We get asked a lot about home remedies for lice and nits. We understand why – it would be much easier if there was something in your kitchen cupboards that could beat the itchy enemies quickly and cheaply. Some of us don’t want to use harsh chemicals to treat head lice – especially given their low rates of effectiveness – and many have found the lice have become more and more resistant to the lice treatment shampoos available from pharmacists.
So, let’s review the home remedies and understand if they solve the problem.
Can you get rid of lice using vinegar?
Before trying this idea out, you should know that vinegar won’t kill head lice or their eggs, the nits. It’s not an insecticide (you wouldn’t put it on your chips if it was), so it’s not an effective way to eradicate an infestation.
It is believed that using vinegar helps to loosen nits from the hair by dissolving the glue that keeps the nit attached to the hair. If this was the case there would be a product with it in by now for sure. It’s the nit combing you do that gets the eggs off the hair not the vinegar. Be warned that vinegar is really not good for the hair and can leave you with a tangled mess. Which is the last thing you want when you’re trying to use a nit comb.
Ultimately, there are too many downsides and no evidence that using vinegar can help you with the eggs.
Can you get rid of lice using mayonnaise?
This idea pops up on a lot of lice removal home remedy lists. It sounds so simple – grab that jar of mayo, and all your nit problems are gone. The argument is that the oil content in the mayonnaise will suffocate the lice and kill them. You’re advised to really saturate the hair to make sure the suffocating effect works, so the thicker the mayonnaise the better – so no cheap ones then!
Supposedly you need keep the product on overnight for it to work – because it takes at least 8 hours to suffocate a louse, according to research. In fact, the research that’s quoted in most of the home remedy lists actually found that mayonnaise wasn’t effective at killing lice even after that time period.
Even more importantly, even if sitting with room-temperature mayo on your head for 8 hours did work to kill the lice, you haven’t eradicated the nits/eggs. Depending on where they are in their life cycle, you’ll soon have a freshly hatched batch of lice to tackle – and if you don’t get them before they start laying their eggs, you’ll be buying a lot of Hellman’s and not getting very far at all. Which doesn’t achieve the cost savings that people are looking for when it comes to home remedies. Also that mayonnaise is a nightmare to get out of the hair.
Can you get rid of lice using olive oil?
This home remedy relies on the same principle as the mayonnaise – suffocating the lice. It has a couple of advantages over the mayo approach – olive oil is at least nourishing to the hair, it won’t start to rot and stink while it’s on your head, and you can saturate the hair with it more easily.
Unfortunately, the disadvantages are exactly the same. Using olive oil to treat head lice will, at its absolute best, get rid of adult lice – and that’s not guaranteed in the slightest, as suffocation hasn’t been found to be effective. It won’t kill the eggs, so again you’ll have to treat repeatedly over the course of days and weeks to try and get on top of the infestation.
Olive oil is also not as cheap as many of these home remedies are supposed to be. Vegetable oil is too thin to be a substitute, and good quality olive oil is definitely not cheap, especially when you have to soak your child’s head in it on a daily basis. It’s also another nightmare to wash out.
Can you get rid of lice using Listerine?
The logic behind using mouthwash as a remedy for head lice is based on the alcohol content – the idea being that the alcohol will dry out the lice and kill them. Obviously, Listerine and other mouthwashes aren’t sold as head lice products, and you should always exercise caution in using a product in a way it wasn’t designed for.
With a high alcohol content, you risk irritation and even burns, depending on the sensitivity of your children’s skin. In fact, Listerine itself states on the bottle not to administer to children under the age of 12, and that’s not just because they might swallow it.
Even if you’re using it as a mouthwash and spitting it out appropriately, you will absorb some of the alcohol and plant extracts. That’s fine for an adult having a quick rinse of the mouth, but how might it affect a child having their head liberally covered especially as children’s scalps are highly absorbent? It’s not worth the risk. On top of that, use the wrong colour and you may find yourself trying to work out how to fix sickly green or blue-coloured hair!
A few people promote using Listerine as an ‘effective alternative to toxic chemicals’. We understand that sentiment, absolutely. But Listerine is a chemical compound, and using it to treat lice is using it in a way it has never been tested for. As much as we can shy away from topical lice treatments as ‘chemical’, they have undergone testing for safety and efficacy. Even water is a chemical, so let’s put to bed the idea that all chemicals are bad. But using them incorrectly can certainly be a problem.
Can you get rid of lice using Vaseline/petroleum jelly?
This is another version of suffocating the head lice, so it has the same problems as the other approaches we’ve talked about here. But there’s another issue that you should consider before slathering your children’s heads in petroleum jelly. Getting it back out of the hair is not easy. And by ‘not easy’, we mean you’ll be tearing your own hair out. Do yourself a favour and avoid this approach. It has nothing going for it.
Can you use coca cola to get rid of head lice?
This idea has been circulating for a while – it started out as a meme in 2016 and keeps popping back up again. Without even looking into it, the thought of pouring something as sticky as cola on the hair already seems like a terrible idea. But let’s review it properly.
If we look at the ingredients for cola, there’s nothing in there that would either kill lice or remove nits from the hair. Sugar, caffeine, citric and phosphoric acids, and colouring. None of those have magical lice-killing properties, and the acids are in such small amounts that they wouldn’t have any effect – it wouldn’t be drinkable otherwise. The carbonation won’t do much either. All you’ll get out of this old wives’ tale is sticky, tangled hair and no resolution to your nit and lice problem.
Can you treat head lice using essential oils?
There are a few different essential oils that are recommended as a home remedy for head lice. There are also quite a few issues with using them. Firstly, undiluted essential oils can be very dangerous – people have experienced burns, blisters, rashes, headaches, nausea and vomiting through the use of essential oils directly on the skin and scalp. Once you’ve reacted to a particular essential oil, you will also always be allergic to that oil – which can be a problem in the future, if you unwittingly buy a product containing it.
Even when using diluted essential oils you should be extremely cautious, and dilute far more than you would for an adult. In fact, many doctors say that you should never use essential oils on children at all.
With those risks covered, the next question is are essential oils effective at treating lice and nits? The oils that are suggested cover quite a range – from tea tree and lavender to cinnamon and nutmeg. The home remedies that recommend them tend to fall into two camps – either they recommend mixing the oils with olive oil and saturating the hair, or they suggest mixing with rubbing alcohol and spraying the hair.
As you can see, the essential oils themselves are just a variation on the olive oil and Listerine methods, and with such a wide range of oils suggested – clove, eucalyptus and red thyme are also mentioned – it’s unlikely that it’s the essential oils themselves that have any effect.
Tea tree oil is the most commonly recommended oil, and in the past it may have been effective although there is no scientific evidence to back that claim. It contains a compound called anticholinesterase, which is believed to have helped kill lice. Unfortunately, this ingredient no longer works as lice have become resistant to its effects, in the same way that many formerly-useful over the counter remedies have become ineffective through lice resistance.
Home remedies that work for head lice
You may be reading this thinking ‘but I’ve heard that some of these methods really do work, my friend used olive oil and got rid of her children’s lice.’ All of the sites that recommend different techniques have testimonials and success stories, and it’s hard not to think that some of them must be right, that there must be something to these remedies. And you’re right, but it might not be what you think.
Let’s look at something all of these remedies have in common. All of the advice includes using a nit comb and combing through the hair to remove the eggs once you’ve done the home remedy part of the treatment.
This is the part that’s actually effective. Using olive oil or conditioner might help make it easier to comb through the hair, especially if it’s thick or curly, but it’s the act of physically removing the lice and nits that gets rid of them. Essential oils might make everything smell a bit nice, mayonnaise might do the opposite, but on their own they’re not effective strategies for treating a head louse infestation. Patience and combing are.