I know, I don’t want to think about it either. It makes my skin crawl. And my head itch.
But the only way we can lessen the occurrences of lice incidents is to banish the shame around it, start discussing how to manage it, and get it out of the shadows.
First of all, getting lice has nothing to do with hygiene or economic status. This absolute misperception of fact causes embarrassment and hushed whispers about these bugs. More people have gotten it than you think and there are many local “Lice Ladies” who will gladly do the comb-through for you or teach you how to do it at home and guide you in the process of elimination and prevention. If it happens, know that you’re not alone!
Lice most often occur in kids ages 3-11 and are human parasites that have been around since before modern Homo Sapiens. Lice live off of human blood (yes, pets are safe!) and do not fly, but crawl swiftly and multiply by laying eggs (aka nits) with a kind of sticky glue that attaches to one side of our square-shaped hair shaft. Lice spread by head-to-head contact, the sharing of hats/scarves/headphones or via fallen hairs. We naturally lose some hair every day and if any of those hairs have eggs attached, the eggs can hatch off of the head, say on a sofa pillow, and the next person to lean against that pillow may get an unwanted itchy gift. When addressed correctly, the infestation can be short-lived as long as you are very thorough. Then prevention becomes key, because believe me, you won’t want to go through the intensive housecleaning again.
If you feel a little itchy one day, or your children scratch a couple of times, it’s time to do a head check. In fact, to avoid even small infestations and catch it early, it’s imperative to do regular head checks, weekly is ideal. Like many bacteria, lice have evolved in the last three or so years and are now thought of as superbugs because they are so resistant to the standard, over-the-counter, chemical-laden shampoos. Even the smother-with-olive-oil trick touted a few years ago no longer works very well. And these little buggers now proliferate even in winter. The only elimination method that works every time is a complete comb-through of every hair on the head. Ugh. It takes time and it’s a pain, agreed, but set up an engaging movie for the kids in a well lit area and get out your lice comb, it’s worth it.
A quick head check involves separating the hair at the base of neck, at the crown and behind the ears to see if there are any eggs. But it’s not a reliable method of detection, especially if the hair is the same color as the eggs which range from light tan to brown. Here’s how to do a thorough comb-through: you will need a large bottle of inexpensive hair conditioner, a metal lice comb, and several sheets of white paper towels arranged in a stack. Plus the all-important captivating movie to keep the child very distracted. Put enough conditioner on the entire head to soak all of the hair at the same time. This will not kill any live lice but will slow them down and make them easier to pick up on the comb. With a regular comb first detangle all the hair. Then methodically take small sections of hair and run the metal lice comb in four directions: comb teeth should be pointing up, then down, then to the left, and then to the right. But between each swipe, wipe off each side of the lice comb on the white paper towels; this is critical, this is how you get rid of them. The conditioner will react with any eggs and turn them brown so they will show up right away against the white paper towel. The eggs are a little smaller than sesame seeds and not quite as thick. If there are live bugs, you will certainly see those too. It’s creepy, yes! But better off the head than on. Pay attention to how you move around the head and be sure to comb all four sides of the square hair shaft of each section. When complete, you can happily declare your babe lice- and egg/nit-free and then a thorough shampooing is in order. If necessary, it is indeed possible to comb out your own hair if you suspect that you have lice as well and don’t have another adult to help. If you’d rather purchase a product to help with the above, both Fairy Tales Hair Care and Babo Botanicals make kits with natural ingredients for eliminating lice, as well as preventive shampoos and conditioners. Also, many towns and cities across the country have Lice Ladies who are used to fielding calls from panicked parents and setting same-day appointments for comb-throughs.