With head lice infesting 2-5 percent of U.S. kids at any given time (and that number can be as high as 60 percent in some countries), plenty of people find themselves looking for a safe, fast, effective solution to a lice infestation. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there. Even some reputable organizations such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics list some suggestions that leave me scratching my head.
For example, the CDC recommends sealing household items in a plastic bag for two weeks even though head lice can't survive more than 48 hours off a host; and its list of treatment options is missing some major methods, including the heated-air method. The AAP's official recommendation is to use a permethrin-based product even though, according to research published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, 99.6 percent of head lice in the United States carry a gene that is resistant to permethrin.
One of the more informative and accurate resources is Dr. Barbara Frankowski's clinical report in Pediatrics.
There are many things that kill lice. Some are safer than others. Some cost more than others. Some are faster than others. Some do a better job at killing lice. You get the picture. So which treatment is best?
For you to answer that question, you should look for a lice treatment that kills the highest percentage of both hatched lice and lice eggs, is safe to use, takes the least amount of time, and requires the least amount of treatments. You should pay particular attention to the percentage of lice eggs killed, since that is the hardest hurdle for most lice treatments. If the eggs aren't killed or completely removed, they will hatch into new lice, which will require an additional treatment or more.
With that in mind, lice treatments fall under five main categories: heated air, lice combs, herbal remedies, suffocation, and chemicals. Most of these are self-treat options to be administered at home.
As you study your options,
keep in mind that there is a growing industry of professional
lice-removal businesses around the world. You may decide that for you,
getting the best lice treatment means having a professional lice-treatment
do it for you. Professional treatments tend to cost a little more, but
they also tend to treat the lice infestation more quickly and
thoroughly. And most of the professionals I know offer guarantees.
Although a hair dryer can deliver enough heat and air to kill lice, it blows too hot to be considered a safe, effective option. The professional AirAllé® lice device, however, is an FDA-cleared device specifically created to dehydrate lice through heated air. It has been proven to be safe, fast and effective at killing lice and 99.2 percent of the lice eggs. Learn more about AirAllé.
Lice combs are specially designed to pull head lice and their eggs off the hair and away from the head. Although they don't kill the lice and eggs, they are safe and can be very effective at removing lice if used properly. A complete combing (particularly on longer hair) can be time-intensive, and difficult to master by novices. Learn more about lice combs.
Herbal remedies often use common essential oils to kill head lice. They can be relatively safe alternatives to chemical solutions, but they are usually not regulated by the FDA. They typically have low efficacy in killing the lice eggs, so multiple applications are usually needed. Learn more about herbal remedies for lice.
Suffocation products block the airways of lice. Common household items like mayonnaise and olive oil fall under this category, as well as commercial products that use silicone-based active ingredients (and are typically more effective). Suffocation products have varying rates of efficacy on killing lice (dimethicone, for example, is highly effective at killing hatched lice), but typically have low efficacy in killing the lice eggs, so multiple applications are usually needed, or they need to be used in conjunction with other treatment methods. Learn more about suffocation products.
Many prescription-based and over-the-counter lice treatments contain pesticides that kill head lice. Head lice have been developing resistance to many pesticide-based lice products (check the label for words such as permethrin, pyrethrin, pyrethroid or pyrethrum in the ingredients). They typically have low efficacy in killing the lice eggs, so multiple applications are usually needed. Learn more about pesticide lice treatments.