Mayo, Vaseline, Cetaphil, olive oil - do these work as home lice treatments? 

Head lice and home remedies… advice abounds from old wives’ tales passed down from generation to generation, to all those “expert opinions” that plague the Internet.  Smothering techniques are some of the most widely recommended methods of trying to tackle a case of head lice at home.  Does dousing your head in mayonnaise, olive oil, Cetaphil or Vaseline really work?

Let’s first look at the anatomy of a louse.  Lice have ventricles on the sides of their bodies, which when open, allow the bugs to breathe.  Lice can shut down these ventricles for up to two full hours, even when fully submersed in liquids that are meant to kill them.  If a louse can open these ventricles and grab a breath, they are good to go for another two hours.  Unless you are willing to dunk your head in a vat of these products for longer than two hours, the chances of still having live bugs in your hair is very possible.

What about the eggs or nits?  Surely, greasing up your hair will provide too slippery a surface for the louse to attach her eggs?  In addition, putting all that goop in your hair will suffocate any eggs that are already in your hair, right?  Unfortunately, no.  Leading lice PhD experts wrote an article in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing stating that none of these treatments stopped lice from laying their eggs [1].  It appears that of the oily products in question, petroleum jelly has the highest rate of killing some nits as the researchers observed only 6% of eggs hatched.

Do we recommend using petroleum jelly?  Absolutely not.  It is a nightmare to get it all out of your hair, and it is not 100% effective.  While a 94% success rate might be a very good passing grade in school, it is not a good enough result when treating a head lice infestation.  Leaving 6% behind in your hair can cause the whole hatching cycle to continue and voila, 2 weeks later your head is crawling with critters once again.

As for mayonnaise, we haven’t met one person yet who eats mayonnaise after suffering through a dreaded mayo lice treatment, even if it’s been years since the treatment!  All joking aside, please do not use mayonnaise.  Lice feed on our blood and can often create open bite wounds on the head.  Leaving a product that spoils very quickly on our heads for hours at a time can run the risk of salmonella poisoning.

The recommendation when using these oily products often requires you to place some sort of plastic over your head when sleeping.  In 2015, a precious 18 month old lost her life by suffocation while sleeping with her hair doused in mayonnaise covered by a plastic bag [2].  The risk is just not worth it.

Bottom line, there is no one product, tool or device that is 100% effective at killing lice and nits.  There just is not.  If olive oil really worked, the ancient Egyptians would have nipped head lice in the bud centuries ago!

The last two nits in the hair have to be removed to break the continuous loop of the hatching cycle to stop a lice infestation.  There are safe, effective tools and products that can help treat head lice faster and more efficiently, and they do not require multiple washings to get the products out of your hair.

Our recommendation is to seek professional help, preferably professionals that have been trained and certified through the Shepherd Institute [3].  These professionals can provide you with safe, effective, non-toxic DIY products and guidance for successful home treatments that are very reasonable.  They can also provide in-clinic or in-house treatment services.

Lice Spies are professionally trained and certified through the Shepherd Institute [3].   We provide safe, non-toxic, natural head lice checks, treatment services, DIY & preventive products at our Edmonds clinic. Located on the corner of Edmonds Way and 236th Street Southwest in Edmonds, WA, appointments can be booked online, anytime of day or night at www.licespies.com.

Sources:

  1. Home Remedies to Control Head Lice, Assessment of Home Remedies to Control the Human Head Louse, Pediculus humanus capitis (Anoplura: Pediculidae): Miwa Takano-Lee, PhD, John D. Edman, PhD, John D. Edman, PhD, Bradley A. Mullens, PhD, John M. Clark, PhD; Journal of Pediatric Nursing, December 2004 Volume 19, Issue 6, Pages 393–398.  http://www.pediatricnursing.org/article/S0882-5963(04)00139-3/abstract
  2. Massachusetts toddler dies during head lice treatment: CBS/AP February 5, 2015, 1:35 PM. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/massachusetts-toddler-dies-during-head-lice-treatment/
  3. http://www.shepherdinstitute.com/