Lice Lies - Fact Vs. Fiction

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.

If you've (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?





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Charlotte Archuleta June 25, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Great read and I learned something. Thank you
Beth Riedemann June 28, 2011 at 02:47 AM
Thank you, Charlotte! Fascinating, isn't it? And a little creepy. haha -B
Colleen Hyser July 12, 2011 at 07:28 PM
I have to say that my daughter had a bout with lice the 3rd week we had moved to Ohio. I used the chemicals and they did not work. A friend told me about mayonnaise and a bag (not over the childs head just over their hair) we let it set for about 4 hrs and then washed it out ..lice were dead. We have never had another problem. Oh we also bagged up any stuffed toys for over a week..and put in our garage.
Beth Riedemann July 13, 2011 at 04:47 PM
Phew! I bet you're glad that's behind you, eh? Mayo/bag trick is hit or miss since they can hold their breath for "up to" 8 hours and if you don't pull out all the nits, you could set yourself up for a reinfestation. The mayo may suffocate the live parasites, but it doesn't do much to their hardy eggs. Your visitors prob knew you were up for the fight so they surrendered. ;) Bagging or applying a quarantine for more than 24-48 hours is not necessary, but not harmful, either. Nice work!
Calden Cunha May 16, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Hey, I've tried a lot, shampoo, "special" aniseed hair lice control stuff, dyed my hair and other stuff, but I still think I have lice, I discovered I had lice about three months ago. After dying my hair I thought they were gone, my head dropped itching and I couldn't find any actual lice, but now my head is itching again. I can find quite a few nits, (which I've seen for weeks) but I haven't found any lice. So I'm confused, is my head maybe itching for another reason? Or if I have lice, what would be the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way to get rid of them? Without shaving my hair off, coz I like my hair very much :P Thanks :)
Beth Riedemann May 17, 2012 at 01:08 AM
Hi, Calden. The lice, themselves, are actually pretty tricky to find cuz they're so fast and elusive. The nits are the giveaway. If you still have nits, you still have lice. Call Helping Hands Lice Removal (1-888-206-8773)... like... now. She'll come to your house ASAP and check your hair. The hair check is free. If she finds the lice, she'll treat it and eradicate it all in one step, right then and there. It will probably cost around $100, but I have to believe you've already spent that in all the other treatments (that have failed). If that price tag is too steep, she sells the stuff she uses on her website. You can do the treatment, yourself. But here's why I strongly encourage you to bite the bullet and just have her take care of it... she comes back 2 weeks later to check your hair again to be sure they're all gone for real. If, for some reason, they are not gone; she will re-treat your hair at no additional cost. So you see, the fast AND guaranteed service is well worth the cost. Trust me on this one. You've put up with this long enough. It's time to end the cycle, once and for all. She'll also tell you how to "clean house" so you get them all out of your living space, as well. Turns out getting rid of them from your hair and home is not as troublesome as people think... if it's done right. Keep me posted and good luck, my friend! -B
Katy Flores September 18, 2012 at 11:25 AM
What are other ways to become infested with lice? I have a 3 year old and a 1 year old who stay home with me, they do not go to school or day care or anybody's home..just stay home with me, supermarket or occassional store, but otherwise its just us at home. Only my husband works, and takes the train to work and back home. And all four of us are very lice infested! :'( So we were kind of thinking it might have been on the train, but you say they don't jump, so I have no idea how... Can you tell me other ways it might have possibly started?
Susan September 18, 2012 at 02:51 PM
If you go to a store and put on a hat probably clothing as well, you can get lice from that. My children know that they are never to go and try on a hat anywhere even their friends.
Jessica December 29, 2012 at 07:43 AM
Hi my name is Jessica. This is the umpteenth time I've had lice. I have long, thick, curly hair and I've had quite a bit of lice related trauma on and off when I was in grade school. The only thing that worked then was doctor prescribed Ovide. However, I can't get this prescription this time because I can't afford to see the doctor. Please, I can't cut my hair, but I know RID does not work for me, what can I do for super long thick hair?
jodi08lynn@yahoo.com March 09, 2013 at 04:57 AM
if you put real maynaize in dry hair get the maynaize all over the scalp, rubbed in and behined the ears and back scalp, place plastic wrap over the maynaize and put a plastic shower cap over it all sleep like that all night. Wake up next morning if you have bugs they will be dead. I did this with my daughter. Then treat them with head lice shampoo, dont use any other shampoo or conditioner for 3-4 days. Keep combing and combing. They should be gone, not long at all. Repeat as box says.
jodi08lynn@yahoo.com March 09, 2013 at 04:58 AM
same thing we did here. Worked great.
jodi08lynn@yahoo.com March 09, 2013 at 05:00 AM
except for i had my kids sleep over night with the plastic wrap over their hair and a shower cap on top of that. Not sure if the knits died just yet but the bugs sure knocked them dead.
Beth Riedemann March 11, 2013 at 04:26 PM
Jessica, you need to get the enzyme and apply that to your hair... as well as the knit comb. The knits are the key. If you don't get them all, you have to start all over. Go to Helping Hands website to order the enzyme foam.
debi March 20, 2013 at 11:41 AM
What color are lice?
debi March 20, 2013 at 11:44 AM
Last night I washed an scrubbed the heck out of my scalp and saw like Lil black bugs I'm pretty sure some in the top some hanging on my hair they kinda looked like black pins? I'm not sure I got some type of lotion but I still itch and everything I'm gonna go to the doctors to get prescribed treatment hopefully that works???!!!
SuZann April 22, 2013 at 03:43 PM
My daughter has had a serious case of lice lately due to a "friends" daughter bringing it in. I have been battling with it for some time now even went the drastic measures of cutting her long beautiful blonde hair. ( Which killed me ) I have done ALL the over the counter crap,, and yes even did all the washing and the freaking out. I have to say though, my oldest daughter has only gotten it one time since this I have yet to receive it. I constantly have my hair up, and my oldest is constantly using a flat iron, gel or who knows what she puts in her hair. I heard about the blow drying just the other day and did a search today to see if it were true. I figure why wouldn't it be since you put things in a dryer to kill them it's basically a mini dryer ... Today ( so far ) we are lice free. I am going to keep her out of her room for a couple of nights though that was a good idea. Thanks for the tips.... Oh and FYI MAYO didn't work for us. We even bought a ROBI comb... Didn't work either, save your money!!
kandi-jo April 29, 2013 at 01:19 PM
aaaaaaaaahhhh! i so hate dealing with lice! such a pain and so overwhelming! your article was so great to read! my daughter has lice for the fourth time in two years! im thinking of making her stop washing her hair forever.... :/ no but really i got online to go over the steps and make sure i didnt miss anything and i found this! so funny! i love your calm approach and sense of humor! totally helped me to take a step back and remember its so not a big deal!!! thanks so much!! my whole body IS itching though...
Leah B April 30, 2013 at 03:29 AM
Is the $100 per person? My daughters and I have discovered lice for the first time. I did NIX and so much combing but I'm worried they'll stick around.
Beth Riedemann April 30, 2013 at 08:14 PM
Heat and enzymes - the winning combination. I still - 2 yrs after writing this post - stand by the statement that mayo is hit or miss (at best) and requires a lot more time and discomfort than just using the enzyme foam and a hair dryer. Kandi-Jo: spritz her hair with the minty solution. It should help keep them away. Fairy Tales makes a pretty good lice prevention / hair conditioning spray, too. U may get a kick outta the first post I wrote in this series. That one addresses what happened when I made the discovery at home. Haha
Beth Riedemann May 01, 2013 at 02:21 PM
I believe so... but I may be wrong. It's worth contacting them to find out. Worst-case-scenario: order the enzyme/comb from her site and do the deed yourself. I've heard NIX and even prescription stuff has become useless over time (weaker formulas, resistance, etc)
Sarah June 08, 2013 at 04:20 PM
My daughter just got lice for the first time about a week ago. I treated her and myself, vaccumed, washed, cleaned the whole house and I even check and comb out her hair and my hair every day or two to make sure I got all the nits... well this morning I discovered several new nits and found 3 live ones in her hair. This is driving us crazy, any additional suggestions?
Meghan E. Bastian June 28, 2013 at 09:47 PM
Sarah, I'm in the same boat. My son brought it home and gave it to his 4 year old sister. And bless her heart every other week I keep finding more lice bugs and eggs. I clean my heart out and force her to sit through this. I even put tea tree oil in the shampoos. I have spent well over 150.00 in products an just found more bugs and eggs in her and my other son's hair...I'm thankful it's in the summer but am my wits end. Any advice??
Terri Tarkalson Summers July 26, 2013 at 02:01 PM
We are into our second fight of lice this summer! Tee tree oil and blow drying everyday seems to do the trick. I also read that adding tee tree oil to hair products is preventative so will stick to it! Here's hoping because this mom of three is tired of the battle!
mayalin artega August 04, 2013 at 02:59 PM
Has anyone tried coconut shampoo/condish? I had to cut my daughters hair (was down to her booty) to a shortish bob cut to effectively do step 1 & 2 of RID. Also, is it okay to use NIX as my 7-10 day next step instead of RID if that's all I have? Or do I need to go run and purchase RID again? One more question, gel or hair oil for prevention? I've got both for her, but her hair is so short now I can barely put it in a pony anymore...Thanks in advance!
Wendy Miller Thelander August 11, 2013 at 12:47 PM
I made it through 41 years of being a child, acting like a child, working with children and having children and never had lice, then a couple of weeks ago found out I was INFESTED while my husband and three children remain blissfully unaffected. My hair is thick and curly and dyed and I have spent two nights in a plastic shower cap with a head covered in tea tree and soybean or olive oil, used permethrin "shampoo," and yesterday spent eight hours covered in Licefreee! (okay, just my head, not my whole body) under a plastic shower cap. My mother, husband and self have combed through my hair at least a dozen times, my mom even broke a nit comb while combing, and today I still feel creeping isolated itching. Before yesterday I thought I was being a hypochondriac because I had already done so much treatment, but upon combing through (myself, because the three, five and eight year olds aren't up to the task) I found at least three lice. So, just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're NOT out to get you. I F#*<!ng hate lice!
Lorrie Beaulieu September 05, 2013 at 08:39 AM
I am in the midst of eradicating these little buggers. I believe it got them from my 5 yr old daughter. She seems like she is just about clear of them (Nit picking every night - what fun!). Anyhow I want to dye my hair because I'm over due for it. Not because I want to use that as a method for treating the lice. I am concerned that: 1. There are too many chemicals circling my scalp if I dye it. 2. Will the dye also color the nit "eggs" so my husband wont be able to pull them out when he goes through my hair? I haven't found any info online about home dye kits coloring eggs - I even called Clairol and she just said I could do it, didn't say anything about coloring the eggs. Any ideas?
Laura Anderson November 13, 2013 at 07:33 AM
Im from NJ and found your post while trying to research lice as my 2 sons were sent home from school with lice yesterday.. This is a first first for me . I believe it came from their school and gave the school crap about it. We have seen how their lice policies work and letting kids back in the next day is just spreading it around
Heather Bechtold December 30, 2013 at 12:17 AM
you just made my newly infested (thanks to my sister and her kid) head shake with laughter. Thank you for cheering me up AND for the helpful tips... it's good to know I won't have to be shaving my head (although it IS tempting)


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