Hair Conditioner: Friend or Foe?

Does hair conditioner have any part to play in the fight against head lice? Some may say it works against you.
The makers of the pediculicides or lice "shampoos" claim that you are not to use hair conditioner for a number of days after treatment as this will render the chemicals ineffective. So, if you choose the pesticides, don't use the conditioner. (On a side note, this is one of the excuses that the supporters of the pesticides use when the pesticides don't work - they say you didn't follow the directions.)

However, if you choose the non-chemical route, some say hair conditioner can help. It can really slow down or stop the live lice from crawling, making them easier to catch. First, comb your hair with a regular brush or comb to remove tangles. Then, hop in the shower and apply conditioner. Before you rinse, comb through the hair from root to tip with your lice comb. There is a great chance that if you have any bugs on your head, you will comb them out. Do this on a regular basis as a preventative measure against full infestation.

Some people feel that conditioner is even more effective when you apply it to hair that is dry. I haven't really noticed a difference. Dry or wet, the lice comb goes through the hair much more easily with the conditioner. So, I say that conditioner is your friend as it can make for easier lice removal. And you hair is so nice and shiny!

What You Really Need For The Battle

When I go to a home, I bring a lot of stuff with me. Two bags full and an adjustable chair. I have an extensive list of items that make lice removal easier for me and for my client.

Of all that I bring, what is essential? What do you really need to combat head lice?
All you really need is good eyesight, good light, nimble fingers and time. If you are the one with head lice, then you need a buddy who has all of these things. If I were to notice lice on my child's head and I was without my regular equipment, I would still get busy. I'd get near a window for natural light, and I would just go through the hair, strand by strand, picking off every louse and nit. And then I'd go through it again. And again.

If you want to save on some time, then you might want to keep these items around just in case:

  • Hair clips to separate the hair into manageable sections if the hair is very long
  • An adjustable light source, like a head lamp or a desk lamp that can be moved and angled as necessary
  • A magnifying glass to get a closer look if you need it
  • A real lice comb, like the LiceMeister or the Nit Free Terminator
  • A container of water and some toilet paper or paper towel to rinse and wipe the lice comb
  • A garbage can to throw your "treasures" in
  • Entertainment, such as a movie or video games, to pass the time
Some other tips: Have the person with lice put on a clean button-up-the-front shirt before the lice removal. Then, have them change their shirt after, just in case a critter fell on their clothes. Have everyone (including you) go to the bathroom before the lice removal starts. Set up your area completely before you start picking.
Some tools that are unnecessary? Pesticidal "shampoos" or treatments. They give you a false sense of security and the enemy has adapted to them. So just get in there and pick. In the war against head lice, your greatest weapons are diligence and determination.


School Lice Policies - is "no-nit" the way to go?

Just before taking your child to school, you notice that she has head lice. What do you do? Do you keep her home or find someone who can take care of her for the day? Do you send her to school and hope for the best?

The United States-based National Pediculosis Association recommends that all schools and child-care centres adopt a "No-Nit" Policy. With this policy, children with head-lice are not allowed to return to school until the lice have been removed. The NPA believes we need families to understand that shampooing with pesticides is not enough (and not recommended) and until we manually remove all of the live lice/nits, we will continue the cycle of lice infestation and the cost and suffering that goes with it.

Other organizations, such as the National Association of School Nurses (again, in the U.S.), do not recommend a "No-Nit" Policy. They do not feel that children should miss school over a condition that is not a health risk - especially since we do not have strict policies that keep children home when they have with contagious health conditions, such as colds or bacterial/fungal infections.

I'm torn. Most parents I meet in my business are upset that their schools are seemingly not taking head lice seriously. They are mad at the parents who do not take the time to remove the head-lice from their children and frustrated that they are sending their now nit-free children back into a classroom of infected heads. However, as a working parent, I know it is not easy to drop everything and make arrangements to deal with head lice. If a parent doesn't have the knowledge or resources that they feel they need to deal with the problem, then the head-lice problem will continue. And you can't keep a child out of school for too long.

Also, having nits does not automatically mean that you have lice. There was a study where 63 children were found that had nits but had no bugs. Over time, only 18% developed cases of full-blown head lice. So, with that research, a no-nit policy seems a bit excessive.

My thought is that schools should do regular head checks, through the school nurse, or through volunteers, or through professionals. Schools should equip parents with the best information regarding head-lice. Precautions should be taken to keep coats from touching in the coat room and costumes should be regularly laundered. Students should be encouraged to keep their long hair tied back and all kids should be regularly reminded that they can't share hats or combs. The school should be a place where parents and kids can talk about head-lice without denial or shame. If you are an educator, let's talk about how we can do this.

What if you can't pick/comb?

Because there is no 100% effective way to kill every nit and louse, the best way to deal with your head lice is to pick and comb out every nit and louse.

But what if you cannot? What if your vision/dexterity is poor and you are not physically able to do this? What if you are all alone with your head lice and have no one to remove the nits? Call me! OK, what if you can't?

First, let me say, you can still comb. If you are able to comb your hair every day, you are able to comb out some head lice. You can get an effective lice come, or you can just simply wet comb with a very fine toothcomb. Comb your wet hair from root to tip in one continuous motion and clean out your comb between strokes. Put some conditioner in your hair to keep it wet during the process. If you keep doing this everyday, a couple of times a day, you will have dealt with most of the problem

When adults get head lice, most people resort to the pesticidal shampoos. You know that I am against this, especially since lice are resistant. So, you may wish to revert to some home remedies. I am not officially endorsing these "treatments", as they have not been proven to be the most effective. However, there is some evidence that suggests that they will kill some of the lice/nits, and it is highly unlikely that they hurt you.

1. Apply a suffocating agent such as olive oil and/or mayonnaise.
Good News: Some people at Harvard threw lice into olive oil. After one hour, the lice were still alive. After two hours, the lice were dead. (They also threw the lice in water - and the lice survived for 24 hours.) You can read claim after claim on the Internet where people swear by the use of olive oil or mayo to kill head lice. I've done it myself with my own family; I once coated my son's head with olive oil AND mayo for about 4 hours and all the lice I combed out afterwards were dead.
Bad News: No formal studies have been done to show the true effectiveness of this treatment. Even those people at Harvard say that throwing lice in oil is not real research. So, all the evidence is anecdotal. It is an extremely messy process (my son's head was wrapped in plastic wrap and towels - it was during daytime hours. Don't do this and put your child to bed!) It is difficult to wash out these oils and my son's scalp was quite dry afterwards (probably from the mayo and the extra washing after). Mayo and oil may irritate the lice bites on your head and, as with every food product, there is the chance of an allergic reaction. Also, I have no idea of the effectiveness on these suffocating agents on the eggs. I still picked every egg out of my son's head.

2. Use a hair dryer.
Good News: Researchers from The University of Utah did a great deal of research and discovered that nits can be dried out with the proper use of a hair dryer. The following is taken from the results of their study that was published in the November 2006 issue of the publication Pediatrics:
"A handheld blow dryer was used to apply directed heating. Hair clips were used to divide each child’s hair into 20 sections. The dryer was held still for 30 seconds to heat one side of each section, then held still another 30 seconds to heat the other side. This method killed 55 percent of lice and 98 percent of eggs."

They say the drying effect is more from the blowing than the heat so use a "cool" setting if your blow dryer has one.(And don't try to kill lice with a curling iron!)
Bad News: The nits won't dry up if the hair dryer is not used properly. With live lice, only approximately half of the bugs are killed with this method - that means 45% are still crawling around, laying more eggs. Also, hair dryers can burn! You have to have constant movement of the air flow to ensure even drying and no burning. This is why this method is NOT recommended by the researchers at the University of Utah.

You may ask, what about "natural" treatments, like tea-tree oil or salt-based treatments? Even these "natural" treatments can have some harmful side effects if not used properly, and I have seen people use them with disappointing results. Therefore, I would rather you save your money and go for the solutions that are more readily available.

Or, just give me a call.


Why I DO NOT guarantee my work.

Update: I'm not currently doing lice removal services.  Sorry! But read this blog for info on how you can deal with head lice effectively on your own.

After doing my best to remove all the nits and lice from someone's head, they sometimes want a money-back guarantee - an assurance that they are now lice-free and will be bothered by head lice no more.

I can't do that for them. Why?

1. Sometimes people do not follow instructions.
Even though I make two visits to the home, I still require people to be diligent in their own combing between visits and they need to do regular combing / lice checks for at least 2 weeks after my last visit. If they don't participate in the combing and checking, the problem can still continue. Sometimes, a parent will have me check a child, but they will not let me check their head to see if the lice have been passed around. In these situations, lice may still be in the home after my visit.

2. They might get lice again from another source.
The child that has been declared head-lice free can go back to school, hug a friend who has head lice, and the cycle begins again. I can pick and comb 'till the cows come home, but I can't protect you or your children from all lice everywhere.

3. I can miss something.
Anyone who has ever picked lice/nits knows that it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. There is always a chance that I will miss something. This is why I offer a FREE follow up visit where give the head another look and check for signs of any new lice activity.

What I do promise is to provide you and your family with the best information regarding staying head-lice free and I promise to do my best to get every nit and louse out of your hair to the best of my ability. And, I think my ability is excellent, thank you.

Not All Combs Are Created Equal

When I first got into picking head lice, I would read about the "lice comb". I mistakenly thought that those little green combs that you find in the lice "shampoo" boxes were real lice combs. I was very discouraged as these combs didn't remove any nits, and only removed the occasional bug. This "lice comb" was no better than a traditional comb. Then I was told that metal combs were the answer. I went to my local drug store and bought a metal comb. It pulled out the nits - but it also pulled out the hair! It was horribly painful to use! Because of this, I gave up on ever finding that perfect lice comb. I thought I would be hand picking nits forever.

Then I met my dream comb: The LiceMeister. Sigh. The first time you use it you are astonished. (You never forget your first time!) The comb removes so many eggs and it catches lice, too. While I still had to do hand picking, it reduced my nit/lice picking time immensely. And it was on CSI too, so it is trés cool! It is very durable and boilable. It comes with comprehensive instructions and a comb cleaner(though you can easily clean it with wax-free dental floss). I tend to use it on wet hair first, do hand picking, and then go through the hair one more time with the comb. Just be sure to comb from root to tip in one continuous motion. You can do a quick cleaning of the comb between strokes by dipping it in water and wiping it on toilet paper or paper towel. Don't worry too much about eggs that are still in the comb - just check it to make sure that no bugs are stuck in it before you do the next stroke of the comb.
If you want more info about this great lice removal tool, contact me at www.thenicelicelady@live.com It is a must-have if your lice are a recurring don't-want.