Keep head lice under control by thoroughly washing clothing, bedding, and personal hair care items regularly
Try a shampoo or lotion containing extracts of quassia, citronella, sugar apple, paw paw, thyme oil and/or tea tree oil to help eliminate head lice
While hair is wet, apply a conditioner and comb through with a fine-tooth comb to remove lice and their eggs
Head lice (Pediculosis capitis) is an infestation of the hair and scalp by a mite called Pediculus capitis. Head lice affects mainly children and the mite can either be passed directly by person to person contact, or indirectly when the organism is deposited on shared articles such as clothing, furniture, bed linens, or hairbrushes.1
Itching of the scalp, which can be very intense, is the most common symptom of head lice. There may be small crusts of dried blood around sites where bites have occurred, and combing with a fine-tooth comb may pick up eggs (nits) that have been attached to the hair shaft.2 , 3
Maintaining a clean personal environment is essential for the prevention and control of head lice. This means that clothing, bedding, and personal hair care items such as brushes and combs should be washed regularly. Regular vacuuming of floors, furniture, and play areas will remove hairs that might harbor nits.4
Head lice and their eggs may be removed by using hair conditioner, followed by combing through the wet hair with a fine-tooth comb.5
Several home remedies have been popularized for treating head lice, including topical application of isopropyl alcohol, olive oil, mayonnaise, melted butter, and petroleum jelly. Test tube studies of these remedies found that only petroleum jelly was effective for killing lice and their eggs,6 but no human studies have investigated whether any home remedy is an effective treatment for an existing infestation.
Our proprietary “Star-Rating” system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.
For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.
3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
Spray a 3.7% lotion in a slow-release formula every morning six days per week
Citronella is a volatile oil that has been shown to help eliminate head lice.
Citronella is the volatile oil extracted from Cymbopogon nardus or Cymbopogon winterianus. In a double-blind trial, children with head lice were treated either with a placebo lotion or a lotion containing 3.7% citronella in a slow-release formula.7 The lotions were sprayed on the hair every morning for six days each week. Reexamination after two and after four months showed that significantly fewer children using citronella lotion were still infested.
Paw Paw, Thyme Oil, and Tea Tree Oil Shampoo
Apply shampoo to hair and leave on for one hour before washing out
Apply an alcohol extract to the scalp two times, one week apart
Quassia is a tree native to the Amazon rainforest that has constituents with activity against several types of microbes and insects.
Quassia (Quassia amara) is a tree native to the Amazon rainforest that has constituents with activity against several types of microbes and insects.8 , 9 , 10 An uncontrolled study reported that all but three out of 454 cases of head lice were successfully treated with a topical tincture of quassia bark applied to the scalp once, and again one week later.11 A double-blind trial found that using a similar quassia extract helped prevent new cases of head lice.12
Apply a cream containing 20% seed oil to hair and wash out three hours later
Anise, Ylang Ylang, and Coconut Oils
Refer to label instructions
Apply a cream containing 20% seed oil to the hair and wash out three hours later
Traditional herbalists recommend applying oil of sassafras to treat head lice.
Traditional herbalists recommend applying oil of sassafras topically three times per day for lice, but this has never been tested in a clinical study.13
1. Freedberg IM, Eisen AZ, Wolff K, et al, eds. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine (6th Edition). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003, page 2286.
2. Freedberg IM, Eisen AZ, Wolff K, et al, eds. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine (6th Edition). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003, page 2286.
3. De Maeseneer J, Blokland I, Willems S, et al. Wet combing versus traditional scalp inspection to detect head lice in schoolchildren: observational study. BMJ 2000;321:1187–8.
4. Freedberg IM, Eisen AZ, Wolff K, et al, eds. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine (6th Edition). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003, page 2288.
5. Frydenberg A, Starr M. Head lice. Aust Fam Physician 2003;32:607–11.
6. Takano-Lee M, Edman JD, Mullens BA, Clark JM. Home remedies to control head lice: assessment of home remedies to control the human head louse, Pediculus humanus capitis (Anoplura: Pediculidae). J Pediatr Nurs 2004;19:393–8.
7. Mumcuoglu KY, Magdassi S, Miller J, et al. Repellency of citronella for head lice: double-blind randomized trial of efficacy and safety. Isr Med Assoc J2004;6:756–9.
8. Ajaiyeoba EO, Krebs HC. Antibacterial and antifungal activities of Quassia undulata and Quassia amara extracts in vitro. Afr J Med Med Sci 2003;32:353–6.
9. Gilbert B, Teixeira DF, Carvalho ES, et al. Activities of the Pharmaceutical Technology Institute of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation with medicinal, insecticidal and insect repellent plants. An Acad Bras Cienc 1999;71:265–71.
10. Evans DA, Raj RK. Larvicidal efficacy of Quassin against Culex quinquefasciatus. Indian J Med Res 1991;93:324–7.
11. Jensen O, Nielsen AO, Bjerregaard P. Pediculosis capitis treated with quassia tincture. Acta Derm Venereol 1978;58:557–9.
12. Ninci ME. Prophylaxis and treatment of pediculosis with Quassia amarga. Rev Fac Cien Med Univ Nac Cordoba 1991;49:27–31 [in Spanish].
13. Hoffmann D. The New Holistic Herbal, 3rd ed. Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK: Element, 1990:230.
Last Review: 11-07-2012
Copyright © 2012 Aisle7. All rights reserved. Aisle7.com
The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2013.
Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.