What are lice and nits?
Lice are small, brownish grey, six legged creatures. It is difficult to see them because they are light sensitive but sometimes you can spot them as they crawl through the hair. They are capable of moving from head to head, thus no one is immune. Anyone's head of hair can become a home to lice. Lice live by biting the scalp and sucking out the blood. Their saliva contains an antiseptic, which can cause a mental slowing down if the host is continuously bitten over a long period of time. This is thought to be the original meaning of the term "nitwit." Nits are the empty egg shells of the hatched lice. They look a bit like dandruff and are stuck firmly to the hair shaft. Nits are much easier to spot than lice.
How can we tackle the problem?
It is now generally accepted that regular use of organophosphate based head lice treatments on children is not a good idea. The scalp is a sensitive and highly absorbent area of skin. It is astounding that parents are recommended to use such products when some of their ingredients have been banned for use on animals. Do not despair! There are safer plant based alternatives. The most commonly used plant based head lice treatments tend to be based on essential oils. Essential oils are highly concentrated volatile oils, extracted from plants. They are exceedingly potent - it is not recommended that you use any essential oil (excepting lavender and tea tree in small amounts) undiluted. Off the shelf treatment based on herbal tinctures, offer another option. For younger children (five to eight years of age) it is best to stick to using either lavender or tea tree oil in combination with the Quassia bark rinse as described in the DIY Lice Treatment later on this page. For those under five, use only the Quassia bark rinse. The stronger off the shelf treatments may be used when there is an infestation - i.e. lots of eggs and visible lice. It is best not to use the combination essential oil treatments too frequently. As with all health problems PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE.
Preventing head lice from "settling in"
If your child has long hair - tie it back, or even better plait it, when they are in the company of other children.
When brushing your child's hair in the morning before school, put one drop of either lavender or tea tree oil (whichever smell they prefer) onto the brush. The oil rests on the hair (not the scalp) and deters lice from settling into the hair.
Brush the hair before bed as well - regular brushing dissuades nits from hanging around.
Once every two weeks do a quick nit check. Look behind the ears, under the fringe and at the nape of the neck for the cream coloured, dandruff-like nits. Follow this with a shampoo and then comb through the hair with a fine tooth nit comb such as the "nit free" comb. Using conditioner will make the job easier. Rinse the conditioner out and then follow with a quassia bark rinse (see later section.) It is a good idea to treat the whole family once a week, particularly those with long hair.
You may choose to use a tea-tree based shampoo. Some of the essential oil shampoos are rather strong and may not be suitable for those with sensitive scalps. The Urtekram tea-tree shampoo is one of the more gentle ones. The Desert Essence Scalp Treatment Shampoo is strong enough to treat a mild case of head lice (in conjunction with the Treatment Conditioner).
Methods for getting rid of eggs and lice
For convenience we have a number of off the shelf treatment for head lice. These are ideal for more serious infestation - where there are eggs throughout the hair.
Biz Niz is an essential oil based treatment, which contains a mixture of several strong essential oils. It can be used as a treatment, by applying it to the scalp, or as a preventative - a small amount of the product is rubbed through the hair before contact with other children.
Delacet is a herbal based treatment containing tincture of Larkspur. The active ingredient of the plant is called delphinine and is a strong insecticide and parasiticide.
Do It Yourself Lice Treatment
Add about ten drops of essential oil to a cupful of olive oil. Massage the oil into the scalp and leave for about two hours. Shampoo the oil out of the hair and then, using conditioner, comb the hair thoroughly with a fine-toothed comb - the best one for the job is the "Nit Free" comb as it has special teeth which grip and damage the nit eggs as it is dragged through the hair. Comb until most of the conditioner has been combed out of the hair and then rinse through the quassia bark infusion. Leave this in the hair and dry as normal.
To make the infusion soak a large handful of quassia bark chips in a one and a half litres of cold water overnight. Strain through a colander and then it is ready for use. If you catch the rinse in a bowl it can be used to treat two or more heads. The rinse is very safe, yet it might dry out the scalp a little. The day you use the olive oil blend is day one. Do a quassia rinse (on dry or wet hair) for days 3, 5, 7, 9 and 10. This covers the cycle of any hatching eggs that might have been missed. Make up a new batch of the rinse for each day. Treat everyone in the family at the same time.
Written by Julia Moore CHEK level 1 Holistic Lifestyle Coach