Show head lice & nits who's boss

Those nasty head lice and nits are incredibly common among children. Here’s how to spot them, which head lice treatment to go for & how to help avoid future infestations!

Hear the words head lice and nits and chances are you instantly start itching. But while there is an undeniable “yuck” factor, they’re not harmful and they’re not unusual. There’s a whole host of ways to handle them, from nit combs to head lice shampoo. Boots pharmacist Angela Chalmers says, “If your child has head lice it’s nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Lots of children get them but if you are vigilant, check their heads regularly and treat them properly when you find them, they’ll stay louse-free (fingers crossed!).” So, deep breath – let’s banish those head lice…

What are nits and head lice?

Head lice are tiny insects about the size of sesame seeds. Nits are the eggs the head lice lay in the hair. They take around a week to hatch and the female lice can live up to 40 days, laying more than 100 eggs in that time, which are about the size of a knot in thread (you can feel them if you run a fingernail down the hair shaft) and usually light grey or brown, yellowish or white. Ugh.

How do they spread?

“Head lice don’t fly or jump,” says Angela. Instead, they’re spread through direct contact. “Pre-school children are often touching their heads together and the lice will just walk from one head to the other.” According to the British Association of Dermatologists, it takes around 30 seconds for a single louse to go from one scalp to another. Something you might want to remember yourself as you lean in for a cuddle once you’ve discovered your child has an infestation!

How to tell if your child has head lice

No surprises here – the biggest tell-tale sign is your child complaining of an itchy scalp, or suddenly repeatedly scratching their head. But there’s an easy way to help stop any infestation in its tracks. “Nothing beats checking your child’s head for live head lice every couple of nights,” says Angela. A quick comb through sections of hair from roots to ends should bring to light any of the little pests.

“Be especially vigilant if they are at nursery or pre-school and around other children. And if you do discover an infestation, don’t be afraid to tell the other parents – they’ll be grateful you alerted them rather than keeping it under the radar.”

Which head lice treatment should I use?

From nit combs to mayonnaise hair masks (!), Angela talks us through the good, the bad and the mad of nit-busting treatments.

Nit-buster 1: Wet combing

This is a tried and tested method that can really work, says Angela. Using a nit comb like the Nitty Gritty Nit Free Comb, get your child to tilt their head forward over a sink, dampen their hair, add a spot of conditioner, and comb the whole head in sections from root to end and from back to front. “It’s really important you’re manually removing as many of those little eggs as you can,” says Angela. “Every time you comb through, rinse off the comb as it will contain eggs and live lice.” Continue until you can’t see any more after combing, then repeat on days one, five, nine and 13 to catch any newly hatched lice.

Nit-buster 2: Head lice shampoo

Using a special head lice treatment like Lyclear Sensitive Treatment or Puressentiel Anti-Lice Treatment Lotion can also help banish those head lice. But a word of warning from Angela: “One big reason for failure when treating head lice is not applying the product properly. Always follow the instructions on the pack, make sure there’s enough contact time, and cover areas including the nape and behind the ears.”

Nit-buster 3: Re-treat after 7 days

Hurrah, you’ve got rid of nits… or have you? “A lot of people forget to retreat after seven days and then the lice come back,” says Angela. “The reason we say treat and then re-treat is during the first treatment you will miss some eggs that haven’t hatched. If you apply it again after that first week then you will kill any newly hatched lice, breaking their life cycle so they won’t have a chance to lay any more eggs.”

Myth-busting the home remedies for head lice

While some parents use petroleum jelly or mayonnaise to treat nits (yep really – the theory being you suffocate the lice), Angela says, “There’s no evidence using either of these actually works.”

Another nit myth of using a hairdryer to kill lice – especially if you’ve applied a lice-treatment product to your little one’s hair. “Some products are alcohol-based (ie. flammable!) and all you’re going to do is damage the hair and potentially scald the scalp. I wouldn’t recommend using a hairdryer at all.”

How to prevent head lice and nits

Help ward off another lice infestation on long-haired children by keeping their hair tied up when they’re around other children. And when it comes to prevention, Angela adds, “Be wary of sharing hats (the woolly or straw kind!). If there is a strand of hair pulled out and there’s a louse or nit on it then that could be passed on.”

You can also use a lice-repellent shampoo like Vosene Kids 3-in-1 Conditioning Shampoo. It contains Tea Tree Oil which some studies have suggested may help prevent head lice.

Your head lice-busting guide

Boots pharmacist Angela Chalmers shares her dos and don’ts for treating head lice and nits in preschoolers.

• Do… wet comb your child’s hair. Use a nit comb like the Nitty Gritty Nit Free Comb then get your child to tilt their head forward over a sink, dampen their hair, add a spot of conditioner and comb in sections from back to front.

• Do… use lice removal products properly. Use a special head lice treatment like Lyclear Treatment Shampoo or Puressentiel Anti-Lice Treatment Lotion but always follow the instructions on the pack, make sure there’s enough contact time, and cover areas including the nape and behind the ears.

• Do… re-treat after 7 days. You might miss some eggs during the first treatment. Applying it again after a week means you’ll kill any newly hatched lice.

• Don’t… use mayonnaise or petroleum jelly. There’s no evidence these home remedies work.

• Don’t… use a hairdryer. This could scald the scalp and damage the hair.