All About Lice

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What are Lice?

Lice are tiny, wingless parasitic insects that live on hair and feed on small amounts of blood from our scalp. A single adult is called a louse. A baby is called a nymph and they go through three stages before reaching adulthood. A lice egg hatched and unhatched is often called a nit. The medical term for head lice infestation is Pediculosis. There is a common misconception that nits are white. In fact, a nit is usually caramel in color. A newly hatched nymph is translucent but turns reddish-brown as it feeds.

Life Cycle of the Bug

Eggs are found on the hair strands. They are tiny tear drop shaped and are visible to the naked eye as soon as they are laid. They range in color from pale yellow to dark brown. Hatched shells are opaque. Eggs hatch within 7-10 days of being laid.

Stage 1: Newly hatched. They can be translucent until their first blood meal.

Stage 2: Slightly bigger than stage 1 but are not as translusent. Stages 1 & 2 do not tranfer to new heads.

Stage 3: They are slightly smaller than adults and are able to transfer to new heads.

Adults are the largest stage of head lice and can transfer to new heads. The adult female can lay eggs once fertilized and immediately upon transfer. A nymph reaches an adult in 7-10 days from hatching.

All About Lice

Life Cycle Fun Facts!

  1. If a bug transfers and feeds on a new bloodtype, they can die instantaneously. If the bug lays eggs before dying, the new eggs can feed on the new blood type and survive.
  2. Bugs can only transfer to a new head 5+ days after hatching and can lay eggs 7-10 days after hatching. If you find a baby bug within days of treating, it means a nit was missed.
  3. A female louse can mate once and be pregnant for life laying 4-5 eggs twice a day for about 20-23 days before dying. You can see how quickly an infestion can grow!

What am I Looking At?

k Knowing what you're looking for is extremely important when checking for head lice. So many times what people find may not be head lice at all. Here is a quick reference to help in the identification process.

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Mistaken Identity

Many things are often confused with head lice. The following can be found on the scalp or in the hair are not head lice related:

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Hair muffs:​​
Build up of dead skin cells and oils on the hair folical. They slide easily off the hair and are often misdiagnosed as eggs

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Knots:
Hairs that have become knotted are often confused for eggs

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Skin:
Flakey skin such as dandruff and scabs are often confused for both head lice and eggs

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Debris:
Lint, glitter and residue from hair products are confused for both head lice and eggs

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Ummm?
Weird picture from Google. Absolutely no idea what this is, but it's definitely not lice

The Most Efficient Way to Check for Head Lice:

To properly check for head lice, you must comb with a high quality lice removal comb and wipe on a paper towel or napkin. Looking only with your eyes can easily miss bugs or eggs, especially if it's a new case. Check out our product page for great lice comb options.

  • Make sure the hair is free of tangles. You can comb wet or dry. Wet may be a bit easier especially if you are working with thick, and/or curly hair. You can use conditioner to soften the hair to make sure the comb pulls all the way through the hair.
  • With the lice comb, comb along the scalp and pull straight through the hair ends. After every swipe (or every few swipes), wipe comb clean on a paper towel to see any bugs or eggs. Comb through the whole head in different directions for at least a few minutes.
  • If you are unsure of what you are looking at, contact your local professional. Many will let you text them a picture for identification. ​

Head check Tips:

  1. Once a week, take a peek! Make head checks a weekly routine
  2. All household members should be checked with a lice comb. Only looking through the hair (and not thoroughly combing) can easily miss a case of lice, especially if it's a newer or mild case.

Removal Options

Two ways to remove head lice:

DIY or Call a Professional

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Do It Yourself Tips

Often parents and caregivers are overwhelmed by the very thought of head lice. There are so many false facts and myths out there which makes the already daunting task take even longer, resulting in wasted time, money and treatment failure. The fact remains that the only way to kill all of the eggs is by combing with a good head lice comb.

Over the counter pesticide shampoos: What may kill the bugs doesn’t kill the eggs, keeping the life cycle going. Many mistakenly believe applying over the counter pesticide shampoos once will take care of all bugs and eggs. This is not the case. Head lice are resistant to these products (find study here). Manual removal is the only way to safely remove all bugs and eggs.

Home remedies: While these treatments sound like a good and safe option they are actually messy, smelly, and possibly dangerous. Most of these remedies aim to either suffocate the live bugs or dissolve the glue that affix the eggs to the hair strand. Head lice are able to shut their bodies down and survive without oxygen for many hours even fully submerged in substances meant to kill them. It is never a good idea to cover the head with a shower cap, plastic bag or towels over night. This can result in suffocation and death. Never use flammable liquids to treat head lice. Although many older generations may have used kerosene or gasoline to treat head lice there are now safer ways to treat head lice. Here is a comparison chart that covers head lice treatment options and their risks.

The sections below will walk you through the most efficient and safest way to treat your family for head lice.

Professional Services
Professional Services Tips

Hiring a lice removal professional can make getting rid of head lice easy, fun and quick. Most professional services offer same day appointments so you can be lice free before going to bed. Like with any service it is important to make sure the business you choose is a reputable one. Here are a few tips when searching for a head lice removal professional.

Head lice removal vs killing lice and eggs: Some companies remove all of the bugs and eggs for you. Often times they come with a follow up recheck. Other companies have devices or products that "kill" the lice and their eggs, but send you home to comb out the eggs. It's good to know the difference and know what the aftercare process is after you are treated.

Cleaning the environment: Lice can only survive for approximately 24 hours off the head. Be cautious of a company that charges or requires you spray your house or car. Although some people do feel better spraying their house, it's not necessary. In addition, you never need to exterminate your house for lice.

Make sure to see evidence: You want to choose a company that shows you evidence of head lice, either live bugs or eggs. You should not need two treatments, nor should you be required to perform an extensive after care protocol such as leaving oil in your hair for days or weeks.

Certification: Many lice professionals have taken the time to get certified. These are professionals who have gone above and beyond searching the internet for information. These companies tend to have the most current, effective and safest ways to remove head lice.

Rechecks are important: Utilizing a company that offers rechecks is always a great idea. Not only is the company able to follow up on their own work to make sure the lice and eggs are gone, they are also able to catch a new infestation should one occur.

Don't want to battle it yourself? Let the professionals help! In many cases lice professionals can get rid of your head lice in a couple of hours!
Click here to find your local professional

DIY Lice Removal - Before you Begin

When treating, do not purchase products with pesticides
This includes the over the counter products and prescriptions from the doctor. Not only can these products be harmful, but lice are resistant to these products and are being dubbed "super lice". A study was completed where lice in 48 states were tested with the specific products Rid and Nix. In 42 of those states 100% of the bugs were found to be resistant to these products. Of the remaining 6 states 80% of the bugs were resistant to these products. Over time, lice have built up a resistance to these chemicals. Not only are they harmful, they just don't work like they used to. You can check out this study here.

Picking the right products to treat with
Combing is the safest and most effective way to get rid of head lice and nits. Using a safe treatment shampoo or product can be a great combing aid. Check out our product page to see products that are effective and safe to use every day. You can also purchase these products at your local professional.

You do not have to go crazy cleaning your home!
It's true! You may be scratching your head in wonder right now because a common myth is that everything has to be bagged up for two weeks and you have to vacuum your entire house from the floors to the mattresses to the walls. That is not the case. Lice die off the head within 24 hours and it is believed that less than 2% of lice transfers occur off the head. 98% of lice transfers are from direct head-head contact. So, while you may feel like these bugs are crawling throughout your home, they are not. Spend 98% of your time on the head and 2% of your time on the home. Look below for tips on the home. Click here for a study about lice in the environment.

Try to relax
We know this is easier said than done, but head lice are not harmful. They are not known to carry disease and since they need a blood meal every 3-4 hours they cannot survive very long off the head and no more than 24 hours. So while it may seem that these buggers are taking over your life, you are in control of them.

You got this!
Make sure to check everyone in the home thoroughly with a lice comb. Treat only those found with head lice. You can check each person with the steps below. If you're not sure what you're looking at, you can reach out to your local professional for a simple head check and they can confirm for you either way. You can also join our Facebook group here, Head Lice Parent Support Group, where parents and lice professionals are happy to answer your questions as quick as possible.

Treatment Tips

Combing is the most important part of completely removing head lice. All bugs and nits must be removed. Keeping up with a comb-out schedule is crucial to ensure 100% removal of lice and nits. You MUST have the right comb. Having a high quality lice comb can save you hours! Check out our comb recommendations here.

Combing

Keeping up with the comb-outs are key to making sure the lice and nits are gone. If you have an active case of head lice and are treating at home, comb today and every 2-3 days for 3 weeks. Note: you're not combing for hours each time, you're just making sure nothing has been missed and a new case of head lice has not been picked up again.

Here are some tips:

  • Make sure the hair is damp and free of tangles. You can use conditioner to soften the hair. This will make it easier to make sure the comb pulls all the way through the hair.
  • Use a professional grade lice comb. Comb along the scalp and pull straight through the hair ends. After every swipe or every few swipes, wipe the comb clean on a paper towel. Keep combing until you get clean swipes (no evidence of lice or eggs) on the paper towel.
  • Make sure to comb in all directions. Lice can lay eggs on one side of the hair strand making some easy to miss if you are only combing in one direction. Make sure to comb down, side to side and from the bottom up.
  • Long and/or thick hair tip: you can work in small layers starting with the bottom of your hair and work your way up. Comb each section until you have clean swipes on the paper towel.
  • Short hair tip: Comb all over the head in all different directions making sure you get along the hair lines as well.
  • Remember, don’t let your guard down for 3 weeks!
  • Continue weekly head checks. ​Once a week, take a peek!

Treating Tips:

  1. Bugs can only transfer to a new head 5+ days after hatching and can lay eggs 7-10 days after hatching. If you find a baby bug within days of treating, it means a nit was missed when combing out.

  2. Split homes can be tricky - the best approach is to make sure everyone in both homes are checked thoroughly with a lice comb or at a professional removal place. Remember, hygiene has nothing to do with getting (or getting rid of) head lice. If someone keeps getting head lice, it's most likely because someone close to them has it and not the environment.

Product Help

Products matter!

You want the safest, most efficient options for your family. Using lice killing shampoos can get rid of most bugs to make combing out the nits easier and faster. Using products that are free from chemicals and eliminate bugs are your best chance at stopping the cycle should you miss nits while combing. A high quality lice comb is important because it can save hours of combing compared to combs included in the kits found at the pharmacy.

Bugs are resistant to the chemicals found in over the counter products. This study was done on Rid and Nix specifically, but the same and similar chemicals are found in many over-the-counter and prescription products as well. Lice professionals acknowledge seeing live bugs time and again after parents have reported treating with prescriptions or over-the-counter products within a few days.

This site is not intended to promote any one product or service, but it is however, intended to give you the best information with the most effective and safe options to help you rid your family of head lice. Check out our product page for products free from harmful chemicals and proven to work well when assisted with combing.

Treating the Home

Studies show that we don't have to do nearly as much as we once thought in our environment. Here's a study to support this.

  • No throwing anything away and no bonfires in the backyard! 🙂
  • Change the sheets (of those that have lice)
  • Throw a sheet over the couch for 24 hours or simply lint roll
  • Put the following in the dryer on high heat for 30 minutes: Blankets, stuffed animals, coats, and hats (if used in the last 24 hours)
  • Hair brushes and accessories can go in the freezer overnight.
  • Done! Really, we're not kidding. You're done!

There are many myths out there that suggest you have to vacuum every nook and cranny of your house and bag everything for weeks or months. It's not the case. You do not have to vacuum and you do not have to bag anything. Bugs die off the head in 24 hours and they need a human host to survive. Off the head they're dying. Don't go crazy around the house, it's just not necessary.

Spraying the house: Spraying chemicals or solutions around the house is just not needed. Bugs off the head are dying. Follow the steps above and you'll be fine.

​Split homes: If you're child spends their time between two or more households, remember, bugs die off the head in 24 hours. So, if they haven't been to a house in a day, no need to worry about that house. Just follow the steps above with the house they have been to in the last 24 hours. If you cannot get rid of lice and it "keeps coming back" it's not because of the environment, it is either someone close to them has it and is going undetected or it was not fully removed in the first place. Performing a head check with a high quality lice removal comb is the best way to rule someone out from having head lice. It is always a good idea that all members of both houses get professionally checked. This helps solve any thoughts of one home being the reason a child keeps getting lice. Remember, it's not in the environment, it's in the heads.

How Do I Know it is All Gone?

If you choose the DIY route, we recommend continuing to comb every 2-3 days for 3 weeks. You do not have to comb for hours on end, but you do want to make sure you are not finding anything else, especially if it's been going around school, extended family, child's friendship circle or sports team.

You'll know it's all gone when:

  • You comb and don't find anything, nothing comes off when you wipe on the paper towel.
  • You visit your local professional for a head check and they do not find anything.

It's not going away...I seem to get rid of it and then we get it back again. What is happening?

There are several reasons why a person seems to constantly have head lice:

  • Head lice and their eggs may not be fully removed. Lice eggs left behind can hatch, grow and lay more eggs continuing the cycle. Continuing with the 3 week comb out schedule is crucial to make sure nothing was missed.
  • Someone close to your child may have lice and not know. Often times this can be in a family member within the home. Combing with a high quality lice comb is very important when checking. If you only look though the head, even for a while, you may miss a mild case. (We're trying to really stress the importance of combing to perform a thorough head check...how are we doing? 🙂)
  • Telling those you interact with is just as important as getting rid of head lice. We understand it's a hard call to make, but it is very necessary to stop the spread. You want parents of your children's friends to be on the head lice lookout.
  • If you're still not sure, peace of mind head checks are available at your local lice professional.

Prevention Tips

There is no guarantee that a person will never again get head lice even when using preventative measures, however, being proactive can greatly lessen your chances. Compare it to bug spray...would you want to be protected when you go into the woods? We say the same about head lice. While you can still get bit when you go into the woods, it does lessen the chances of getting "eaten alive".

Here are some tips to try and keep the buggers away from your family:

Prevention Tips:

  • Keep hair up in braids or a tight bun.
  • Do not share hairbrushes, hair accessories or hats.
  • Use a mint prevention spray daily to keep the bugs away.
  • Be a friend, tell a friend (and the school nurse).
  • Make sure to let others know that you have been in contact with over the past few weeks or even few months. You don’t want to go through all of this only to get it back. Let the school nurse know so they can be on the lookout for others in your child(ren)’s classroom.
  • Comb with a high quality lice comb once a week or shampoo with a mint based shampoo once a week.
  • Peace of mind head checks are available at your local lice professional.

Once a week, take a peek!

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