Tea tree oil, a natural therapy touted to treat and prevent lice, is an essential oil obtained from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia, or Australian tea tree plant. Essential oils are rumored to have many health benefits, since they are highly concentrated plant chemicals which contain components of the plant’s natural defense system -- including antimicrobial and insecticide properties.
Preliminary research published in the November 2012 “Parasitology Research” found tea tree oil effective at killing lice in the nymph and adult stages. However, a study in the April 2007 “International Journal of Dermatology” compared the effects of several essential oils, including undiluted tea tree oil, and DEET, an insecticide, in the prevention of lice. Researchers concluded that none of the products worked well enough to be endorsed, but noted that tea tree oil was more effective than other treatments. If you plan to use tea tree oil to prevent lice, be sure to employ other lice prevention strategies and discuss your plan -- including the safety of using tea tree oil -- with your doctor or with your child’s pediatrician.
Start with 100 percent pure tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca oil. Squeeze a quarter-size amount of your usual shampoo into your hand, and add 2 to 3 drops of oil. Since concentrations of 1 to 10 percent have been used in research studies, ensure you are using 1 part oil to at least 10, if not 100 parts shampoo or other solution. Alternatively, use a commercial shampoo or hair product that contains tea tree oil.
An alternative to adding tea tree oil to your shampoo is to make a mixture to spray on hair. Place a cup of water in an empty misting bottle, and then add 6 drops of pure tea tree oil. Shake well. Spray hair before styling. You can also spray a comb or brush directly, and then run the comb or brush through the hair.
Although there is no research to support laundering clothes with tea tree oil helps, this is another strategy touted to help prevent lice from remaining on clothing. Add 6 to 8 drops of tea tree oil to a standard size laundry load. Put it right in with your detergent and wash clothing as usual.