure the infestation totally is gone.

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sandy June 20, 2014 at 1:50 pm

I did cetaphil last night about to wash it out and I got them from my grandkids. It makes me Ill . Worst part is I think I have had them for up to 5 months I never thought about that I just thought it was my new medication. And Trust Me I Am Now Flipping Out.I Also Have big sores exactly where you said. I’m great full you said what size live where huge sores behind ears lymph nodes totally swollen. But I have some form of leukemia so that’s natural for me. My whole head is full of sores this is scary not even thinking about lice I will be freaking out till my head Heals I bought 3 bottles of cetaphil guess I’m fortunate they sold the metal comb. I feel so gross just knowing it is lice. It sickens me to my very core.

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annie July 28, 2014 at 1:02 am

We used the old fashioned hair bonnet attachment for the hair dryer and it seemed to work fine. The cetaphil and hair got dry and made a lovely crunchy cetaphil shell to smother the disgusting lice. It was a silver version of this one:
http://www.amazon.com/Hair-Flair-Deluxe-Softhood-Attachment/dp/B00AELX08E/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1406527338&sr=8-3&keywords=Conair+Pro+Soft+Bonnet+Attachment

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Jackie August 5, 2014 at 12:23 am

I’m so glad to hear these testimonials! I found the Nuvo website earlier today and used the Cetaphil cleanser on my daughter. I have a professional hood dryer and used that. It was dry in half an hour. I did my own hair too, just in case. I didn’t have that fabulous comb you’re talking about though. I had to use the one that came in the Nix kit I bought over the weekend. I only got two baby lice with that comb. I ordered the ‘good’ comb from Amazon today. It’s supposed to come tomorrow. Maybe I’ll use it on my daughter tomorrow after I rinse the Cetaphil out. School starts next week Wednesday and I’ve got to get rid of these! At least she will have had two Cetaphil treatments by then.

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Gloria Whitchurch August 5, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Thank You.

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Stephanie September 28, 2014 at 9:25 pm

Yes. Heaven help me. I’ve got two daughters with long, curly hair, along with two sons with curly hair and one daughter with straight hair. I’ve been a mom for nearly 17 years, and like you, have been able to avoid lice. I guess our number was up because yesterday patient zero, my thirteen year old son asked me, “Mom. Can you check my head? I think I have lice.”. As soon as I parted his lovely blond curls, I saw a wiggling louse. OH EMM GEEE. That’s not a good sign. This child was INFESTED. He received a buzz cut. So sad. Then I spent all morning picking nits our of my kid’s hair before applying the Cetaphil and blow drying. It took all day. I had found this method the first time the dreaded notice of lice in the classroom came home, but never needed it. I’m glad to hear it worked for another mom of many. I’ll be spending the next two Sundays doing the same thing. If it gets rid of these little demons, it will have all been worth it. Thanks for the post.

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Hildie September 30, 2014 at 11:54 am

So, So sorry you have to deal with this! I wouldn’t wish lice on my worst enemy.

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Jessica October 2, 2014 at 10:00 am

Thank you, Hildie. I just found the link to your post on the Cetaphil method website. We’ll be doing this with all three children and my husband and I tonight. My pediatric nurse recommended the Cetaphil after I told her I found live lice in my kid’s hair the morning after the Nix treatment. So crestfallen after all of that tedious work. Anyway, I’m going to try to stop dwelling on how labor-intensive the treatment is and focus on getting the house in order! Cetaphil technique tonight.

Btw, yesterday was one of the strangest days I’ve ever experienced. And I had premature twins with health issues! I endured a horrific potty training experience with my son! This was different. I’m grateful my kids are relatively healthy right now, but I nearly lost it twice yesterday and then cried like baby this morning when my mom called. It is STRESSFUL as heck to a) overhaul entire house; 2) endure the labor of nit-picking, and 3) (and possibly worst) Not know when the kids are going to be allowed back in school. It is utterly disruptive to life as we know it. And yet it really poses no health risk to anyone. Grand.

Once again, thank you for this post! You saved me from the loony bin today.

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Hildie October 2, 2014 at 11:37 am

I’m so, so sorry Jessica! But just know that I feel for you! Good luck and hopefully this is your one time with lice!

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