How Does Head Lice Shampoo Work?


Introduction to Lice

  • Lice are very small wingless insects that live as parasites wherever body hair can be found. The most common place to attract lice is on the top of the head. Lice are parasitic creatures. This means that lice depend on living off the host to survive. Lice survive by sucking small amounts of blood from their host. Usually, 3 to 14 year old children experience the bulk of lice infestations, but lice can live anywhere there is hair, regardless of age.

How they Spread

  • Lice are unable to jump or fly, however they can move very quickly. The most common way to get lice is by touching heads. Children may also get lice by commonly used stuffed animals or other toys. It only takes a moment of contact with one louse to have an eventual infestation of lice.

Signs of Lice

  • Parents should consistently check their children for lice throughout the year as the physical signs of lice (itching, scratching, complaining of tickling or moving sensation on the scalp) can take up to two weeks to manifest themselves. When checking for lice here is what you may come across. The most easy to see evidence of lice are lice eggs, also known as nits. These will look like tan or brown dots. They may also look like dandruff, with the exception that they are difficult to remove by brushing or combing your hair. Nits will usually be laid close to the scalp where they can stay warm. Once the Nits have hatched (usually 1-2 weeks after being laid) they will grow to adult blood sucking lice about 2 weeks after hatching. Adult lice are gray or tan and are about the size of a sesame seed.

How Lice Shampoo Works

  • Lice shampoo works by using pesticides called pediculicides. The most common pediculicides found in lice shampoo are pyrethrin or permethrin. Immediately after the shampoo is applied to the scalp and lice come in contact with the pediculicide they lice die. Most of the dead lice will be washed out with the shampoo once the hair is rinsed. In some cases repeat washing may be necessary. However, even after rinsing the lice shampoo from the head, you may still need to go through with a comb to remove any remaining eggs or dead lice remains.

The Shampoo Process

  • First read the directions very carefully. Depending on the length of hair, a specific amount of shampoo should be used. This amount will vary depending on which brand of lice shampoo you choose to use, and how strong the pediculicide is contained with the product. The product should be applied to dry hair. Applying the shampoo in the shower or bathtub dilutes the active ingredients and may not kill all the lice. Next the shampoo should be massaged from the root to the tip of the hair. Lice can quickly move from the scalp to the tips of hair to avoid contact with the shampoo, so it is important to make sure that the hair is completely covered. Check the box for the recommended amount of time to leave the shampoo in the hair. On average it is about 10 minutes. Do not leave the shampoo in the hair longer than recommended on the box. Leaving it longer does not make the product any more effective, and exposes the person undergoing the shampoo to an increased risk of harmful side effects. Next the shampoo needs to be washed out of the hair. Once the shampoo has been removed, a fine toothed hair comb needs to be ran through the hair to help remove the eggs and dead lice from the area. The process then must be repeated from a week to 10 days later, just in case some of the eggs survived and hatched. Waiting longer than 10 days will give the hatched lice long enough to lay new eggs, causing you to have to start all over again.

Potential Side Effects

  • Follow the directions very carefully of the shampoo product you choose to use. Overexposure to any pediculicide could create harmful side effects, including an increased risk of cancer. Lice Shampoo is not recommended for any child under the age of 1 as their bodies have not yet developed enough to handle the toxins within the pediculicides. Certain children with sensitive skin may have a moderate to severe allergic reaction to lice shampoo. Talk to your doctor first before using a lice shampoo if your child has a history of severe allergies, or sensitive skin. They will have alternative safer methods for you to try on your sensitive child.

Additional Information

  • Lice are extremely contagious. One child can spread lice to an entire classroom of children under the right circumstances. If your child has an infestation, they should be kept home from school, or from other social situations, until the infestation has been taken care of.

    Lice in themselves are not dangerous. They do not spread disease, nor do they cause immediate damage to the scalp. However, if left untreated, the feeding of the lice on the skin can leave your scalp itchy and irritated. Also, If the lice are left long enough, or if their feed areas are consistently scratched, you or your child may become susceptible to a serious infection.

    Lice can survive up to two days off the scalp. If you find lice, you will need to wash any blankets, sheets, pillowcases, and stuffed animals that your child uses on a regular basis to prevent reinfection. Use hot water that is at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit and then dry on the hottest cycle for at least 25 minutes.

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