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Head Lice & Nits

What are head lice?

Head lice are tiny, wingless parasitic insects that live among human hair and feed on blood from the scalp. This can cause itchiness and persistent scratching may lead to skin irritation and sometimes infection.

Having head lice is not a sign of uncleanliness or poor hygiene. They are very common among children of all ages and socioeconomic levels, no matter how often they do (or don't) wash their hair. They aren't dangerous, they don't spread disease, but they are very contagious and can be hard to get rid of. So it’s best to treat straight away.

View head lice treatment products

What are nits?

Nits are the eggs of the head louse. The female louse secretes a strong adhesive when she lays her eggs. This holds the egg tightly onto the hair shaft, where they remain for weeks or months even when the head lice themselves have been cleared.

The eggs of head lice hatch in about 7-10 days. The egg-to-egg cycle is about 3-4 weeks.

Signs of head lice…

Head Lice eggs or nits - look like tiny bits of yellow-white dandruff on hair shafts close to the scalp but brushing or shaking them off can’t remove them. Once hatched, the shell remains on the hair shaft. Common places to find them are behind the ears and around the nape of the neck. Shells found 1 – 1.5 cm from the hair shaft are probably dead or hatched.

Adult lice - are about the size of a sesame seed and are usually white/grey in colour. They can only survive 1-2 days off the scalp.

Scratching or tickling heads - it can sometimes take weeks for kids with lice to start scratching. They may complain of things moving around on or tickling their heads first.

Are head lice contagious?

Yes. Head lice are very contagious. They can't fly, jump or swim but they can crawl and cling firmly to hair. They spread mainly through head-to-head contact, but sharing clothing, combs, brushes, and hats etc. can also help pass them along.

Children are most prone to catching lice because they tend to have close physical contact with each other and often share personal items.

Non-pesticide remedies for removing head lice…

Wet combing - To remove lice and nits by hand, use a fine-tooth comb on your child's wet, conditioned hair every 3 to 4 days for 2 weeks after the last live louse was seen. Wetting the hair beforehand is recommended because it temporarily immobilizes the lice and the conditioner makes it easier to get a comb through the hair.

Dry combing - This requires much patience for combing the hair section by section, using a fine toothed comb. Fingernails can also be used to remove stubborn eggs! Repeat every second day for 3 weeks or until head is clear.

Electric combs - These can be purchased from pharmacies. They are battery operated and kill the lice, making them easier to remove. Use on dry hair only!

Natural herbal remedies for treating head lice and nits...

Mr Nits One Application - Mr Nits special formulation of natural botanical oils disrupts the attachment of lice and their live eggs to the hair, enabling quick and easy removal by rinsing and combing. 100% natural and non-toxic.

Another option is the Natures Nurse Head Lice & Nit Removal Comb using the wet comb method. Ideally use in conjunction with the Natures Nurse Lice Lather Shampoo and Preventative Spray.

Tips for preventing re-infestation of head lice and nits...

  • Lice do not live off the body for long so you only have to treat items recently worn by (or in contact the infested person e.g. pillowcases, clothing, towels, hats and soft toys
  • Wash items in very hot water (over 60 degrees Celsius) – a few drops of Tea Tree Oil added to the wash may work as a deterrent
  • Soak hair-care items like combs, hair ties or bands, headbands, and brushes in hot water
  • Vacuuming carpets and rugs may also be helpful to ensure dead lice and nits are removed
  • Check the hair of everyone in the family
  • Tell kids to try to avoid head-to-head contact at school and while playing at home with other children
  • Tell kids not to share combs, brushes, hats, scarves, hair ties or bands, towels
  • Keep long hair tied back

Natural remedies for preventing and repelling head lice and nits...

The No Nits Soap is an affordable option - used as a shampoo you can get up to 50 washes out of 1 bar! 

Essentia Healthy Hair - sprayed in the hair may help deter head lice. Essentia is made in Auckland and contains only essential oils in water. It is a popular and affordable option.  

The Lice Lather Preventative Spray in conjunction with the Lice Lather Treatment Shampoo can be an effective combination for preventing re-infestation. The spray can also be helpful to keep really curly, dry hair more manageable. 

Some other mums swear by adding a few drops of Tea Tree Oil into their normal shampoo.

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The Naturopathic Team
Ideal Health

Disclaimer: The health information presented here has been written for the New Zealand health consumer. It is of a general nature and is only intended to provide a summary of the subjects covered and is intended to be used for educational and general information purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice or as a means to diagnose, treat, cure or prescribe for any particular condition or disease. You assume all responsibility for the treatment which may be undertaken as a result of the information on this site, or treatment recommended by any other party. While all care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, no responsibility or liability is accepted, and no person should act in reliance on any statement contained in the information provided. All health ailments should be treated by a qualified health professional.

If you need help or advice, please email our naturopathic team with your health question.  Please allow 48 hours for a response.

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