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Everything You Need to Get Rid of Lice and Stop the Itching

Nit Free Terminator Lice Comb, $13
Graphic: Ana Luisa Suarez

Are you scratching your head after reading that headline?

That’s how I felt after our preschool recently sent us the dreaded message: Lice had been found in a student’s hair.

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I hoped my son would be spared, but nope. A week later, I saw a tiny bug (about the size of a sesame seed) flit through his hair. Sure enough, on closer inspection, I found an egg, otherwise known as a nit. (Here’s how to tell if it’s dandruff or nits). And when there’s one, you know that there’s bound to be more.

I immediately went into lice removal mode:

I tossed our blankets, pillowcases, and sheets into the washing machine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that lice and eggs are killed by exposure to temperatures of 128.3 F or higher for five minutes, so the key is drying them on a high setting. I soaked our combs and brushes in hydrogen peroxide (you can also use a pot of boiling water or rubbing alcohol). Lice generally can’t live for more than 24 hours on their own, so my son’s stuffed animals went into the closet for a one-day break.

Next, I tackled the lice and nits in his hair.

The surefire way to remove lice and nits is to comb them out of your hair. It’s painstaking, time-consuming, and you’ll probably hear some whining, but a 2005 study in the United Kingdom found that it was more effective than chemical treatments.

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The Nit Free Terminator Lice Comb is the comb that professionals use if you go to a lice removal service (yes, you can pay someone to get rid of the lice for you—and I’ve done it). Unlike the free combs that come with over-the-counter treatments, this one has sturdy prongs so it reliably runs through your hair. It also has tiny grooves that should help catch nits and lice. It’s only about $13 and is the one investment you should make in combatting lice. Even if you opt for other treatments, you can use this comb to double-check for missed lice or nits.

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You’ll want to condition the hair to make it less painful to comb through. Conditioner also helps to slow down the lice so that it’s easier to catch them in the comb. I like Yes to Naturals Tea Tree Conditioner (only because tea tree oil is a common home remedy for lice) but research has found that any conditioner should help.

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There are also plenty of over-the-counter sprays and shampoos, as well as home remedies (such as olive oil and vinegar) to treat lice. But they generally don’t work perfectly on their own. Shampoos can be toxic and have become less potent against “super lice.”

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Sprays are only effective if they come into contact with lice and nits. If your child has long hair, or is squirmy, then there’s a good chance you could miss. That said, I saturated my child’s hair with over-the-counter Licefree Spray. I used this spray in combination with combing through his hair.

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Another option is to smother the lice to death, though I haven’t personally tried it. This dermatologist suggests suffocating the lice with Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, letting it dry and leaving it in the child’s head for eight hours. (Don’t use a shower cap unsupervised, however, since the bag can slide over the child’s face.)

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Nowadays, I also keep the Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel Conditioning Spray on hand, though I can’t vouch if it’s actually effective. Nothing can stop lice from crawling from one head to another, but I’d like to think that the lice will be deterred by the spray. At the very least, it does a good job detangling hair, so it helps with hair brushing.

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About the author

Ellen Lee

Ellen Lee is a freelance writer in the San Francisco Bay Area.