How to Treat Lice with Olive Oil

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Lice, those small, crawling insects that live on the scalp and cause itching, are a persistent nuisance. Many parents find themselves throwing their hands up in dismay when trying to get rid of a case of head lice and nits. There are many over-the-counter pediculide-containing shampoos designed to treat lice, but they're rarely completely effective in one treatment, they expose your child to harsh chemicals, and they fail to dissolve the casing of nits that will hatch into new bugs. Research has shown olive oil to a be a safe, effective and natural way to treat lice.

Things You'll Need

  • Shower cap
  • Olive oil
  • Metal lice comb
  • Dish detergent
  • Hair dryer
  • Bobby pins/hair clips
  • Bright light
  • Magnifying glass (optional)
  • Towels
  • Bowl of warm, soapy water
  • Drench dry hair with olive oil, making sure to get it all the way through the hair. Saturate the scalp especially well since this is where lice try to suck to gain nutrition. Make sure they will suck up a good amount of olive oil.

  • Pile your hair on top of your head and cover with a shower cap. It will be oily, sticky and uncomfortable, so you may want to put a towel around your neck or tie the shower cap in place with absorbent gauze or a cotton bandanna.

  • Leave the shower cap on for up to 8 hours but no less than 3 hours. Studies have shown that lice are able survive for up to 2 hours when submerged in oils or other liquid agents. The longer you leave the cap on, the better.

  • Place towels or newspapers on the floor underneath a chair positioned near a bright light. Prepare a bowl of warm, soapy water to have nearby. You'll need it to swish the lice comb between combings. Be prepared to see many dead insects and nits (viable eggs) floating in the water.

  • Remove the shower cap and let the excess oil drip onto the floor coverings. Separate hair into four sections, and then use bobby pins to separate each of those sections into 1- to 2-inch locks of hair. Hold each lock of hair straight away from the scalp and twist it like a rope so you can loop the "rope" over and pin it to the scalp once that lock has been thoroughly combed. This will keep it out of the way and help you remember which areas of the scalp have been combed.

  • Use a metal lice comb, like the Lice Meister, to comb each section of hair (see Resources below). Hold the lock out straight, tilt the comb at a slight angle and slowly comb from the scalp to the end of the hair. Swish the comb in the soapy water to remove any dead lice or nits.

  • Continue combing until all the hair has been combed and looks free of visible lice and nits.

  • Wash your hair with dish detergent to remove the olive oil. This works best if you don't wet the hair first. Rinse, repeat if the hair is still very oily and then shampoo with regular shampoo.

  • Dry your hair with a hair dryer, starting at the scalp and working your way out. The heat of the hair dryer will help to kill any remaining lice and maybe even blow away some of the empty nit casings.

  • Look through your dry hair to find any nits that might have been missed, and use the lice comb one more time.

  • Repeat this procedure every 3 to 4 days for at least 2 weeks. It's the only way to make sure you've caught all the lice. Their life cycle runs about 12 days, and any nits you may have missed could have a chance to hatch if you don't continue treating every couple of days.

Tips & Warnings

  • Nits are usually found within 1/4 inch of the scalp. They are grayish-brown and "glued" to the hair shaft; sometimes you can even see the lice larvae inside. You may need to scrape them off with your fingernail to get all of them. Nit casings are usually further down the hair shaft and lighter in color than the viable eggs.
  • This process can take a long time. Consider setting up in front of a television so you or your child can watch a movie during the combing.
  • Most plastic lice combs are relatively ineffective. The only combs endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics are metal lice combs.

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