The Ultimate Guide to Getting Rid of Lice in Adults and Children

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I had a dream last night that I was covered in head lice. No one in my family had it but me, and I couldn’t get to the store to buy medicine to kill the suckers. So I was running around my house trying to remember what home remedies work for lice. In my dream I was thinking to myself, “I am a pediatric nurse. I should know this!”, but I could not remember what to put on my head.

Good news for us both: I did not have head lice when I woke up this morning, and I do remember how to treat it with both home remedies and medicines.

I challenge you not to scratch your head while you read The Ultimate Guide to Head Lice in Children and Adults! I’ve already scratched mine just from typing that sentence.

how to get rid of head lice

First things first, What is head lice?

Head lice is a scalp infection with tiny gray bugs called lice.

Lice are tiny insects. They can be seen with the naked eye.  After one week, the eggs hatch and an immature, mobile louse nymph emerges. This nymph hides in the scalp and after 2 to 3 weeks it begins laying eggs. Adult lice can only live 1 or 2 days away from a warm body, and the eggs must be close to the warm scalp in order to hatch. They feed on human blood through tiny bites in the skin.

What are some head lice symptoms?

The number one symptoms of head lice is an itchy scalp, but an itchy scalp alone is not an indication that you have head lice. The following things must be present before a child or adult can be diagnosed with head lice:

Nits- Nits are easier to see than lice because they are white and there are tons of them. What are nits- Nits are lice eggs and the most obvious sign of lice. Nits will be firmly attached to the hair shaft near the skin. Unlike dandruff, nits cannot be shaken off the hair.

Lice- If you look hard enough, you will find tiny gray bugs (about 2mm long) moving around on the scalp. Lice really like to hang out in the hair behind ears or at the top of the neck.

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What are the side effects of head lice?

Mostly, just itching. Sometimes, a person will also develop a scalp rash. It is possible for the scalp rash to become infected, but this is not a common occurrence.

What are the long term effects of untreated head lice?

Scalp rashes and skin infections are possible if someone has a severe case of head lice that is left untreated. It is rare for this to happen, as most people treat lice as fast as possible.

Are head lice dangerous?


How does lice spread from one person to another?

Head lice is spread from one person to another by close head-to-head contact or contact with an infested person’s grooming tools. Head lice can also be passed from personal items such as towels, clothing, and hats. Always advise your children to share their toys, but never share their combs and hats. Sporting gear is another frequently shared item that can spread lice. Remind kids to use their own gear, and never to share.

Can lice jump from person to person?

Lice cannot jump or fly. They only crawl.

Can you get lice from hugging someone who has it?

Yes, head lice are spread via close contact with a person who has it.

Can adults get lice from children?

Yes, anyone can get lice. Rich, poor, old, young, dirty, or clean: Lice are equal opportunity parasites.


I will cover more common questions later in this post, but for now, let’s get to the good stuff:

How to get rid of head lice, like forever, banished, never wanna see the suckers ever again. 


Head lice can be treated at home safely and effectively. I will cover every way I know to treat head lice at home: from over the counter medicines, to prescriptions, to home remededies that are effective in treating head lice.


First up, Nix.

how to kill lice

Nix is always the first thing that our pediatricians recommend for treating head lice. It is proven effective in killing both lice and nits. Nix has been recommended by the Academy of Pediatrics as the first line of treatment for lice.

Nix is a pesticide called permethrin. Permethrin is a synthetic chemical that acts like an extract from the chrysanthemum flower, so do not use if there is an allergy to chrysanthemums present.

Nix kills both lice and their eggs. Nix leaves a residue on hair that continues to kill lice and eggs for 14 days. Nix also protects against lice infestation for up to 14 days.

Nix is safe to use on children as young as two months old.

How to use Nix lice treatment to kill lice and their nits (eggs):

First, wash the hair with regular shampoo and towel dry hair before using the anti-lice crème.

Do not use a conditioner after.

Pour a full bottle of Nix onto damp hair. Adults and children with long hair may require two bottles.

Work the crème into all the hair and down into the roots. You may add a small amount of warm water to achieve a lather.

Leave the shampoo on for a full ten minutes. This is necessary to kill the lice.

Rinse the hair with warm water and dry with a towel.

Do not wash the hair with shampoo until two days after lice treatment.

Avoid hair conditioner both before, and two weeks after treatment, as conditioner coats that hair and interferes with the Nix.

Nix claims that no retreatment is necessary, as their product lasts for 14 days. This would effectively kill any new lice that hatch. However, I would still retreat at nine days if it were my child, and all the pediatricians I know, continue to recommend a second treatment at nine days.

You can get a coupon for Nix here.

How long does it take to kill lice with Nix?

Lice are killed in ten minutes, with the residual effect of the nix lasting for 14 days.

Can I use conditioner after using Nix lice treatment?

No, refrain from using conditioner for two weeks. Also, do not use conditioner before Nix treatment.

Can you go swimming after using a lice treatment like Nix?

Swimming can lesson the effectiveness of Nix by removing the residual medication from the hair.

If you are uncomfortable using Nix, there are several home remedies you can use:


Cetaphil cleanser for head lice treatment

how to use cetaphil to kill lice

Why use Cetaphil to get rid of lice?

The method of killing head lice with Cetaphil is also known as the Nuvo method, and has been shown to be 96 percent effective in curing head lice, by smothering the lice. Not only that, but Cetaphil Cleanser is completely safe and unlikely to cause skin reactions in even the most sensitive of people.

How to use the Nuvo method of killing head lice:

Apply Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser to dry hair, starting at the scalp. Create a crosshatch pattern on your child’s scalp with the Cetaphil. You may find that this is easier if you put the Cetaphil into a condiment dispenser like this one:

*Sally’s probably has these for hair dye also

Completely soak the hair and scalp. Use as much Cetaphil as is necessary. This may be more than one bottle for adults and children with long hair.

Do not skimp on the cleanser, as this is one of the number one causes of this method failing.

Comb out as much excess cleanser as possible.

Blow dry your child’s hair until completely dry to the scalp. It has to be thoroughly dry to suffocate the lice. This will take longer than if you were drying hair that is wet with water.

Leave the Cetaphil on your child’s hair for at least eight hours.

In the morning, wash your child’s hair with regular shampoo.

Repeat this process every week for two more weeks. It is very important that treatments be done at EXACTLY  seven day intervals. This is a total of three treatments. This is very important, as Cetaphil does not kill the nits which can hatch after the treatment.


Can you use Vaseline to kill lice?

Yes, technically, you can use Vaseline in the same way (minus the blow drying) as you would Cetaphil. You would apply large quantities of petroleum jelly all the way down to the scalp. You would then cover it with a shower cap (NOT plastic wrap), and leave it overnight.

I do not recommend this method, as it is almost impossible to wash out. My toddler put petroleum jelly in the front of her hair, and it took several washes to make it look even close to normal. I cannot imagine applying it to large quantities of hair on purpose.

As with Cetaphil, you will need to repeat this process every seven days for two more weeks. This is a total of three weeks. This is because suffocants have no effect on nits. Treatments must be repeated to kill any new lice that have hatched from missed nits.


Can you use olive oil to kill lice? 

Studies have shown that olive oil can suffocate lice in as little as two hours, but most pediatricians agree  that an overnight treatment is necessary.

Apply olive oil down to the scalp, and cover overnight with a shower cap. Never use plastic wrap to cover a child’s head, as this poses a suffocation risk.

Shampoo with regular shampoo or dish soap in the morning.

Repeat every seven days for two more treatments. This is a total of three weeks. Since olive oil does not kill nits, repeated treatments are completely necessary to prevent reinfestation.

*Dollar Tree sells two packs of shower caps for 1.00


Dimethicone for head lice

Unlike over-the-counter topical medications like Nix which eliminate head lice by killing the lice and nits, products containing dimethicone make it easier to manually remove the lice and nits from the hair. LiceMD is the most popular brand of dimethicone.

To use dimethicone to remove lice and nits from hair:

Apply a dimethicone product like LiceMD to dry hair and massage until thoroughly wet.

Pay attention to behind the ears and the nape of the neck where lice, eggs and nits are more likely to be found.

Wait 10 minutes.

While hair and scalp are wet with dimethicone, comb out lice, eggs and nits with a lice comb.

After combing the entire head, wash hair thoroughly with your regular shampoo and warm water.


All About Nit Removal

Is it necessary to remove nits (lice eggs) from the hair after treatment?

If you treated the hair with Nix, you do not have to remove nits from the hair because Nix leaves a residue on hair that continues to kill nits and lice for two weeks.

However, many schools have a no-nit policy, and will not allow your child to return to school if there are any nits present. The American Academy of Pediatrics has advised that this policy be discontinued because nit removal is so labor intensive, and Nix treatment kills nits. I guess I am in the minority, in that I would want all the kids in my classroom to be nit free. It makes it easier for teachers and school authorities to SEE what they are dealing with.

If you use Cetaphil, Rid, olive oil, or vaseline to suffocate the lice, then nit removal is necessary. Honestly, if it were my head or my child’s head, we’d be following a “no nit left behind” policy no matter what treatment we used.

How to remove nits from hair:

You must purchase a nit and lice removal comb. A fine tooth comb is not enough. The Nit Free Terminator comb gets great reviews on Amazon, as does the LiceMeister. 


Next, you will need white vinegar (do not use vinegar if you used Nix), a towel, warm water, hair clips, and good lighting (sunlight is best).

Mix 6 parts water with 3 parts vinegar (do not use vinegar if you used Nix). Soak the hair and scalp in this solution. It will dissolve the glue that holds the nits to the hair.

Now comes the most tedious part: combing out the hair.

Section the hair into thin sections and comb each small section repeatedly. Comb and comb and comb and comb and comb. You get the picture.

Once a section is nit free, set it to the side, and start on another section.

It is a good idea to play a movie and have some snacks on hand for this process, as it is long and tedious.


Now that you have killed the lice and removed the nits, it is time to clean your house.

The most important thing to keep in mind when cleaning your house is that lice off the body rarely cause reinfestation.

Lice and nits can only survive a day or two off of a human body.

Bedding: Sheets, blankets, and pillow cases, should be washed in hot water and put in the dryer for 30-40 minutes on high heat.

Couch: Vacuum and cover with sheet or blanket for 2-3 days. (sitting on sheets is safe)

Floors and Carpet: Vacuum floors and discourage kids from laying on the floors for 2-3 days. Pay special attention to areas where your child lounges.

Hair Accessories and grooming products: Submerge in water with bleach solution (or anti-lice shampoo), freeze 12 hours, or leave untouched for 2-3 days. Clean all hair out of brushes and combs. You can also place hair accessories in the top rack of the dishwasher.

Clothing: All clothing worn in last 2-3 days should be put in dryer for 30-40 minutes on high, or left unused for 2-3 days.

Car Seats: Vacuum well and visually inspect. If you have a removable cover for infant or toddler seats, place it in the dryer for 30-40 minutes on high heat.

Toys: Isolate toys for 2-3 days. Plastic bags are helpful.


What about resistant lice?

Some head lice have become resistant to lice medicines. If you have treated your child twice with a lice shampoo such as Nix, and are still seeing head lice, you may need a prescription medication. Ovide is the drug of choice for severe, resistant lice infestations. It is only safe for children 24 months and up, and should only be used if absolutely necessary.

Before considering a prescription medication, you should consider using the Nuvo method (above) combined with manual removal of all nits. Even “super lice” can be suffocated and manually removed. It is a long process, but much less toxic for kids than medications like Ovide.


Natural lice prevention

I am frequently asked what keeps head lice away. Avoiding sharing personal items, as well as direct contact with anyone who might have head lice is the number one method of prevention.

There are also shampoos and sprays that help prevent head lice. These products work by using essential oils to mask the “human” scent that lice are attracted to. An added benefit is that they smell wonderful.

Fairy Tales has an entire line of lice prevention products that smell wonderful. These products are also gluten, dairy, soy, and nut free. Fairy Tales has been clinically proven to be effective in repelling lice.



Commonly asked questions about head lice:

How do I know if my child has lice? 

You will know by your child having an itchy scalp, followed by visualizing nice or nits in your child’s hair.

What can you do to keep head lice away?

Avoid head to head contact with others. Do not share clothes, especially hats. Do not share sporting gear or grooming accessories.

How long can lice live on the couch?

For just 1-2 days

Can lice live on the couch?

Yes, but only for 1-2 days.

Can lice live on furniture and carpets?

Yes, for 1-2 days. Lice rarely live on carpets, but it is a good idea to vacuum all rooms as an extra precaution.

Are there head lice home remedies that are effective? 

Yes, the Nuvo method (Cetaphil) is 96% effective. Other methods of suffocation and manual removal work as well.

Should I fumigate my house?

No. It may be tempting to fumigate your entire house, but foggers spread nasty chemicals all over your house, and they leave a film of poison everywhere. Lice only live 1-2 days without a host. Anything that has lice on it will be safe after a few days with no use.

Should I shave my child’s head if he has lice?

Definitely not. The trauma and stigma from having their head shaved for lice is far worse than removing the lice and nits.

Is there an easier way to get rid of head lice?

Yes, pay someone else to do it. Lice treatment specialists are all over the country. One example is Lice Doctors.  

Companies like Lice Doctors charge quite a bit for their service. You could do the treatment yourself several times over, and then reward yourself with a nice dinner afterwards. But, there is a definite appeal to paying someone else to do the dirty work. No judgement here! Whatever it takes to get the whole ordeal behind you.

This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase an item through one of my links, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. 
































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