If you've recently been exposed to lice (or you're a garden-variety hypochondriac), that creepy crawling you're feeling in your hair may be more in your head than on your head.
It takes about one month for an errant louse to set up shop and procreate a network of friends and family large enough to see and feel them in your hair. And stop squirming around in your chair, itching your arms and legs. They don't stray from the head. Head lice have no interest in your hairy chest, armpits, legs, or any other area of your body (and I know you know that I know where else you're thinking. I know, I know. But no. Not there, either. And that faux innocent look on your face is not convincing).
First, some Fun Facts:
- Lice do not burrow, fly, or jump.
- Lice prefer straight, fine hair over coarse, curly hair.
- Lice cannot survive, off-head, more than 24 hours.
- Lice cannot survive extreme heat or cold temperatures.
- Lice can hold their teeny little breath for up to 8 hours.
- Lice have short legs with claws at the end that allow them to expertly hang on to the hair shaft - even in wind, the pool, and during hair washing.
Let's assume lice are squatting on your property. How do you get rid of them?
Step 1: Kill them and their eggs (nits) at the source in one fell swoop (I don't really know what a ‘fell swoop’ is, either, but I like to say it a lot). Remember, they can hold their breath a long time. Suffocation tactics like vaseline, olive oil, and mayonnaise do not work. And putting a plastic bag over your kid's head is probably a bad idea, too. I'm pretty confident DFACS would frown upon that. Enzymes seem to work the best. Be sure to get them all, though. Leaving behind one little nit can kick off a whole new nation. Better yet... Spare your sanity and call Helping Hands to do the search and destroy (www.helpinghandsliceremoval.com / 1-888-206-8773).
Step 2: Perform general housekeeping tasks to prevent reinfestation. Without a scalp to call home, they're not as hardy as we think. So resist the urge to burn down your house. Also, there's no need to wash or replace everything in your closet...Unless you flit around in there like a deranged burlesque dancer (if you do, no judgments from me). Head Lice are not interested in your wardrobe. They have no desire to leave the mother ship (your scalp) for some outdated, drab, poorly-fitting fashion-don’ts. They wouldn't be caught dead in your euro trash threads. Literally.
There’s no need to replace your furniture, the kids' stuffed animals, or the bedding (unless you're jonesin' for some new stuff). Lice do not hang out on the couch, drinkin' beers, waiting for someone to join them. They don't leave the scalp (on purpose).
But in the event that one or two have gotten fat and lazy and fallen off the host or a few previously shed hairs with teeny nits are lying around, the following tasks will eradicate the little guys:
- Vacuum rugs/carpeting, upholstered furniture, throw pillows.
- Wash bedding in hot water and place in the dryer on high heat for 30 minutes to induce lice heat stroke (a little evil laughter while pressing the start button may be rewarding, too).
- Put combs, brushes, hair accessories in a sealed baggie and freeze for 24 hours.
- Park your car outside in the hot sun, windows closed to bake any free-thinkers. (The lice. Not your kids. There's nothing we can do about the kids’ free-thinking, I'm afraid.)
- Quarantine a room for 24-48 hours, if necessary (like if there's too many items to treat or you're lazy like me. HRH's room, for instance, is loaded with crap. Rather than stash all 43 million stuffed animals in the dryer with her bedding, I shut the door and walked away for 48 hours. She slept with us - which was torturesome - till she got the all-clear).
- Do not fumigate your home or spray pesticides in your bed.
Now let's debunk some myths. This is the information that spins out of control and does more damage than the creepy bugs, themselves.
- Lice are not the dirty man's scourge. Actually, human head lice love them some squeaky clean hair shafts. It's easier to hang on to. And speaking of men, lice infestations among men are statistically lower than that of women. Big shock, eh ladies? (sarcasm)
- Lice do not burrow into mattresses, pillows, and furniture and lay in wait. They do not go dormant like bed bugs. They go dead.
- Head lice will not crawl from a person’s head, across a desk, up your arm, and onto your head. Lice are not marathoners nor do they particularly enjoy walking on flat surfaces. Their stumpy legs and claw-like “feet” are designed for clinging for dear life to the hair shaft. To the human head louse, walking is cumbersome and just not worth the effort (generally, I feel the same way).
- Long-term infestations and reinfestations most likely stem from not getting every last louse and nit from the head the first time around... Not from poor housekeeping.
- Casual contact cannot spread lice. Put your pitch forks and torches down. No need to defriend people on Facebook who have (bravely) confirmed an outbreak. Pay no attention to ill-informed fear mongers. For the most part, lice require head-to-head contact to do their bidding.
Sure, it's somewhat possible to get lice from prolonged contact with an inanimate object harboring a dazed and confused louse or by accidentally walking off with someone's strand of nitted hair. Here's how to stave off that risk:
- Mix 15-20 drops of mint essential oil or mint extract with 8 ounces of water. If you or your child will be heading into a high risk environment (camp, sleep over, movie theater chairs, etc), spray hair with the mint mix. Tea tree oil works in place of mint, as well. Lice are repelled by the smell.
- Dry hair at the roots using a hair dryer. The heat will kill lice and dry out nits before they can colonize. A low-heat setting is sufficient. No need to sear a hole in your brain.
- Use hair products or styling appliances, if appropriate. Lice cannot get an adequate hold onto hair that is coated with gel or hair spray, etc. And the heat of flat irons and curling irons does not make lice feel cozy and welcome.
- Put girls’ hair up into pony tails or buns. While wind in the hair is great for a photo shoot, it’s also conducive to fly-away-hair-contact with other people’s hair in the photo shoot.
There it is, boys and girls. There's really no need to be ashamed or embarrassed. It's not our cleanliness, habits, or lifestyles that cause us to get lice...Or prevents us from getting rid of them. Rather, it's all the obnoxious misinformation that sets us up for exposure and treatment failure.
Stop the madness, I say!! Maybe we need lice awareness ribbons? T-shirts that say, "I had lice, not the bubonic plague"? Bumper stickers that read, "Honk if you're a lice slayer"?
What? Too much?