Although most parents associate baby oil with cradle cap or sweetly scented baby massages, some people see it as a weapon in their head lice-fighting arsenal. In certain cases, baby oil could play a role in dealing with head lice, provided you use it wisely. Talk to your doctor before using baby oil for head lice, especially if you plan to use it on a baby or young child.
Head lice, insects that infest the hair of children and adults, consume human blood to stay alive. These parasitic insects cause infestations that vary in severity and often cause itching on the head, neck or shoulders, as well as red bumps arising from a localized reaction to lice saliva. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that most cases of head lice infestations develop in children between the ages of 3 and 11 years.
The value of baby oil as a treatment for head lice is uncertain because of the lack of organized studies. According to Joey Green, author of the book "Joey Green's Amazing Kitchen Cures," baby oil might drown lice, provided you leave it on your hair for the proper amount of time. Joan Sawyer, co-founder of the American Head Lice Information and Resource Center and coauthor of the book “Head Lice to Dead Lice,” notes that oil treatments for head lice will only be effective if you follow up the soak with a thorough nit-picking--before rinsing the oil from the hair--and repeat the entire regimen every three to four days for several weeks.
When used to combat head lice, baby oil typically must stay on the hair for multiple hours before you rinse it out. Liberally apply baby oil directly to your hair, suggests Green. Massage the oil thoroughly into your scalp and wrap your head securely with a plastic shower cap, plastic wrap or a plastic shopping bag. Leave your oil-coated, plastic-clad head alone for as least eight hours to ensure that the lice have suffocated, advises Sawyer.
Deciding whether to use a nonchemical treatment such as baby oil for head lice is a decision you must weigh carefully. In certain cases, such as more severe infestations, your doctor might recommend chemical treatment alone or in combination with natural remedies. Regular combings with a fine-toothed comb--Sawyer recommends a basic, metal nit comb--provide a time-tested way to help remove lice eggs. Additional steps you can take to help control and treat the head lice infestation include avoiding head-to-head contact and washing items, such as bed linens, combs, stuffed toys and hair accessories, that have come in contact with the affected head.
Talk to your doctor before using baby oil for head lice, particularly for infants and children. When coating hair with baby oil, take special care to keep the oil from eyes, nose and mouth. With mineral oil as its primary ingredient, baby oil could coat mucous membranes and lead to life-threatening respiratory complications if accidentally inhaled, according to the U.S. Product Safety Commission.