Photo: Toxic-free ways to lose head lice

Head lice is a common childhood affliction and can be treated naturally. (Credit: Nothing To Hide via Flickr)

I opened my inbox last week and my world lurched to a momentary halt. Staring at me was a note with the header "Primary Grade Lice Warning." I immediately ran through a paranoid series of mental images, detailing every instance my kids had scratched their heads in the past 72 hours.

If you have school-aged children, you can probably relate.

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As a contagious condition among Canadian kids, head lice are second only to the common cold. But having lice is not considered a medical condition by our public health agencies, just a nuisance.

I turned to Dawn Mucci, founder of The Lice Squad, for a rundown on natural lice treatment.

Can head lice be eliminated without chemicals or pesticides?

Yes. You can get rid of them effectively and safely using natural methods.

What's in traditional lice shampoo?

Many over-the-counter lice products in Canada are insecticides that contain neurotoxic pediculicides like pyrethrins or pyrethroids. Their widespread use has led lice to build up resistance to them. It's best to avoid these product entirely. But If you do choose to use them, never abuse them. Don't leave the product on longer or use it more frequently than directed. This puts you and the environment at risk of health concerns caused by pesticide exposure.

What are the alternatives to toxic hair washes?

With or without chemicals, the battle against lice is won by removing them by hand (called "combing reduction" by the pros). You should also:

  • Use enzyme shampoos or conditioners
  • Coat the hair in oil during combing reduction to smother lice
  • Explore Health-Canada-approved heat treatments available from professional lice removal companies

How do I get lice off our stuff?

Lice only live on you, not in your environment. Without you, they die within 48 hours. Avoid spraying pesticide. Instead, apply heat. Put anything that's in regular contact with your body in the dryer on high for 20 minutes. Where that's not possible — like the couch — vacuum. Set aside anything that can't be heat-treated or vacuumed for 48 hours.

Can we prevent getting lice?

Remind kids not to share items that come in contact with their hair — like helmets and hairbrushes. Short of that, there's not much you can do to ward off lice.

And if you do have lice — tell people! Keeping the creepy crawlies your little secret only increases the chances that your friends and neighbours unknowingly pass the fun along!

Be brave. Break the stigma. Share your lice-fighting story here.


Tovah Paglaro, a fellow Queen of Green

November 28, 2012

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Dec 23, 2015
1:08 PM

This is our second bout with head lice in 2 years and I’m freaking out. I hate going through life paranoid but I can’t take it. I don’t know how to stop this from happening. I don’t even wash my own or my children’s hair everyday just so it stays a bit dirty. HELP!!

May 14, 2015
9:45 AM

Hello, there’s a new pesticide-free alternative I found on Amazon and worked great! Much better than vinegar or mayo haha It’s name is LOP lotion, here’s the link:

Feb 26, 2014
10:07 AM

It is true that the older lice treatments have pesticides and harmful chemicals and the lice have become resistant to them but there are newer treatments on the market which do not contain these harmful chemicals and kill lice in one minute. It did work for our family in just on treatment for a cost of $30. and if you go to your doctor for a prescription the treatment is covered. The treatment we used was Nyda we redid it in 10 days just to be sure they were all gone.

Feb 16, 2014
7:04 PM

We just relocated to Mainland China, and after a month of schooling, my three boys have head lice. Problem is the challenge of the language and the products available locally. I went online, and found a good rinse — combining white vinegar or ACV with eggs. It makes it less runny so stays in the hair and scalp better. I pop shower caps on their heads for about 20 min, then rinse the boys hair under hot- as- they- can- bear water. Bedding is a problem as the washer has only cold cycles — so I stuck the iron on and used that. Being outside of your home country comes with challenges. However vinegar and eggs you can find anywhere.

Jan 25, 2014
6:03 PM

I have lice and my mom put lice med, mayonase, Rid, and even pulled every one of them out at least five times and I still have them

Jan 25, 2014
5:55 PM

This may come in handy but, I don’t live in Canada I live in america so what can I do about brands in america?

Oct 09, 2013
1:47 PM

The best thing I Found I Dish soap and vinager.also works on flees.wash hair twice and they just fall of die.Then wash cloths and bedding with vinager

Oct 08, 2013
7:19 PM

Hi, Lice became almost an epidemic in our area recently and a natural health store lady said tea tree oil is great..and also shampoos that have that it in. When you mentioned in your article about coating hair in oil..What kinds of oils are you suggesting?

Oct 08, 2013
2:50 PM

1/2 hour of hair that’d been doused in 1/3 vinegar 2/3 warm water

Oct 08, 2013
2:28 PM

Went through an infestation last summer. Did treatment on 2 kids (I can’t remember the name) and on the other kid and myself did the daily slather on conditioner an comb through. Made a game out of the “body counts”. Both treatments worked so next time I’ll go all conditioner — cheaper and probably healthier. I now just do a lice check every couple of weeks just in case they get it again from school.

Jun 04, 2013
4:16 AM

My hair itches a lot especially when i sweat and feel very hot due to the sultry weather, on itching a white creamy substance comes on my nail cuticles and has a queer smell. i also have intense hair loss.when i clean my room,i find more hair then dirt. what should i do. remove head lice

Mar 16, 2013
1:14 AM

When I had head lice a couple months ago. My mom and grandma washed my head with some lice killing stuff and put all this odd stuff in my hair to kill the live lice..they died. then they pulled every single nit that was on my head off. I was infested with these creatures.

Mar 05, 2013
7:05 PM

We used a Canadian made product — banish. It was great and a natural way to help repel lice. The mint spray for daily use is great. My kids use it everyday as a detangler / it is that good! No one enjoys lice but it is treatable… This product really worked for our family!!

Feb 16, 2013
12:55 AM

We had friends years ago whos kids got lice so we shaved both boys heads very very short and although Ashley had long hair amost always wore it in in pony tail. At that point it became a braided pony tail. We never did get infested thank goodness how to kill lice

Feb 12, 2013
11:08 AM

My son had lice (from school) about 15 years ago and along with the school letter was info on ways to get rid of them. I tried the one using mayonnaise and a shower cap. Put on the mayo, then the shower cap and leave on for about 3 hours. Very messy but better for your kid. I used a nit comb to comb out the mayo and the lice, then washed his hair really good. I did also cut his hair pretty short in case it went around his class more than once. But they were gone with only one treatment and was back at school the next day. The nurse was amazed that he was back so soon.

I was determined to try a more natural approach. I was NOT going to put pesticides on my child. No way!

Feb 05, 2013
5:28 PM

I found this wonderful product that got rid of our lice without chemicals! It’s called The Nit Nanny and I found it doing a search for Pesticide-free lice solution. You can buy it from company’s website: Their comb and the treatment solution were amazing! I bought the kit which included the moouse. That stuff made the nits come out sooo easily. Give it a try.

Jan 23, 2013
8:30 AM

My six year old grade 1 has been sent home today with lice, her school tried to sell me a 25$ comb and a 25$ bottle of treatment, yeah I’m made of money… I’ve chosen the Nix creme rinse, is there anything else I can to in between treatments to kill the buggers?

Jan 10, 2013
10:39 AM

beware of these pestcide shampoo,s they could cause permanet hair loss ? the best way is use hair dye ,,and there gone — otherwise mineral oil and vingar and get a small flea comb or metal lice comb and keep at the combing , for as long as a few weeks ,,lice now have turned into super lice mainly because of all the pestcides shampoos that don,t work unless you comb lots ,,,also you can just shave your kids hair off easy solution ,also when combing take your time ,,when finished wait 15 minutes and do the crown of the head again ,,,,use generous amounts of conditioner and leave hair oily also when combing clean comb with old toothbrush after ,,keep a eye on the comb each stroke as not to re affect with lice again thats stuck in comb — wash pillow cases often -vacumm often even the bed — 5 kids what a night mare — best of luck everyone — my kids all have green and purple hair now !

Jan 08, 2013
4:47 PM

Olive oil, good for the scalp

Dec 09, 2012
10:34 AM

What r the namrs of some enzyme shampoo even the pharmacy out here cannot tellme

Dec 05, 2012
1:07 PM

We had a year with three lice infestations, and it was clear that someone was not solving their kid’s lice problem. After insisting for weeks that the school and after-school program notify parents and take steps to ensure kids were not piling their coats together, etc., they finally listened. We tried the lice shampoo, but the shampoo didn’t work on our worst infestation. We combed and picked them out, every other day, and eventually got rid of them. Keeping the hair wet during this process makes any live lice slower and easier to catch!

Dec 01, 2012
7:03 AM

Ugh! Read your column and flashed back to a year and a half period when my eldest was 6 and little ones (twins) were in their first year and a bit. Someone in my daughter’s school class just must not have been dealing with lice, because they came back over and over — the parents I know who had kids in that class were going crazy trying to get rid of them. You’d succeed, and then six weeks or four months later, they were back. I think we went through four rounds! And that’s with full de-lousing of everyone in the house, twice or three times each round, washing every bit of linen that was in use, quarantining the stuffies, etc. So definitely — don’t try to ride it out alone. Lice is a population problem, and if your kid has them, it’s pretty much guaranteed one or another of their friends has them, and you don’t want them coming back again! We did try the horrible chemical stuff, but ultimately we just couldn’t use it any more because we could just feel how toxic and nasty it was

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