Got Lice? Check Out Our No-Drama Guide to Prevention and Treatment!

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Whether you need to know how to prevent lice or how to treat lice, we’ve got you covered!

5 children scratching their heads from the back

Sometimes your child brings home more than just homework from school. 😬 

With students returning to the close confines of the classroom, it’s only a matter of time until you get that first letter from the school nurse warning you that head lice have been found at your child’s school.

Here’s everything you need to know about how to prevent lice or how to treat it, including tips and products we recommend!

boy with Spiderman backpack opening black door

Unfamiliar with head lice? Here are some fast facts:

  • Head lice are small, brown insects no larger than the size of sesame seeds.
  • The female louse lays eggs, called nits, on the hair.
  • Nits look like tiny whitish ovals, stuck firmly to the hair shaft. They usually hatch within two weeks.
  • Head lice crawl. They don’t hop or fly.
  • Although a case of head lice scores pretty high on the yuck scale, it’s a very common occurrence among school-age children.
  • They are not a sign of poor hygiene, and they have not been found to spread disease.
  • Head lice don’t discriminate and they can literally happen to anyone! They aren’t interested in your hair type, your income level, or how clean your house is.

Commonly asked questions about lice:

  • How do you get lice and how does lice spread? You can easily get lice through direct contact with an affected person. Less frequently, they’re spread through indirect contact by sharing personal items such as combs, brushes, hats, hair accessories, bedding, etc.
  • How long can lice live without a host? Head lice survive only by feeding on human blood. They need to eat every 12-24 hours, so they can’t survive away from the scalp for more than a day or two.
  • How to prevent lice eggs from hatching? If the nits are on objects, the CDC recommends washing, drying, or soaking them at 130 degrees or higher. If the nits are in the hair, you must manually remove them. See our tips on how to do so below.
  • What keeps lice away from hair? Don’t let kids share hats, helmets, hair ties, bed linens, pillows, or belongings. Keep the children’s coats and headwear separated. Style long hair in a bun, french braids, or other updo. Avoid contact sports or activities where heads will be close together.
  • What are your chances of getting lice if exposed? Seattle Children’s Hospital advises that your chance of getting lice is low. This is because lice crawl instead of jumping from person to person. If you’re concerned about lice, do regular head checks at home to stay on top of any infestations.
  • Do lice like clean or dirty hair? According to the Mayo Clinic, lice prefer clean hair.
  • Does tea tree shampoo kill lice? There was a 2007 study that did show tea tree oil had some efficacy in repelling lice, but according to Healthline, there is still insufficient evidence that it prevents lice.
  • Does rosemary repel lice? Another herb that has shown some promise in a study (but also lacks sufficient evidence) is rosemary. There is a highly-rated rosemary lice spray, and while it might be nice to have on hand, we wouldn’t count on it to fully prevent lice. Due to the lack of backup for these natural remedies, please seek the medical advice of your pediatrician before using these types of products.

a group of school children

What to do if you suspect head lice…

If you receive a warning that head lice are going around your child’s school (or if you see that your child is experiencing intense scalp itching), take a close look! Part their hair in several places and examine their scalp under a bright light. The lice themselves may be hard to find because they move to avoid light, but the nits may be easier to see.

If you do find evidence of head lice, take action right away! Left untreated, head lice will quickly multiply, so you need to begin treatment as soon as they’re found.

a nurse wearing a stethoscope

What is the best treatment for lice? 

If one member of your family has head lice, check everyone else in your household, too. Anyone with head lice should have limited contact with unaffected family members until they’ve been treated. A person with head lice is contagious for as long as they continue to have live nits in their hair.

For safety and for best results, check with your pediatrician before starting any head lice treatment. When it comes to how to treat lice, many people are quick to try a natural remedy. Unfortunately, home remedies are not scientifically proven to work, and some may even be potentially dangerous (depending upon how outlandish they are)! Seek medical advice before trying that miracle cure you read about on the Internet.

Want to know how to treat lice? Here are some of the head lice treatments and products that pediatricians and school nurses commonly recommend:

Nix Ultra Head Lice Treatment

1. Permethrin (Nix)

Permethrin is the synthetic form of pyrethrin. Side effects may include redness and itching of the scalp.

Ride Head Lice Treatment Complete Kit

2. Pyrethrin (Rid Supermax 5-in-1 Elimination Kit  or Rid Lice Treatment Complete Kit).

Pyrethrin is a chemical compound from the chrysanthemum flower that is toxic to lice. These treatments are not recommended for people allergic to the chrysanthemum flower or ragweed. Side effects may include redness and itching of the scalp.

This LiceMD kit is one way how to treat lice

3. LiceMD Lice & Egg Removal Treatment (Dimethicone Treatment)

This LiceMD kit is a non-toxic and odorless alternative to using products with Pyrethrin. Instead, it lubricates the hair using dimethicone which allows you to remove lice and nits. It’s a highly-rated and affordable over-the-counter option.

4. A local lice treatment center

While expensive (around $200 per head in some areas), you may find that this option is worth the investment. Some lice treatment centers use non-toxic, organic solutions. Many even guarantee that your family will be lice-free after one treatment. If time is a factor and you need to make sure that the treatment works on the first try, this method might be worth the investment for your family.

5. Head lice prescription medications for persistent cases

In some regions, head lice have developed a resistance to standard OTC (over the counter) treatments. If you’ve carefully followed all of the directions for head lice removal and you can’t seem to shake them for good, your child’s pediatrician can recommend a more effective prescription treatment, like Malathion (Ovide).

For a comprehensive guide to the treatment of head lice, check out the guidelines provided by the CDC.

Get nitpicky and remove the nits.

girl with blonde hair and gloved hand holding blue lice comb

Keep in mind that over-the-counter treatments will kill live head lice, but they do not remove the nits. If you want to know how to treat lice, you must get rid of these eggs before they hatch.

Nit removal is a labor-intensive process, but it’s absolutely necessary for proper management of head lice. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut that will get the job done. Wear latex gloves (or something similar) to avoid getting the nits under your fingernails, and use a metal lice removal comb to comb through 1-inch sections of your child’s hair. These combs are included in many of the OTC lice removal kits available for purchase, or you can buy one separately.

When it comes to how to prevent lice, it’s vital to give your home a thorough cleaning.

Shark Hydrovac on Carpet

Since head lice can’t survive for too long away from the human scalp, it’s not necessary to spend a lot of time or money deep-cleaning your home. There are definitely some steps you should take to help avoid reinfestation of head lice in your home, though:

  • Clean all personal hats, scarves, coats, towels, and bed linens by machine washing in hot water. Follow up with at least 20 minutes in your dryer’s hot cycle.
  • Anything that isn’t machine washable (helmets, stuffed animals, etc.) should be dry-cleaned or sealed in a plastic bag for two weeks.
  • Soak combs and brushes in hot water (130 degrees or warmer) for five to 10 minutes.
  • Vacuum everywhere you can – carpets, mattresses, upholstered furniture, car seats, etc.

Lice prevention is key.

back of girl's head with braided hair in a navy hoodie

Hip Tips for How to Prevent Lice:

An informal poll of our team revealed some of the preventative measures we remember our parents taking when we were young. We also discussed some of the methods we currently use to prevent lice. While you should always consult a medical professional regarding the prevention or treatment of any condition, here are some of our own best lice prevention tips – parent to parent:

  • Teach your kids not to share combs, hats, helmets, coats, scarves, pillows, headphones, or any other personal item that might carry lice. Reinforce the idea that combs are in the same category as toothbrushes: something you’d never want to share!
  • If your child’s school doesn’t have lockers or individual cubbies in the classroom, encourage them to store their personal belongings in their backpacks while at school.
  • Remind your child to avoid head-to-head (and hair-to-hair) contact. So many of us remember our moms braiding our hair or putting it in a bun to make it harder for head lice to climb aboard.
  • There is a widely-held theory that head lice actually prefer clean hair. Lots of moms credit the use of extra hair products with keeping their families lice-free. Dry shampoo for another win!

No matter how you look at it, lice is an issue many kids and families face. Equip yourself with the best prevention and treatment options!

Has your family survived a close encounter with head lice?

What are your best tips for how to prevent or treat lice? Let us know in the comments below!

Check out our back-to-school tips, tricks, and activities to kick off the year right!

About the writer:

Jenna has a Bachelor's Degree from Lycoming College and her Master's from Penn State, holding 4 years of writing experience between a variety of publications and Hip2Save.

Join The Discussion

Comments 63

  1. petra

    last year it went through my daughers classroom several times. I bought the rid spray and sprayed my daughters backpack and jacket with it every few days along with braids and hairspray and we were able to avoid it.

    • J.H.509

      We’ve done that too. I have three daughters and we all have waist length hair. Unfortunately we have been invaded several times. One way we get rid of them quickly is with alcohol. And we spray everything with it. It’s cheaper than RID or NIX and just as effective. Although we do use the lice shampoo once a month for preventative measure. In our area we have what they call “super lice” ಠ︵ಠ

      • butchie

        J.H.509 – What type of alcohol do you use? Rubbing alcohol? Vodka? And do you dilute it? Please kinda share your green recipe as several of us are dying to know 🙂

  2. Fabiola

    Have experienced this with my youngest daughter many times this last year, seems to be getting worse and the schools do nothing about it.
    Bought a spray on amazon that had helped until she missed spraying it once and she was re-infested. It’s exhausting to have to be cleaning them up weekly and daily
    But yes extreme follow up and checking every one is the best solution.
    I have also found that to get rid of the nits soaking their hair in 2 part vinegar 2 part water and leaving it on for 30 minutes gets the sticky stuff off and they fall right off.

    • Jennifer (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks for the vinegar tip, Fabiola!

  3. Mia

    Sklice is the other one we’ll often order for patients. The thing to remember is sometimes you need two treatments. One initially to kill the live bugs, then nit combing, then another one in a week or two to kill any other bugs that may have hatched in between.

    • Mia

      you can also coat the hair in vaseline prior to nit combing, it’ll help get those off when you comb through.

    • Mandy

      Skilce is a miracle worker! We used it when my daughter brought home love years ago. The OTC stuff didn’t work long term, bit Skilce pulverized the eggs. They literally fell apart.

      • Mandy

        *brought home lice

      • butchie

        Where can I get Skilce?

    • butchie

      Where do you purchase Sklice? How do you get it?

  4. lydia

    Don’t forget to vacuum the car and car seats as well!
    We went through this last year with our daughter who has waist long hair. Took her to a lice removal salon and I also got checked since that morning she had come to our bed for snuggles…well, I had nits already. It was close to $400 for both of us. Plus we had to go back about a week later for a second treatment as part of their warranty. In total it was about $600 and DAYS worth of laundry and cleaning.
    I now got a membership at the lice salon for about $7 month.

  5. Ashley

    Adding essential oils (lavender and tea tree oil) to your shampoo can also help. I also made a “lice spray” using essential oils for my daughter to spray in her hair everyday to keep the lice away. She had gotten them several times but as long as she uses the spray, the lice seem to stay away.

    • Jennifer (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks, Ashley!

    • J.H.509

      Yes! We add those essential oils to out homemade detangler spray that we use everyday to fix hair.

      • Lesli

        J.H.509, would you mind sharing the recipe for the homemade detangler?

  6. Doug

    Forget the OTC products. The best thing to use is olive oil. My wife used to work for Lice Doctors and that’s basically what they use.

    • Kim

      Yes! Olive oil works the best! One treatment and done! Leaves your hair extra soft and no harsh chemicals! Remember your skin is the biggest organ on your body and anything it touches gets absorbed. Organic olive oil and safe and natural and almost everyone has a bottle already at home.
      Just pour olive oil in the hair while in the shower, keep it limited on getting just on the hair, make sure hair is saturated. Put shower cap on afterwards for 30 minutes. The olive oil will suffocate the living lice bugs. After 30 minutes use the lice combs ( you can buy these separately) and comb through a couple of times. Lice eggs slide right off with the olive oil. Afterwards wash out with shampoo and conditioner and your hair will love lice free and look amazing!
      Also, first sign of lice but all stuff animals and bedding in a black trash bag for 72 hours ( I like to be on the safer side and make sure if anything is on anything it’s dead!)
      When I was growing up I got lice a lot. The worst part was the chemical treatments my mom used on me. It always got some in my mouth, the smell was gross and it never got rid of them with just one treatment, plus the comb was complete torture for me afterwards, so painful!
      Please do yourself and your kids some good and use organic olive oil, it’s safe for you and them, makes combing out painless, and ends up being cheaper at the end.

  7. Michelle

    About 15 years ago when my girls were younger and school aged, I purchased tea tree oil in the vitamin section at Walmart. I had read years ago that it helped prevent head lice. I added it to the shampoo so they washed with it nightly or every other night when they washed their hair. After this preventative measure, we never had any outbreaks!

    • Laura

      I add it to water in a spray bottle and spray hair before school. Has kept it away even in a classroom that had a problem with it.

  8. ShayShay

    As a kindergarten teacher and parent of two young kiddos, this nit comb from amazon was worth every penny. My school did away with our no nit policy so we ALWAYS have lice in our school! This comb has spirals and pulls those critters and eggs easy peasy.
    Nit Free Terminator Lice Comb, Professional Stainless Steel Louse and Nit Comb for Head Lice Treatment

    • Jill

      Yes! I can’t highly recommend this comb. It was a total lifesaver and finally got rid of those pesky bugs we dealt with for months with my daughters long thick hair. Definitely worth the cost!

      • Heather C

        I have 2 of these from when my daughters were younger. They also work well on fleas & flea eggs!

    • An

      Yes!!! I also agree about the comb. My 3 long haired daughters got struck, and then shared with me after a visit to dad’s. Coconut oil, tea tree oil and this comb saved my sanity. I didn’t find the shampoo nearly as effective, as we kept having survivors.

    • Jennifer (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks for the recommendation on the comb, ShayShay!

    • Shirley

      Best nit comb ever

    • Joanne

      I completely agree about the Nit Free Terminator Comb. After dealing with the over the counter kits for almost a month of nightly 2-hour nit combing sessions on my daughter’s light blonde hair and still missing some, we finally found that comb and the problem was solved with one thorough session.

  9. Rebecca

    One of my kids had lice a couple years ago… noticed it at night so did olive oil with tea tree oil, soaked his hair & left on over night, combed through in morning. Never saw more after that! Have your kids use tea tree oil shampoo once a week & you’ll never have lice again! I also make up a diluted tea tree spray & will spray it on them when they could possibly be exposed. Also, my kid had been nowhere he would have been exposed, except we were out shopping & he kept running in clothes racks(he was 3). Something to think about…

    • Rudy

      How many drops of tea tree oil do you use in your spray? I just bought one of those flarisol bottles to spray their hair with water. Both of my kids are in camp, want to avoid them getting lice of it goes around.

      • Laura

        I guess I don’t really count. Add drops until I can smell it after shaking a little to mix. 10-20?

  10. Sarah

    This is not a judgement, but per wikipedia typhus is spread through lice. I just thought people should know.

    • erika m

      Body lice and head lice are distinctly different. This post is in reference to head lice only. It is body lice that can be responsible for Typhus transmission.

  11. shawna

    Use tea tree oil once a month keeps lice away

  12. Sg

    Two years back my daughter got lice from her preschool and they spread to my head too. I didn’t want to use harmful chemicals so I used tea tree oil and coconut oil in 1:3 ratio. And applied it overnight every 3rd night. I got rid of lice in 3 to 4 application. Tea tree oil conditioned my hair and made them look lively so now I use it once a month for natural shine and lusture.

  13. Princess'Mom

    We had it at our house a couple of years ago–my stepson brought it home and we figured out it was from “trying on helmets” with the football team! I got it but my husband was spared and we couldn’t figure out how he didn’t get them. I did some research and found out that they don’t like pine tar soap–and that’s what he uses instead of shampoo! After being up all night washing, cleaning, and being grossed out, I then used his pine tar soap for a few weeks to make sure they were GONE! Thankfully, we haven’t had a recurrence but I’m constantly paranoid that it’ll happen again. 🙁

  14. Jo28p

    Rid and those pesticides did nothing for us. Don’t waste your money! Fairytales is the best! Old fashion but oicking was how we got rid of it. We watched a YouTube video to show us how the professional but pickers did it and got a nit terminator lice comb. Did whole head twice then did again the next day to make sure we had no more nits. We got lice one other time when my Kids were two and four and nix and rid did nothing! Do not waste your money!

    • Maria

      Agree! We used the Ladybug brand per professional lice removers advice. And we were told no need to wash every article of clothing & bedding (or course, after I did). I definitely was able to reduce the population but ended up paying for professionals for one child when we went in to check my work. They check the whole family but we only have to pay for whoever had lice. Our HSA covered it and it was well worth the money!

  15. SUZY

    I work in a Children’s hospital & we see Lots of Lice !! Here’s something to think about. Lice really only prefer very Clean hair because it’s much easier for them to attach to it. I’ve always just gone a day or two between washings and put some hairspray or keep my hair up and Never had a problem. Adding tea tree oil to your shampoo or other hair products is also a widely known trick amongst hospital employees.

  16. Jen

    Keep long hair in a pony tail and add tea tree oil to shampoo and conditioner as preventative measures. Check every single day after treatment to make sure no nits were missed. Retreat a week later as well. This is mainly why kids near me end up with their heads shaved. Many parents do one treatment and dont recheck or retreat, so they reinfest because nits were missed.

  17. Vanessa Ruiz

    My head just got really itchy!

    • Jennifer (Hip Sidekick)

      Mine, too!

  18. m

    Years ago when I worked with children, I would always rinse my hair with vinegar at the end of my shower. I was told they didn’t like the smell. I don’t know if this is really true, but I never got head lice and there was always multiple cases of head lice.

  19. Natalie

    There is a live prevention shampoo I got at target and spray for the hair called fairytales it’s kinda expensive but I used it for the first few months of school last year even though my daughter had just started preschool because I work in a pharmacy and know that is the time we get a lot of people on there asking for the otc stuff like RID and I guess my niece had gotten from school and nobody told me she has it and my daughter got it from her and took me a while to get rid of it and it was only like 2 lice in her hair but I didn’t want to go through it again and the shampoo helped what also helped was my nieces school finally started to send the kids home when they had it and not let them back till they were clear of it

  20. Jenn

    Be careful at I-fly simulators they don’t always take the time to really clean helmets in between groups. We even complained – they don’t care. I’d recommended wearing something over your hair. Came home from our wonderful cruise to a huge nightmare!

  21. Jessa Trett

    I caught lice at the tender age of 34 ! Yes 34 ! Not sure how in the world i got it and thankfully nobody else got them. Its stinks would be an understatement. The intense itch and the worry of recatching them and not getting rid completely is a nightmare. I figure it must have been something as simple as trying on a hat or even a shirt at the store. Maybe thats a far reach but i wad out of ideas.

  22. patricialavenz-goff

    A hairdresser suggested dying or putting a perm in our daughters hair (she wanted to anyway) and it worked. We gave her a home perm and the chemicals killed the bugs and we combed otu the nits.

  23. Heather

    We use a Robi comb at our house every week or so just in case. With 5 little girls in our house, lice is a 4 letter word lol

  24. Jane

    Lice Free spray, is what worked for us. It is a salt solution that dries out and kills the lice and the nits. Bought it from Walmart and amazon

    • Donna

      YES! Also Vamousse works the same way. The only thing I know of that kills the lice AND nits. And no chemicals. Id recommend it to anyone. They also have a shampoo that you can use as a preventative. Lather and leave for 3 min.

  25. hk

    My girls have had severe lice before. I mean we kept getting it for months. (Came from my brothers ex wife. She still has it.🤮) We did everything. Oil, dawn, and coconut conditioner, vinegar, listerine. After fight it for 4 months, I tok them an hour away from home to Lice clinic of America. Best decision ever! I spent $300 plus travel but so worth it after all the headache. We haven’t had it since thank the Lord!

  26. Dawn

    T/Gel Extra Strength dandruff shampoo. Seriously. If you are dealing with lice, this one bottle will be such a relief.

    My youngest 2 kids got lice from school and I was going through the pain of lice shampoo, comb, spray, etc. My oldest, even though she slept with my youngest daughter did not get a single bug or nit. We finally realized it was because my oldest used T/Gel Extra strength dandruff shampoo for her dandruff, and this either killed bugs or repelled them. So we used T/Gel on my youngest 2. After a single shower with the T/Gel, I was blow-drying my daughters hair with a towel around her shoulders. Dead lice literally fell onto the towel. We shampooed with it at least once a day to kill any newly hatched bugs and never saw another live bug. Everyone I have told this to has had perfect success with it.

  27. ik

    If your kid gets lice, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE tell their close friends’ parents right away!! Picking out 100 nits is so much easier than 10000!!!

  28. Bethany

    I’m a teacher, and unfortunately we can’t send students home with head lice. We have had the majority of some classrooms have it because it spreads from student to student.

  29. Em

    My friend started the company Lice Knowing You a few years ago….they come to you and take care of the lice until it is gone. They also have some storefront drop in treatment locations. It’s a genius business idea!

  30. Laura

    Add Tea tree oil to shampoo as preventative. Also, the 1st product we used was non toxic, no medication in it but what it did have was a greasy consistency which suffocates the lice. Remember after any treatment you must still hand comb the nits/eggs out for days.

  31. Christy

    Lice don’t like tea tree/melaleuca oil so making a spray bottle of stuff for your hair or Dr Bronners has a melaleuca one. Also original listerine works to rid lice. We found that the rid and nix don’t work as well.

  32. Lesli
  33. Jennifer

    We use peppermint spray for prevention. And have been successful at avoid head lice through the last 2 school years even though there were out breaks at school.

    The Hair Genies Lice Prevention Detangler, Conditioning Lice Prevention Spray, All Natural, Peppermint Scented, Anti Lice, Repels Super Lice, Keeps Lice Away and Hair Tangle Free, Non Toxic, 8 oz

  34. butchie

    Thank you for this post. It could not come at a more appropriate time. My sister dropped my niece at my BRAND NEW house for the week, and I noticed she was scratching her head frequently. I called my sister and asked about it, but my sister brushed it off saying it was a “nervous tick”. Well, once I started pulling bugs out of her hair, I knew it was more serious. And, I was very disappointed in my sister and her husband for not noticing sooner.
    Lice treatment products and lice prevention products are VERY expensive. So, if someone can recommend discounts, coupons, sales, etc. it would be most appreciated 🙂

    • butchie

      To clarify…….I treated my niece and myself with lice treatment products, and I treated all of the rugs, curtains, bedding, clothes, stuffed animals, etc. We are officially lice-free…YAY!!! 🙂 But I wanted to know about discounts, coupons, sales, etc. for the next potential outbreak 🙂 Thanks!!

  35. Laurel Larsen

    I liked your tip to throw any affected clothing in the dryer for 20 minutes on a hot cycle. My sister recently found out that there’s lice going around her son’s school and she’s afraid he’ll catch them. I’ll let her know that there are treatment options out there and that she shouldn’t worry too much.

  36. Dawn

    I worked in daycares for 15 years and never caught lice. I always kept my hair up and sprayed it with a ton of hairspray whenever we had a lice outbreak. They don’t like hair that is loaded with product. I didn’t like walking around with crunchy hair but it was better than the alternative lol

  37. candie

    I am pretty sure there is no such thing as “no drama” when it comes to lice. Had three girls and over the years they all got lice. One thing we found out was one of them got them from “dress up clothes” at daycare. My one daughter was at two different daycares and got them at both. To this day, i do not share a hairbrush with anyone.

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