Head Lice (Holistic)Skip to the navigation
About This Condition
Clean it up
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
Condition and comb
While hair is wet, apply a conditioner and comb through with a fine-tooth comb to remove lice and their eggs
About This Condition
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
Healthy Lifestyle Tips
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.
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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.
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
In one trial, a cream containing 20% oil of sugar apple seed killed 95% of head lice when applied once to the hair of infested schoolgirls for three hours, and then washed out.
Sugar apple (Annona squamosa) is a tree native to Latin America, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. In a controlled trial, a cream containing 20% oil of sugar apple seed killed 95% of head lice when applied once to the hair of infested schoolgirls for three hours, and then washed out.13
Anise, Ylang Ylang, and Coconut Oils
Refer to label instructions
A combination of anise, ylang ylang, and coconut oils has been shown to be effective against head lice.
A commercial product (HairClean 1-2-3) containing oils of anise, ylang ylang (Cananga odorata), and coconut, plus isopropyl alcohol, applied once per week for 15 minutes followed by rinsing, shampooing, and combing, was 98% effective, according to a preliminary report of a controlled study.14
Paw Paw, Thyme Oil, and Tea Tree Oil Shampoo
Apply shampoo to hair and leave on for one hour before washing out
An herbal shampoo containing a standardized extract of paw paw, thyme oil, and tea tree oil has been found to be effective in treating head lice.
An herbal shampoo (Paw Paw Lice Remover Shampoo) containing a standardized extract of paw paw (Asimina triloba), thyme oil, and tee tree oil was found to be toxic to head lice in test tube studies, after which uncontrolled trials were carried out in 13 families.15 The shampoo was applied to the dry hair and left on for one hour before washing out and combing with a fine-toothed comb; this was repeated eight and sixteen days later, after which 100% of the 37 participants were free of lice.
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.16
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. Tiangda CH, Gritsanapan W, Sookvanichsilp N, Limchalearn A. Anti-headlice activity of a preparation of Annona squamosa seed extract. Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health 2000;31 Suppl 1:174-7.
14. Meinking TA. Infestations. Curr Probl Dermatol 1999;11:73-120 [review].
15. McCage CM, Ward SM, Paling CA, et al. Development of a paw paw herbal shampoo for the removal of head lice. Phytomedicine 2002;9:743-8.
16. Hoffmann D. The New Holistic Herbal, 3rd ed. Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK: Element, 1990:230.
Last Review: 06-08-2015
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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 2016.
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