Nits? Don’t be left scratching your head: We spend £30m on combs, chemicals and mayonnaise – but what works best?
A million children in the UK have headlice at any one time, and we spend millions of pound on cures from combs and chemicals to oils and professional help – but which method is the best one?
We have the answer…
ATTACK WITH TEA TREE OIL
WHAT IS IT? An essential oil with antiseptic qualities, it attacks the nervous systems of lice, ultimately killing them.
HOW IS IT USED? Add a couple of drops of tea tree oil (such as Thursday Plantation 100 per cent Pure Tea Tree Oil, £6.10, 10ml, revital.co.uk) to shampoo or to the water used to rinse hair. Neat tea tree oil should never be applied to the head.
DOES IT WORK? ‘Tea tree oil has quite a following but there’s not much evidence to prove efficacy,’ says Dr Graham Archard, of the Royal College of General Practitioners, while Christine Brown warns: ‘In large quantities this could irritate the scalp.’
Ian Burgess says: ‘Tea tree oil has a component that works in the same way as the insecticide malathion, so lice are also resistant to it.’
VERDICT: Unlikely to work. Use with caution.
MIX THEM WITH MAYONNAISE
WHAT IS IT? Some mothers swear by an American fad from the Nineties of covering the head with a sticky substance such as mayonnaise, margarine or olive oil. The oiliness reportedly suffocates the lice.
HOW IS IT USED? Cover the scalp and hair with a thick layer of full-fat mayonnaise and leave overnight. By morning, the lice will (supposedly) be smothered. Suffice to say the hair will require a thorough wash afterwards.
DOES IT WORK? ‘This is harmless but messy,’ says Dr Graham Archard, of the Royal College of General Practitioners. ‘It may block the breathing tubes of the lice as long as it’s thoroughly massaged into the scalp. However, it won’t kill lice eggs, so you will need to repeat the treatment.’
VERDICT: Messy – and it probably won’t work.
BLOCK THEIR SYSTEMS
WHAT IS IT? Over-the-counter silicone-based treatment that blocks the respiratory system of lice, killing them off.
HOW IS IT USED? Rub the substance into the scalp, leave for the recommended time, then shampoo the hair. Treatment usually needs repeating a few days later. Good options are Hedrin Lotion (£10.57, 100ml, thehealthcounter.com) or Hedrin Treat & Go Spray (£5.59, 60ml, chemistdirect.co.uk).
DOES IT WORK? ‘These products are recommended by professionals,’ says nurse consultant (to Hedrin) Christine Brown. ‘But instructions must be followed carefully.’
VERDICT: One of the best options.
COMB THEM OUT
WHAT IS IT? A special plastic or metal fine-toothed comb that catches and removes both lice and eggs.
Battery-operated versions zap the trapped lice with small electric shocks.
HOW IS IT USED? Wet the hair thoroughly and apply conditioner or olive oil, then comb through. Check the comb for eggs or lice after every stroke and remove.
Rinse the hair and repeat. Try Nitty Gritty (£6.70, nittygritty.co.uk), a comb with spiral grooves that help trap lice and eggs.
It needs doing for 30 minutes or more, four times in a fortnight.
Keep going until you haven’t seen a live louse for two or three treatments.
DOES IT WORK? ‘Plastic nit combs work best, with square-faced teeth about 0.2mm apart – they catch on the legs of the lice,’ says Ian Burgess.
‘There is no evidence that electric combs are effective.’
VERDICT: Worth a try.
TURN TO THE PROFESSIONALS
Professional help: De-lousing treatment at a London salon
WHAT IS IT? Teams of dedicated ‘lice assassins’ who treat infestations at ‘lice lounges’, using specialist kit.
HOW IS IT USED? Lice are removed with special hoovers, while heated air dehydrates and destroys eggs. Hairforce Lice Assassins (the hairforce.co.uk) charges £100 for the first appointment and £50 for a follow-up.
DOES IT WORK? Dr Christian Jessen, of Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies, praised them after they cleared a child on the show who had been infested for four years. ‘But it sounds like a money-spinner,’ says Brown (BROWN IS A CONSULTANT FOR HEDRIN). ‘There are less expensive ways of dealing with them.’
VERDICT: Effective but expensive.
WHAT IS IT? Insecticide treatments, sold over the counter, are designed to poison and kill lice.
HOW IS IT USED? A solution such as Lyclear Creme Rinse (£8.99, 2 x 59ml, boots.com) is massaged into the hair and left to work for a specified time. It is unsuitable for children under two.
DOES IT WORK? ‘Lice in Britain are more resistant to insecticides than those in any other country,’ says Ian Burgess, director of Insect Research and Development Ltd and the UK’s leading entomologist.
A 2006 study on Welsh children showed that 80 per cent of lice were resistant to an insecticide called permethrin.
VERDICT: Don’t bother.