I am inspired to write about natural treatments for head after hearing about a recent lice epidemic in school in Portland, OR. Head lice are not something that only “dirty” people get. In fact, lice prefer cleaner, less oily heads. Anyone can get it and it is nothing to be ashamed of.

Treatment of head lice, , has changed over the years as the crafty little bugs have become quite resistant to the over the counter chemical insecticides commonly used. The good news is that natural treatments, and friendlier alternative treatments, work great and are less toxic than conventional treatments anyways.

So, if you or your kids have the misfortune of getting head lice, here is the treatment protocol I recommend to my patients:

The hardest and most important thing is to wash and dry all clothing and bedding in a hot dryer. Change sheets every 3 days and don’t wear the same clothes twice without washing. Keep laundry sealed in garbage bags until it is washed. Hairbrushes, barrettes and hair ties need to be boiled or sealed in a bag for 2 weeks to kill any nits (eggs) or bugs. Stuffed animals, pillows and such can be put in a hot dryer for 20 minutes or sealed in a bag for 2 weeks. Be thorough, but don’t get too paranoid or obsessive as these critters are quite delicate and die quickly when not on a human’s head. Don’t worry about treating pets or furniture, beyond frequent vacuuming.

Neem oil massaged into the scalp and hair shafts disrupts the reproductive cycle and lice hate it. Use a stainless steel nit comb and brush through all hair, especially the nape of the neck and behind the ears, twice daily to rid the hair shafts of eggs and catch the living bugs. I recommend leaving the neem oil on for a few hours before washing it out for maximum effect.

I recommend alternating neem oil application with washing your hair with Denorex medicated shampoo (the kind with coal tar) daily for 5 days along with combing with a metal nit comb 2 times daily. The medicated form of Denorex shampoo is designed for dandruff and psoriasis, but has the side effect of being an . Leave it in for 15 minutes before rinsing it out. Repeat as needed until there are no visible bugs or eggs (You will find them glued to hair shafts near the scalp. They look like tiny, brownish-gray tear drops.)

Vigilance is crucial. Keep checking your child’s head and have everyone in your household checked daily for at least 2 weeks after treatment. Repeat as necessary. Contact your child’s school and notify people in close contact with you to check for lice. Find the source of infestation in order to avoid re-infection.

There are many effective natural lice treatments in addition to the above including mayonnaise left on for 3 days under a shower cap, , to remove nits, etc. I gave you the easiest, most cost effective protocol I know works, but there are other natural treatments out there that still are effective. The take home message is that toxic, over the counter lice killing products no longer are effective.

I hope you find this information helpful and didn’t get too itchy reading about this topic. My next post will focus on staying healthy in the wintertime.


Margaret Philhower, ND