4/05/2013

Comment of the Day: Lice in African-American Hair

Here's a comment I just received:
"Hello, I am African American and my 5year old got head lice from school. I have found it very difficult to use the combing method because of her natural hair is very kinky and curly when wet. It just seems to pull out the hair and it is painful for her. Myself and my 2 year old also have lice now. I used the shampoo I used lots of hair grease I see a few nits but they fall off easily. There is not much info on lice and African American hair. What do you recommend? I do not see live lice just a few tiny nits. How often should I wash bedding? What color are live lice?"

Hmm. There's not much info about lice in African-American hair because it is not commonly seen in African-American hair due to the shape of the hair shaft. (See an earlier post about this here.)There are those that say that African-American people don't get lice, which is not true. Cases are uncommon, but lice are very good at adapting and I am sure that we will just see more and more cases of lice in this population.

In your case, are you sure you actually have head lice? You say you haven't seen any live lice and the what you think have been nits have fallen off easily, which doesn't really happen. Nits are glued to the hair and have to be scraped off the hair shaft with a good lice comb or with your fingernails, so if something is coming off with just a flick or a light rub, I would guess that it is just dandruff. Also, you really need to see a louse before you can be certain you have an active case of head lice. Lice are small but not microscopic (though I really enjoy putting them under a microscope!) They are usually a mousy brown colour but can look darker in light hair and lighter in dark hair but are also sort of translucent and can blend in with many hair colours (which is a pain).

But let's assume you are dealing with head lice. So what to do? It truly is more difficult to get a good lice comb through very curly and coarse hair. However, I have done it by wetting the hair and using almost an entire bottle of the cheapest hair conditioner on one head when combing - you may not need to do this, just use as much as you need. You don't rinse this out, you comb through it. This can help to make the hair straighter and detangled for combing. (You first need to detangle with a brush or a wide-toothed comb before you start with a lice comb.) Unfortunately, combing through tight curly hair is more time consuming, quite messy (I recommend you climb in the bathtub with your own kids for lice combing when you need loads of conditioner - the water and bath toys help keep them occupied). It becomes more difficult to see what you have combed off the scalp when you are combing off globs of hair conditioner, but it can be done.  After combing, wipe your comb on some toilet paper and look through the conditioner for signs of eggs or bugs.You may need to try out different metal lice combs to find one that works for you that doesn't pull out your hair. Do not comb the hair unless it is wet and coated with conditioner. Hair conditioner is better to use than other greasy products like olive oil because the grease can actually grab at the comb, where the hair conditioner will allow for a smoother and more continuous stroke from root to tip.

Even if the combing is tough, keep trying. If you have tried different metal combs and have been doing wet combing with conditioner and you still find it too hard, then you can try wet combing with a plastic fine toothed comb. Plastic combs generally do nothing in the way of removing nits and very little to remove nymphs, but they can still remove many larger bugs through wet combing with conditioner. And if you can't comb out everything, it is still better to comb out something. If you keep combing thoroughly and regularly (every couple of days), the idea is that you will be able to comb out the bugs as they hatch but hopefully before they can lay new eggs allowing you to outrun the problem. As for nits, if the metal lice comb is too painful, get yourself in good light (I recommend using a cheap head lamp for nit-picking) and pick out anything you can see.  Focus mostly on anything you see right next to the scalp. And, if you are not sure about what you are seeing, when in doubt, pick it out.

Lastly, read about the use of an ordinary hair dryer as a lice-fighting tool in other posts on this blog. There is research to show that fast-blowing warm (not hot) directed air blown on sections of the hair and scalp can dry out most of the nits and about half of the bugs. Use the blow dryer on dry hair on the highest speed, but don't burn your children with the highest heat. I like the use of a blow dryer because, like a good lice comb, it is a tool you can use again and again. Read the posts for more info and check out the research.

As for lice shampoos, I personally don't recommend them but only because of their limited (or non-existent) effectiveness, the false sense of security that they give,  and their extra cost. As for house cleaning and laundering, I DO NOT RECOMMEND that you do any extra cleaning. There is no research to show that this helps in any way and research to show that it has no effect (again, check out the research links on the blog).  I have much experience to show that parents who focus on the surroundings more than on the scalps burn themselves out and make themselves nuts over these ineffective, busy, and costly tasks.  Keep your focus on the head. You've got enough to do with the combing, picking, and blowing. Try to maintain some balance, keep things in perspective, get some sleep, and stick with it  until you have had 2 weeks with no new sightings.

Good luck!

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Few things can cause panic in my chest like the word "lice". As I came to the sickening realization of being invaded, I scoured the Internet for info, tips & solutions. I found your website, followed your instructions, and am now lice free.
I cannot thank you enough for easing my panic. You have no idea the depth of paranoia I was feeling before I found you! You helped me fight this battle and I am so, so grateful.
Thank you!

Cathy, the Nice Lice Lady. said...

You are very welcome. I believe that the panic/misinformation is the real problem when dealing with head lice. You should feel very proud of yourself for getting informed and putting in the needed effort. You are now a lice expert. Please share your skills with others - we can all let the world know the problem head lice can be beaten.

Anonymous said...

I think there needs to be more info on the topic of head lice in african american communities. I have know personally some black kids who have gotten lice, and the only option the parents had was to straighten their hair out because it was in the natural state, and then comb through with oil because conditioner would just make the straightened hair revert. I think there are more cases than are known about because there is a certain stigma associated with black people having lice and also because alot of black people do not know anything about lice and may not know their kids have it until there is an infestation.

Hazel Gayle said...
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Hazel Gayle said...

Yes, there truly is little information about how to deal with lice in Black (African American) hair, probably because of the historically lower incidence of infestation. So many sites talk about the wet combing method, and it's mostly for straighter hair types. Instructions like "put conditioner on DRY hair, and do a final comb through of ALL of the hair at the end," along with videos showing the ease of passing the lice comb through hair sections just weren't geared toward our kind of hair. Putting conditioner on DRY hair just leaves us with 'sticky' hair and does nothing to help with the fact that our kinks aren't just going to lay down for the nice lice comb to pass through. I am glad someone asked and you gave some helpful suggestions and advice. I would really love to see some 'lice experts' give some demos on comb outs in African American hair.

Hazel Gayle said...
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Hazel Gayle said...
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Osbaldo Moore said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cathy, the Nice Lice Lady. said...

Hi Osbaldo,
I removed your link to the other blog - not because I don't want people to go to other blogs (there are many other links to other sites throughout my blog) but because it seems the writer of the blog has just recently gathered some of the misinformation that is still all over the internet about head lice; it is simply not based in current research. I do love the look of the blog - it is a brand new blog that someone has obviously put a lot of effort into. However, just because it looks great, that doesn't mean that it is correct in what it says. From my quick glance, this blog promotes all sorts of homemade treatments and so-called natural products to fight head lice. If these things worked, I would promote them but I have been to so many homes where they tried these home remedies and products like tea tree oil but they still found themselves dealing with head lice. My message is simple on this blog - do wet combing and don't get distracted or exhausted by wasting time and energy on activities that don't work.

Where do head lice come from? Other heads. It is now, thankfully, much more common knowledge that lice are spread by head to head contact and that transmission through objects such as bedding, brushes, or clothing, is extremely rare. To paraphrase lice researcher Ian Burgess, if a louse is on an everyday object and not on your head, it is because that louse is dead or dying and is not a risk. There was a study done years ago where lice researchers looked at thousands of brushes of people who had active cases of head lice - not one brush had a louse in it.

If you yourself are dealing with head lice, please know that you need to take the situation seriously and give it the attention it deserves. Respect the louse and only focus on activities that will actually help in the fight. Other activities like worrying about where you got it, cleaning your furniture, doing extra laundry etc. will just exhaust you and keep you from doing the real work - removing lice from the scalp. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I have lice but how do I get rid of them? (I have VERY curly hair)

Cathy, the Nice Lice Lady. said...

You can get a lice comb through curly hair - but you need a ton of conditioner to detangle it (if you can), weigh the hair down, and make it smoother for combing. It takes longer but it can still work with a good lice comb. Another thing you can do is use a blow dryer on dry hair (on a warm, not a hot setting - check out the posts about this). It is proven to have some effectiveness in killing lice and a great deal of effectiveness in drying out eggs. Good luck!

Cathy, the Nice Lice Lady. said...

And, I would put the conditioner on WET hair. Conditioner on dry hair is just a mess.

Cathy, the Nice Lice Lady. said...

Also, tackle one section at a time. Bit by bit, you will beat the lice!

Anonymous said...

Hello Cathy I am an 18 year old woman who thinks I may be infected with lice. I'm not sure if it is head or body lice. I constantly feel the bugs in my hair which is my biggest symptom. When I say constant I mean constant like 20 hours of the day. I've been feeling like this going on 2 years now. I've seen doctors & told them my symptoms and about the disgusting dark marks that come and go on my body. They've told me it "may" be a fungus & prescribed me antifungul cream which did absolutely nothing for me. I kept telling them I feel stuff crawling on my head and skin & that for some reason when I come around everyone gets itchy. I decided to do some research of my own and ALOT of my symptoms sound like head lice. I am at the end of my rope I do not know what to do with my self. Cathy please help me.

Katie said...

I replied in one of your earlier posts. My daughter has her dads very curly African hair. She had a terrible infestation last August. I honestly ignored a lot of the signs for awhile because I had read about how African hair here doesn't usually get lice so by the time we caught it it was terrible. I tried the combing and gave up. I paid for someone to take care of it and the guaranteed it so I was sold. They used a dryer device which worked great. We didn't comb the eggs out but did use a heavy oil after to get any of the bugs that were still alive. We went for a recheck 3weeks later and we're still live free. That was the best money ever spent. If she had nice straight hair I would have dealt with it myself and saved a ton of money but I can't imagine trying to get all those eggs out of her very long kinky hair. It takes almost an hour just to comb her hair out after having her hair loose and free for a week let alone using a nitpick.

Cathy, the Nice Lice Lady. said...

Glad to hear! You gotta do what works for you. Drying lice out is a great way to deal with them and I am glad it did the trick. The people that make that drying device did a study when they first created it and they found that even a home hair dryer, blowing warm (not hot) directed air on sections of hair killed over 50% of the bugs and over 90% of the eggs in one sitting. So I whole heartedly recommend using hot air, especially when there are factors that make combing difficult. The thing I like about using a home hair dryer, as opposed to the adapted dryer, is that it is inexpensive and you can use it as often as you want. Check out the other posts on this blog for more information about this.

Cathy, the Nice Lice Lady. said...

To the person who has dark marks that come and go on your body, I don't think you are dealing with head lice but I can't say for sure. These dark marks are not a symptom of head lice or body lice. Neither head or body lice would make everyone itch just because you are near them (though even I scratch a little at the mention of lice - the power of suggestion.) Unlike head lice, body lice is a hygiene issue. Body lice don't really live on your body - they live in your clothes and they are easily dealt with by washing your clothes and wearing clean clothes. Head lice do not cause itching all over the body. I'm glad to hear that you have been to a doctor. Perhaps you can request a referral to a dermatologist. There is a condition where you can become hyper-aware of itching where the itching is very real but there is no physical cause. But make sure everything else is ruled out first. Don't give up - keep getting assessed by medical professionals until you get some answers. Good luck.

Linda said...
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