Getting to the root of head lice

Head lice – every parent’s worst nightmare. Who would have thought that such teeny tiny insects could be such a nuisance?

Head lice are tiny wingless insects that hang out on the human scalp. Unlike fleas and ticks, head lice are exclusive to humans and only feed on human blood, lucky us! These annoying pests are very common in children and are easily transmitted to others nearby. Head lice are grey and about the size of a sesame seed when fully grown. They can't fly, jump, or swim, but they do itch!

First things first, it’s important to remember that, despite popular belief, having head lice has nothing to do with your hygiene or how often you wash your hair. It doesn’t matter if your hair is clean or dirty, the main thing that increases your risk of getting head lice is head-to-head contact.

child getting head checked for lice

How do I check myself for head lice?

So how do you spot these unwelcome visitors? The only surefire way is by finding live lice. You might notice an itchy scalp or feel like there's a tiny party happening on your head. Grab a special fine-toothed comb to help you track them down. These are usually available at your local pharmacy.

How to treat head lice

So, what's the plan for treating these uninvited guests? There are various products and techniques that we’ve heard over the years, but only a handful actually work. Pop into your local pharmacy for a range of safe products and treatments that can send those head lice packing. Your pharmacy team is here to help you pick the perfect solution for your family.

Wet combing with a head lice comb

The NHS recommends that you use the simple wet combing technique to remove both lice and nits. Wet combing is when you wash your hair with regular shampoo and lots of hair conditioner, then use the fine-toothed comb, available at your local pharmacy, to comb from the roots to the ends of your hair.

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Head Lice Hacks – Fact Vs Fiction

Does hair straightening kill head lice?

Although heat indeed kills head lice, hair straighteners will not reach head lice eggs, called nits, which are closer to the scalp. Also, you don’t want to risk damaging your hair just to get rid of head lice when other, less hot, strategies are out there!

Can hair colour kill head lice?

You may be thinking that the chemicals used in hair dye could be enough to exterminate those lice, and some dyes may kill hair lice depending on their ingredients. However, like hair straighteners, this will not be enough to get rid of nits. So don’t go dying your hair bright blue just to get rid of lice, because they’ll just come back!

Does tea tree oil kill headlice?

Although studies have found that tea tree oil does affect head lice, the NHS does not recommend that you use it to kill head lice. Instead, if wet combing doesn’t work, you should go to your pharmacist who will advise on safe and effective treatments.

Using medical products and lotions may irritate your scalp. 

Can chlorine kill head lice?

No evidence suggests that chlorine kills head lice. Although they don’t swim, head lice can survive in pool water. Chlorine has no lasting effect on lice or nits.

Does Mayo kill head lice?

There’s always one wild theory to solve your health-related problems using household items. For tackling head lice, it’s death by mayonnaise! Unfortunately, there is no solid proof that you can suffocate head lice with mayo, so don’t go nuts wasting it on your head!


Can head lice live in bedding?

We spend half of our day with our heads on a pillow, so you may think head lice can live in pillows and bed linen. Head lice feed off human blood, so will spend most of their time on your scalp. If any were to wander onto your bedding, they’d be able to survive for about two days. Nits are less likely to fall onto your bedding, and if they do, will die within a week.

If you have head lice, it’s wise to wash your bedding and clothes to make sure no stragglers make their way back to your scalp in the night!

Man sleeping to recharge and help his well-being