Warning, this story will make you itch.
“Lice,” the rite of passage of childhood. I have memories of having it as a child, and by memories, I mean nightmares of hair cuts and quarantined stuffed animals. It has always been my worst nightmare of parenting, and it came true this past week. With school starting soon and our area currently having an outbreak of lice some have called an “epidemic,” I thought I would share my crash course with you!
Everything you Wanted to Know About Lice – but were Afraid to Ask
How do You Discover Your Child Has Lice?
We found them by accident, which makes it even scarier! My daughter is eight, and she showers and takes care of her hair herself. I only noticed because I was looking at something in her eye and thought I saw a crumb in her hair. On closer inspection, we found several.
You can Google for more pictures than you would ever want in your head, but the lice are about the size of sesame seeds and light or golden brown. The Nits (eggs) are white and attached to the hair. Our treatment center taught me that a good way to tell if it’s nit or dry skin is to move the hair back and forth and run your finger over it. A nit will not move; it is firmly attached and needs to be pulled off with a comb or fingernail.
There may also be itching from the lice bites and red spots or sores. Our infestation was light, and my girls were not itchy at all. I, on the other hand, have not stopped being itchy since we started talking about it!
How Does Lice Spread
Lice are spread from direct contact with the hair of an infected person. Lice spread quickly and are considered highly contagious. While they cannot fly, they do crawl and cling to hair and other soft items. While head-to-head contact is mainly how it’s spread, sharing clothing, bedding, hat, combs, brushes, etc., can also pass them on.
Lice eggs hatch within one to two weeks of being laid. The nymph, or young louse, takes one to two weeks to mature after they hatch. They can survive two to three days off the scalp, where they feed several times a day.
Types of Lice Treatments
There are as many different ways to treat lice as there are people’s preferences. It really depends on how much time and money you are willing to spend to eradicate the problem.
Over-the-Counter Medicated Shampoos and Creams:
You can find these in any drugstore or grocery store. They cost anywhere from $15-25 for a kit that comes with a comb, medicated shampoo, and a cream. Some have sprays you can use on furniture as well.
Since we discovered our lice at 9:00 p.m., and my daughter shares a bed with her sister, we ran to the nearby grocery store and bought the only kit they had. In hindsight, we were in a panic (this is normal) and wanted to do something, but we probably should have waited until morning.
The shampoo smells terrible and must sit on their head for a while. After you rinse it out, you must comb out all of the supposedly dead bugs and nits. It will often take multiple treatments, and some are saying that lice are now resistant to the current over-the-counter treatments. After treating her hair and combing it out, we found that many, many lice were still alive and actually watched them crawl on the towel.
We also learned that lice could hold their breath, which is why washing and swimming in pools don’t kill them. Hyacynth also had to deal with lice this summer, and she had great success with an over-the-counter product. She also found that smothering her head with coconut oil and combing it with a metal nit comb had the same effect–it suffocated the little buggers. Nonetheless, it’s better to do a treatment like this a few times for the combing removal alone, as combing is super effective even on its own. More on this below.
DIY Lice Treatments
There are many non-toxic, at-home treatments you can try. Most involved using some sort of oil to suffocate the lice and then combing them out.
On my youngest daughter we used Listerine. We followed the instructions from Home Remedies that Really Work. I soaked her hair with original Listerine and put a plastic bag on her head using a headband outside to secure it. You can also use a shower cap or saran wrap. After a viewing of Frozen, it was time to start combing again. Every bug we pulled out of her hair was good and dead, so I thought it worked.
Writer Jessica went with olive oil:
Have a gallon of olive oil on hand so that the whole family can enjoy the nightly olive oil spa treatments. We wrapped our heads in saran wrap because the shower caps were uncomfortable.
I was feeling pretty confident after our treatment and thought we were in the clear.
I was wrong.
Lice are stubborn, and since the eggs are invisible until they are about to hatch, it’s hard to know if you are in the clear for days. It’s recommended that you comb hair with a fine-tooth or nit comb daily for 2-3 days after treatment, and then weekly, to watch for reinfestation … which is how I found a head full of nits the next afternoon on both girls, despite treatment that claimed it kills “100% of eggs.”
I will admit at this point; I was a mess. Exhausted, I had spent four and a half hours combing the girls’ hair the previous day. I had a garage full of all their stuffed toys and soft items, and I had four other family members and kids starting school in 10 days. It was time for serious action.
Professional Lice Treatments
Salons are popping up around Lake County and Chicago that provide professional lice removal. Most offer levels of treatment ranging from shampoo treatments to the AirAlle system. The AirAlle system is FDA approved and is guaranteed to kill 99% of lice. While the AirAlle system is expensive, it has something that none of the other treatments above had: a guarantee.
I may have mentioned I was panicking. Let me remind you what my hair looks like; long, curly, impossible to comb. The last thing I wanted to do was deal with lice in it. Yes, it was partially vanity. There was also, for me, a time issue. I have four kids, plus two adults with thick hair. I work from home, and I freelance, which means that I am not making any money if I am not working or writing. When two full days of treatment left me back at square one, I called my husband and said, “I don’t care what it costs. I want it gone.” One might say I am impatient.
Thus began my search for salons that would rid us of lice forever, or until the next seemingly epidemic outbreak. First up:
Lice Detectives (847) 529-3434
Lice Detectives was recommended by a friend in southern Lake County that had used them. I was intrigued because they come to your house and they charge per hour, not per head. In a house with six people, this would have been a HUGE money saver. Sadly she was booked for two solid weeks doing camp buses, and I was not about to wait two weeks.
Nit Free Noggins (847) 573-9600
Nit Free Noggins has three locations: Wheeling, Chicago, and Lisle, and they are known as the “single treatment” lice solution. They use the AirAlle Device and guarantee their services for two weeks. When I called, they were able to get me in right away that afternoon. The service itself was painless. For the $25, they checked the heads of all four of my children and myself. They not only confirmed my girls had nits, but she gave me an education in finding them, what they feel like, and how to remove them. Three hours later, my girls walked out with new oiled buns and lice-free hair, and I was breathing again. They even send you home with a checklist of what to do and have you vacuum and clean your car before you get back in. I was impressed with the staff and the service, and it worked! We are still lice-free, and no one else in the house got it!
Art & Nature Eco-Salon, Libertyville | (847) 816-7444
Art and Nature are now carrying an all-natural, pesticide, and chemical-free product for head lice called Ladibugs Hair Care. It’s chemical and pesticide-free and formulated with essential oils.
Lice Clinics of America, Vernon Hills & Spring Grove
They use the AirAlle system and guarantee the service. You can learn more about them in MADE in Lake County: Lice Clinics of America. They also offer an at-home treatment option.
How do you Prevent Lice
Here’s the million-dollar question, how can you prevent yourself, or rather, your kids, from getting lice in the first place?
The number one most important thing you can do is remind your children about personal space and not sharing belongings like hats, hair combs, ties, etc. If your children are in a daycare or preschool setting, bring home their rest-time stuff weekly and dry it on high for at least 20-minutes to kill anything.
Tea tree oil
Add some drops in your bottle of shampoo!~ Alli
Friends have done this when their daycares have lice and they haven’t gotten it yet.
We mixed equal parts water and witch hazel (found in any drug store) with about 60 drops of Tea Tree Oil (found at Murphy’s Health Foods, Libertyville) in a spray bottle. I’ve been spraying it on my kids’ hair when they get out of the shower, and anytime we will be in crowded places with children, i.e., picnics with bounce houses, museums, etc.
Listerine can also be used as a preventive spray. I used the original and just misted it on my boys’ hair, and despite laying on the same floor pillow and wrestling with their sisters, my boys never had any lice.
According to the technician at Nit Free Noggins, you should also try to tie your daughter’s hair back when they are at school and around other kids. Buns and braids make it hard for the lice to grab on and climb up the hair shaft to lay eggs.
Tips from the Trenches
Currently, lice seem to be everywhere. I know more than half a dozen families that have had it this summer. The news can’t help but keep reporting how 100% of the lice in our area are resistant to over-the-counter medications, and school is starting. Since we can’t keep our kids in a bubble, we’ll leave you with some tips from those of us that have been through it.
Buy a metal comb, the plastic ones are a joke. Take the sheets off the bed and sleep on beach towels since they have to be washed daily.Take a deep breath, pour a glass of wine, and order take out. ~Jessica
I went through three combs, a metal one is the best. If you’re not sure what you’re looking at, tap the comb on a sheet of paper to see what falls off. ~Melissa
Remember that getting lice has nothing to do with cleanliness or personal hygiene. – Jennifer
Also, a headlamp is a necessity! and magnifying glass!
FAQ about Lice
Questions I have been asked or had to Google in the last week:
Do mom and dad get it?
They can, but it’s not automatic! We did not, but we met a mom at the treatment facility getting treated with her daughter. Parents who bed share, share hair styling tools or hats are more likely to get it.
Is it destined to spread to the whole family?
Again, no (see above). We were able to stop it at two of the six of us.
Can your pets get it?
No, it’s species-specific and lice only eat human blood.
What about your American Girl, Barbie, Dolls with human or human-like hair?
You may find them on the dolls if they share a bed with your child, but they will not survive without transferring to a human.
How long until you’re not contagious?
If you don’t have nits, you’re not contagious. It varies depending on the treatment used, but usually 24-48 hours after removal.
Do you have to throw away all the stuffed animals?
No! You can wash them, or just dry them. We put 90% of them in the dryer on high for 20 minutes. You can also bag them up, airtight, and leave them in the garage for 2 weeks. During winter you can freeze them and leave them outside for only 48 hours.
What’s the best detergent for the sheets and bedding?
Whatever you use is fine but it must be HOT and you must dry it on HOT/HIGH for at least 20 minutes.
If you are here because you have seen or are dealing with those annoying buggers, I raise my glass to you! Know that it is tedious, annoying, and possibly expensive, but harmless. The most important thing is not to panic!