Back to School Tip: Getting rid of head lice

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It’s August. Many of you are going back to school shopping, gathering your supplies, weeding out clothes that don’t fit…

…and steeling yourselves for the War on Lice.

photo 2 (1)Some of you may have had a summer vacation already ruined by “Satan’s Spawn,” as my family did one year. It was so traumatizing, that I did the only thing I could: I turned it into a hilarious essay and performed it for Listen to Your Mother (Click Here to Watch.) After our two month Hell, I wrote about The 5 Stages of Lice based on The 5 Stages of Grief. As funny as these pieces are, and as comically as they portrait a mother down who did everything wrong, they sealed my reputation as “the lice lady” among my Village. Friends, relatives, even my school nurse, call me for my advice on what to do when stubborn cases arise.

They know. They know that I know.

Have you been though a horrible lice experience, or do you NEVER EVER want to go through one? I have 9 Pro Tips that can ensure my story will never be your story. When I finally got our local lice treatment company Lice Happens into my house, my consultant took my hands, looked deep into my eyes, and reassured me that this will never happen to me again. Not because we would never come into contact with another louse, but because the proper technique makes all the difference in the world and, dare I say…simple?

How to Get Rid of Lice LIKE A BOSS!

I. Prevention is key: I see a lot of speculation out there about the type of hair that lice do/don’t like. According to the Pros, lice are like mosquitos: they like warm heads and human blood. If they come into contact with you the right way, they like YOU. So dirty hair, clean hair, ethnicity aside, it’s pretty much equal if you’re warm-blooded. What does prevent a transmission is how you wear your hair, and if your hair touches someone with lice. Many of us know the no sharing hats or brushes rule. My daughter contracted our first case of lice at camp when a bandana she was wearing was accidentally switched with someone else’s. It happens.

Pro Tip #1: Wear long hair up in a high ponytail. This not only keeps the neck cooler, since lice like warm necks, but it prevents the louse from walking shoulder to shoulder when two kids with long flowing hair stand next to each other. This is apparently one of the highest means of transmissions in school! So get that hair up.

Pro Tip #2: Warn your older kids that selfies are not risk free. The Pros say that they are seeing more and more cases of lice in middle and high school children, where before the risk used to drop off in those age groups, due to the selfie craze. Kids put their heads together for pictures, and…

photo 2 (3)Pro Tip #3: Spray your hair. There are no 100% “prevention products” out there (but lots and lots of people who LOVE to tell you the numerous ways they have “completely prevented” lice in their precious snowflakes.) However, like bug spray, there are products that lice don’t like, and will make them less likely to choose a head. I bought an essential oil spray that smells like peppermint from Lice Happens (and all of their products are available online,) so my children can mist their hair each morning before school.


photo 3 (1)Pro Tip #4: Own a professional grade nit comb, and sweep each scalp once a week. This should take about 2 minutes per head. (This from a mother who spent 11 hours the first day nit combing her daughter’s hair.) That is the difference between the crappy combs that come in the OTC kits, and the good one. It’s called the Nit Picker Pro, and it’s awesome. The technique can be a bit tricky, but once you get good at it, it is fast and simple. Check out my quick video on how to nit comb like a pro!

II. Treatment: It happens. You find a lousy little louse or nits in your weekly sweep, or you get a call from a mortified friend after your kid spent the night last week. The first time around, I did everything Myth and the Internets told me to do – boiled hairbrushes, bagged toys and hats, bleached surfaces, vacuumed. Essentially, I went bat s*** crazy. When I tearfully called Lice Happens, after getting lice AGAIN following our 2 months of torture, and found out they would be coming the next day, I asked the consultant over the phone, “What should I really do to prepare?” She said “If you would put all of your hairbrushes in a ziplock bag in the freezer overnight that would be great.” Pause.

“That’s it?”

“That’s it! You can also drink a glass of wine. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

Pro Tip #5: DO NOT PANIC! Cleaning will not help you get rid of the lice. Bag and freeze the brushes. After you start treating, change and wash your sheets, but ALL OTHER HOUSE CLEANING MEASURES ARE UNNECESSARY. Really. Really, really.

Just like bacteria, lice are becoming resistant to treatment. We have been using OTC products like Rid and Nix for a long time. Some people even go with the prescription-grade drug Malathion (which smells and feels like kerosene. Take it from me.) And just like antibiotic-resistant bacteria, we are creating strains of treatment-resistant lice. But have no fear, we may not be able to chemically kill them on your head, but we can successfully physically remove them, and that does the job very effectively (they can only live a few hours off of a warm scalp.) This is why the right comb and technique is so important as described above. But anyone who has ever tried to pull a nit off of a strand of hair can tell you, it sticks like Super glue. In my desperation to get them out of my daughter’s hair around hour 8 that first day, I resorted to cutting the strands off of her head.

photo 1 (4)Pro Tip #6: Dissolve the glue before combing. Before nit combing our heads, my consultant put a pesticide-free enzyme-foam in our hair. She said this dissolves the glue of the egg sac from the hair shaft and allows you to sweep it right out the hair. You can buy this product off of their website, and keep it on hand in case of emergency (I wouldn’t want to wait 2-3 days for shipping if my kid had lice!) This product is not available in stores as far as I can tell, and, for those of you who have been told that warm vinegar works, just ask my daughter…(#EpicFail.)

Pro Tip #7: Continue to treat! There is a schedule set up for treatment to make sure that you have caught every last devil. It takes one forgotten nit to hatch and lay hundreds of eggs. This is why it may look like one family has had “multiple cases” of lice over the school year every month or so, when really, they have unsuccessfully treated their one case all year. A louse will hatch 7 to 8 days after the nit is laid, so treatment must extend beyond that incubation time.

ProTip #8: Treat the family. Think about how many times you hug your kids…yup, you’ll get it too. That burning itch at the back of your neck? That’s what they feel like as they bite you. I treated my family LIKE A BOSS, but who was going to treat me? That leads to my final tip…

Pro Tip #9: Use a Pro! Are you a first-timer? Overwhelmed? If all of these tips feel like too much for you, there are Lice Happens consultants all over the country, as well as other franchises who will come to your home, or even salons where you can bring your child. My consultant was in and out of our home in an hour and 20 min, inspected all four of us and treated both kids. I sent them to school that day. For real. If you have multiple family members affected, it may cost you a few hundred dollars for the time and all of the supplies, but at the time, it was worth every penny. It still is.

Note: This was not a sponsored post. I did not accept any money, and these words were my own. However, these Pro Tips were taught to me by the professionals of Lice Happens of Annapolis, and I share them with you with their knowledge and permission.

ashleyBIO: Ashley is an award-winning health activist and blogger, and was named WEGO Health Network’s Rookie of the Year for 2015. She is a hyper-flexible mother of two bouncing (literally) kids. A lack of collagen has left them the world’s worst Superheroes (but don’t tell them that). She writes about the wacky things that their syndrome has taught her family at The Incredible Adventures of Malleable Mom. She has been published on Scary Mommy, The Mid, Mamapedia, and BLUNTmoms. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Sarah Cottrell

About Sarah Cottrell

Maine-based writer Sarah Cottrell is the voice behind Housewife Plus at the Bangor Daily News and is a regular contributor to Disney’s Babble and Momtastic. She is a co-author in six books including I Still Just Want To Pee Alone from the New York Times Bestselling series. Sarah’s work has also been highlighted and featured by SELF Magazine, National Public Radio, Washington Post, and VICE Tonic.