Head lice when left untreated multiply and spread when the lice fall on furniture, bedding and clothing. Lice also transfer through ordinary physical contact, including hugging. Head lice infestations are common among elementary age children, according to University of Nebraska-Lincoln extension educators Barb Ogg and Soni Cochran, but people of any age can have a lice infestation. Your doctor can prescribe a medicated treatment for lice that matches your personal health condition and one that avoids allergies and skin sensitivities. One common home treatment includes suffocating lice with olive oil. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, doesn’t have clear scientific evidence that oil offers an effective way to control the head pests.
Determine that the problem is an active head lice infestation. Other conditions, including extremely dry scalp, have similar symptoms. Your child’s nurse or your doctor can quickly identify lice. A close look for nits, another name for lice eggs, positioned near the hair roots is another way to recognize a lice infestation. [ref. #1]
Apply a harsh shampoo to remove any hair conditioner or moisturizing. The CDC notes that these act as a barrier to block olive oil from sticking to the hair shaft. That cuts down on the effectiveness of the smothering effect of the oil. [ref. #1]
Place plastic sheeting on the floor under a chair or sit in the bathtub to do the smothering process. This keeps the control area free from escaping lice. [ref. #4]
Saturate the hair with olive oil. Covers the entire scalp and coat the hair shafts close to the scalp. [ref. #2]
Place the shower cap or elastic bowl cover on the head. Make sure the elastic keeps all of the hair on the neck and strands near the ears inside the cap.
Wait 1 to 2 hours for the oil to smother the lice. Ann Arbor Public Schools health officials recommend using a bandanna wrapped over the cap to keep lice from escaping. The school officials also suggest leaving the shower cap on for 8 to 10 hours for severe infestations of lice.
Blot the hair with disposable paper towels to remove excess water. Place the towels quickly and carefully into the trash bag to avoid escaping lice or falling eggs.
Comb out the lice and eggs with the metal comb. Flush these down the drain with water, or use paper towels to frequently clean the comb. Throw the towels quickly into the trash bag. Nits have teardrop shapes and come in white, beige or brown colors. Continue the combing until the hair is free from lice and eggs.
Wash hair with dish detergent and then thoroughly rinse with cool water. Repeat the washing and rinsing process a second time.
Divide the hair into 20 even sections and dry each for 30 seconds with the dryer set on medium heat. Dry close to the scalp to kill any lice eggs.
Things You'll Need
Thick shower cap with snug elastic around the edge or an elastic mixing bowl cover
Large trash bag
Plastic sheeting (optional)
Metal comb designed specifically for egg removal
Comb hair with the lice comb every day for the next 21 days to locate any lice and new eggs. Repeat the olive oil smothering process if you find any active lice during these regular inspections.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Treatment Frequently Asked Questions
- Muskegon County Public Health: Head Lice Oil Treatment
- University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Insects, Spiders, Mice and More
- Ann Arbor Public Schools: Treating Yourself and Your Children for Head Lice Using an Olive Oil Protocol