Head Lice Facts
The very first step in treating your head lice effectively is education. If you know what to look for, and understand the lice lifecycle, you can safely deal with one of life’s peskier moments.
Eggs (e.g., nits) are located close to the scalp, are oval shaped, and are typically light brown in color. In order to be viable, they require your constant body heat for incubation. There’s a significant difference between eggs and nits: eggs are viable, and nits are not. A nit is defined as the hatched eggshell, or an unhatched egg which is no longer viable due to its distance from the scalp; only the eggs located within ¼”inch of the scalp are viable. Once hatched, the shell is left behind, and remains attached to the hair.
What emerges from an egg is called a nymph. If you remember the size of an egg, you can imagine the size of the creature growing inside; nymphs are miniscule in comparison to eggs. Nymphs mature into adults within nine to twelve days, during which time they grow and shed their exoskeleton three times. They live directly on the scalp where they can feed in the warmth that all lice require. Once a nymph reaches maturity, it can begin to lay eggs, and yet not all females will be able to withstand the hazards of copulation with the male louse, which can result in a case of head lice, as opposed to a lice infestation. Older females frequently die following, if not during, intercourse, and this is perhaps why some people get a terrible case of lice, and others have only a few, even within the same household.
Adult lice are about the size of a sesame seed, are most active at night, light brown or grey in color, and travel very quickly. Females lay about three to four eggs daily, and during its lifespan of four weeks, a female louse lays 50-150 eggs (not all of which will survive). Lice live close to the scalp, and are typically found behind along the hairline and at the crown. The adult louse feeds about five times a day by piercing the skin with its claws, injecting irritating saliva, and sucking blood. They hold onto the hair with hook-like claws found at the end of each of their six legs.
While lice live close to the scalp, and are typically found along the hairline and at the crown, they can lay their eggs anywhere along the head, so it’s important that no inch be overlooked during a head check. During a head check, you are searching not just for lice, but also their eggs, and there simply is no way to avoid an up-close, personal, persistent head check. You can determine how long you’ve been infested with lice by noting the distance of nits from your scalp: due to natural hair growth, the further away from the scalp you find a nit, the longer you have been infested. And while it is not necessary to remove nits, many people prefer to do so for hygienic, personal reasons, and it’s a wise course of action for only by removing nits now can you determine whether an infestation is old, or new.
Lice treatment options
There are many treatment options for you to choose from, but you should remember that lice are becoming resistant to pesticides, and so pediculides are no longer considered 100% effective. Manual removal is really the only treatment that’s 100% effective. Combing alone can sometimes be successful, but you need to continue combing every day, which requires a lot of time, and can literally shred your hair because of how closely spaced the teeth of combs are. The Cetaphil method is quite effective, non-toxic, gentle on the hair, simple to do, and frankly, it feels good. Cetaphil is a gentle liquid soap which is applied liberally to the head, and then dried, effectively encapsulates and then suffocates live lice. You wash your hair eight hours later, and repeat twice over the next two weeks, spaced seven days apart. If you prefer to hire a lice treatment provider, choose one that doesn’t tout its services as leaving you nit- and lice-free in one treatment alone; if that were true, they wouldn’t need to offer a guarantee (and every lice treatment professional offers one).
The adult louse can survive for only up to 48 hours without feeding on the scalp and remaining warm. Once removed, they will die soon after, unless they come into direct constant with another head. Housekeeping advice, therefore, is simple: treat heads (and articles which heads come into contact with), and beds. The typical housekeeping advice you might have heard is full of steps that are unnecessary, and sometimes that advice is excessive. For example, one cycle in the clothes dryer will treat bedding and other fabrics, and it’s sufficient to simply remove articles that come into contact with your head for the next 48 hours.
Maintain your vigilance
The final step in treating head lice effectively is simple: maintain your vigilance. Continue to do head checks on a weekly basis, and remember that lice are around for 12 months of the year! Encourage your children to never share hats, helmets, or wigs that are part of a costume and the like. Let your school or childcare provider know about your head lice, so that they can alert other parents. Incidents of lice can continue unabated for months; you need parents to do their job well, and they need you to do yours. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a whole community to stop head lice infestations. So be vigilant, be patient, and stay calm.