In Istanbul at the moment, there are a crazy number of lice around. Many children are affected as are many schools. So I thought I would write this post for those of you with small children.
Head lice need a warm environment and a blood source to thrive. They don’t care whether the hair is clean or whether it is dirty. So don’t think that the children who might have lice have dirty hair or scalp or something else which causes the lice to be attracted to them. Lice do not care! Lice or Pediculus humanus capitis live on scalps and suck the blood from the scalp. A female louse lays up to 10 eggs a day and it takes these eggs around 10 days to hatch. The eggs attach themselves to the start of the hair shaft with a glue-like substance. They are white, grey, creamy or light brown in colour. They live around 4 weeks and when they have hatched they can move from the host’s hair to anything which has contact with their hair, hats, towels, sheets, brushes, scarves, chairs, etc. The shell of the eggs remain attached to the hair and the lice can be as big as a sesame seed size. Anyone else’s hair which has contact with the infected items are also susceptible to a lice infection. Head and hair contact is the most common way that lice can move from one host to another, though. Lice do not have wings, nor can they jump. They are not dangerous and they do not harbour or spread diseases but they are a pest (pardon the pun) to get out of the hair, and they cause a huge disruption to your daily routine, combing the lice out, treating the hair, washing the hair extra times than you might normally do, not too mention gathering all the infected items and washing and disinfecting them. They also make your child’s scalp itchy and that scratching could lead to a worse situation with infectionand inflammation.
So what can you do to prevent your child getting infected? If you are interested in natural therapies, one of the best preventions is using tea tree essential oil. Lice do not like this essential oil and it is kind and gentle enough to be used on children (diluted of course to 1%- only use diluted essential oils with children, actually this is the same for adults unless advised by a professional aromatherapist.)
Various studies have shown the efficacy of tea tree oil. In one study, it was found that head lice can be killed by tea tree essential oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) because of the contact of the oil (in dilution) with the cuticles of their body and by absorption of the vapours. It was found that a 1% oil dilution killed the lice within 30 mins and a 2% dilution prevented 50% of the eggs from hatching in 4 days and 100% from hatching within 12 days. A slightly higher dilution of 4% had prevented all eggs from hatching within 10 days (2012, Di Campi et al.). Other studies have found lavender oil (Lavandula officinalis) to be effective. Other oils which have been found to be effective against lice are not very gentle oils and can not be recommended for use with children. These include clove, cinnamon leaf, oregano and thyme essential oils. Tea tree and lavender essential oils are gentle enough to be used with children and even toddlers. For infestations a 2% dilution of tea tree essential oil in a carrier oil such as olive, sesame, or jojoba oil can be dropped onto the head and rubbed into the scalp and then combed through the hair. The oil will also help the hair to be combed with a louse comb. Leave the oil on for at least 2 hours, but overnight can also work. Shampoo out and then rinse the hair with 100ml solution of 50% vinegar and 50% water, with 2 drops of tea tree essential oil added to the rinse. This whole regime needs to be repeated 1 week later. If desired a spray with 40% alcohol and 60% water with 1% tea tree could be used daily as a preventative and/or tea tree oil can be dropped onto hair accessories which have felt or cloth or another absorbent material on them. When spraying, ensure that the spray does not enter the child's airways.
Happy lice free days!