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Tea Tree Oil for Treating Head Lice

author image Ann Bartkowski
A freelance writer based in San Francisco, Ann Bartkowski began writing professionally for the New York State Department of Heath in 2006 as a science educator. She holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from Bates College. Bartkowski has published numerous articles for various websites, specializing in nutrition, children, health and the environment.
Tea Tree Oil for Treating Head Lice
Tea tree oil can be used as a treatment for head lice.

Head lice is a common problem because it is highly contagious. Over 10 million Americans have head lice infestations each year; most are schoolchildren. Head lice is completely treatable, and there are several different treatment options. Since lice is often transmitted between young children and young children have sensitive scalps, tea tree oil is often used as a treatment. Tea tree oil is harsh on head lice without being harsh on your child's scalp.

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Head Lice Basics

Head lice are tiny parasitic insects that can only live on human scalps. If you think your child has lice, look for these insects--they are whitish and look like a 3 millimeter-long grains of rice with legs--and their even tinier eggs, called nits. They will be close to the scalp, but can spread throughout your child's hair and to other children via touching or though sharing hats, combs or pillows. You can catch lice that your children bring home, as well, so be sure to check yourself and your family and take measures to prevent it from spreading.

Lice Treatments

Although a case of head lice is a nuisance, it is completely treatable. Prescription medications, over-the-counter products and natural remedies are available to cure lice infestations. Your doctor can prescribe medications such as malathion, lindane or benzyl alcohol, but these often come with unwanted side-effects. Over-the-counter shampoos containing the pesticides pyrethrin or permethrin may also kill lice and prevent re-infestations, but these again may be unnecessarily harsh and hurt your child's scalp. Many lice have also developed resistance to these pesticides because of their overuse. For these reasons, tea tree oil has been found to be an excellent treatment for lice. It is strong enough to kill lice for good, yet gentle enough to use on you or your child's head.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil comes from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia, which is endemic to eastern Australia, and is therefore also called melaleuca oil. This essential oil has been used by the indigenous people of Australia for centuries to cure infection. Tea tree oil contains a compound known as terpinen-4-ol, which gives it most of its antiseptic potency. It also confers strong antifungal and antibacterial properties.

How to Use Tea Tree Oil for Head Lice

To treat your child's case of head lice with tea tree oil, buy a shampoo that contains tea tree oil, or buy the oil itself and add it to your shampoo. Apply it to your child's hair while you wash it. You should rinse the shampoo out, but you can put some oil around your child's scalp line and leave it in. While your child's hair is still wet, use a fine-toothed comb to carefully comb through your child's entire head and examine it for lice and nits. If you find any, remove them. Repeat this process for several days until you are certain you no longer see lice. Remember to check your own hair and the rest of your family's as well. To prevent spread or re-infestation, also be sure to wash your infected child's clothes, bedding and stuffed animals with soap, hot water and tea tree oil.


Although Tea Tree Oil is generally considered safer than other treatments for head lice, caution should still be employed when using it. While very few people have a sensitivity or allergy specific to tea tree oil, it is not impossible. If irritation occurs, stop use immediately. Usually safe for skin, tea tree oil is toxic when consumed. According to the American Cancer Society, "Tea tree oil is toxic when swallowed. It has been reported to cause drowsiness, confusion, hallucinations, coma, unsteadiness, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach upset, blood cell abnormalities, and severe rashes." Therefore, it is important to keep tea tree oil of the reach of young children.

If the lice infestation does not clear up within a few weeks using tea tree oil, you should consider alternative treatments and consult a doctor.

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