head lice tea tree oilProbably one of the most recommended home treatment and preventive products for head lice is tea tree oil.  How effective is it, and are there potential side effects?

Tea tree oil, also known as Melaleuca oil, was originally derived (and still is today) from the leaves of the Australian tea tree shrub (Melaleuca alternifolia).  Since the 1980s, production has expanded to other regions of the world and is now from different species, all known as “tea tree oil”.  For example, Melaleuca armillaris and Melaleuca styphelioides hail from Tunisia and Egypt, while Melaleuca quinquenervia comes from the United States. [1]

Australian Aborigines have used the healing properties of the Melaleuca alternifolia plant for years.  In the 1920s, an Australian chemist by the name of Arthur Penfold, first published reports of tea tree oil’s antimicrobial activity.  Today, although scientific data is insufficient, anecdotal evidence suggests that tea tree oil’s benefits include antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antiprotozoal properties (protozoa are one-celled organisms which can multiply in humans and create serious infections). [2]

But what about head lice?  Does tea tree oil work in killing adult lice, nymphs (babies, toddlers & teenage lice) and nits (eggs)?  Bottom line, there is no product, device or tool on the market today that kills lice and nits 100%.  Period.

OK, if no product, device or tool kills lice or nits 100%, then is tea tree oil safe and the best product to get rid of a head lice infestation or ward one off?  After all, Australian Aborigines have used the plant for ages.  And it’s an oil derived from a natural plant.  It has to be better than using OTC chemicals that are toxic and no longer work, right?

As for the Aborigines, they used the whole plant, not the processed oil.  OTC pesticide products are indeed ineffective nowadays, due to the increased resistance of lice in the last 20 years [3].  And yes, tea tree oil is a natural derivative of the plant.  However, most people don’t realize that there are potential side effects that you might want to consider before using.

There is evidence that tea tree and lavender oils, when used repeatedly on pre-pubescent boys, can cause enlarged breast growth.  Research is once again limited, but one study concluded that tea tree and lavender oils may have properties that disrupt hormones in young boys [4] [5] [6].  No known studies have been performed on young girls at this time.

Tea tree oil can also irritate your skin, so when used in strong dosages or in repeated low dose formulae, the result can be an annoying itchy head which can leave you wondering, do I have lice again?!  PTSD from a head lice infestation is very real.  Tea tree oil is quite toxic when swallowed so please be very careful when using around children.

If this information is enough to deter you from wanting to use these oils, then what is a better option for treating and preventing head lice?  We recommend mint.  Mint is a strong scent that the bugs just don’t like.  Mint-based sprays, shampoos and conditioners are great repellents.  Naturally occurring enzyme-based mint treatment products are also very effective at-home treatment options.  Again, no product is 100%, so you can still get lice using these preventives.  You can still have lice using the treatment products if you don’t get every last 2 nits out of your hair.  But using these products in conjunction with a great lice comb is the most effective means of dealing with lice.  For more information, check out our products listed on our website.

Lice Spies are professionally trained and certified through the Shepherd Institute.   We provide safe, non-toxic, natural head lice checks, treatment services, DIY & preventive products. 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. Wikipedia: Tea tree oil. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_tree_oil
  2. Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties by F. Carson, K. A. Hammer, and T. V. Riley.  Clinical Microbiol Reviews, v.19(1); 2006 JanPMC1360273. 
  3. Lice Spies: https://licespies.com/6-month-head-lice-battle-otc-prescription-pesticides/
  4. Prepubertal Gynecomastia Linked to Lavender and Tea Tree Oils by Derek V. Henley, Ph.D., Natasha Lipson, M.D., Kenneth S. Korach, Ph.D., and Clifford A. Bloch, M.D.; The New England Journal of Medicine: February 1, 2007.
  5. The Mayo Clinic: Safety and side effects of tea tree oil. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-tea-tree-oil/art-20364246?pg=2
  6. WebMD.com: Tea tree oil side effects and safety.  https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-113-TEA+TREE+OIL.aspx
Small portion of nits removed from 6 months of OTC and prescription lice treatment products at home
Small portion of nits removed from 6 months of OTC and prescription lice treatment products at home.

This picture, unfortunately, is not uncommon these days.  We’ve all heard the term, “Super Lice”, the term coined for lice that have grown resistant to over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription-based pesticide products containing permetherin and pyrethroids.

As early as 20 years ago, the pesticides found in products like RID(R) and Nix(R) were almost 100% effective at killing lice and their eggs (nits).  Today, head lice are nearly 100% resistant to these pesticides[1], and the combs that come with the kits are not effective at removing nits or early stage nymphs.

The picture above represents a small portion of nits that were recently removed from one of our clients.  This client had been battling lice for over 6 months using at first, OTC pesticide products, and then graduating to doctor prescribed stronger pesticides.

When our client finally found us, they were at their wits end, as one can imagine!  They were frustrated because they felt that the advice that they were given was inaccurate.  The CDC recommends these OTC pesticide products as the first course of action, and if/when these products don’t work, to go to your doctor for stronger, prescription products.

Some doctors prescribe these medications based on the CDC recommendations.  Here’s the problem: there’s not one single product on the market that is absolutely 100% effective at killing live lice or nits.  At the end of the day, if you do not get the last 2 viable nits out of your hair, you have a high probability that your lice problem will continue given the hatching cycle of the louse.  It only takes one male and one female to start the whole cycle all over again.

So what can you do?  Give us a call.  Our advice is free.  We offer head checks to verify or deny the presence of lice, and will always show you evidence if anything is found.  You have the choice of having us perform treatment, or we can show you how to treat at home.  All our products are safe, natural, non-toxic and pesticide-free.  We are on call to answer any questions at any time… well, maybe not when we’re sleeping!

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

[1] Expansion of the Knockdown Resistance Frequency Map for Human Head Lice (Phthiraptera: Pediculidae) in the
United States Using Quantitative Sequencing, by Kyle J. Gellatly, Sarah Krim, Daniel J. Palenchar, Katie Shepherd,
Kyong Sup Yoon, Christopher J. Rhodes, Si Hyeock Lee, and J. Marshall Clark; Journal of Medical Entomology, 53(3), 2016, 653–659

 

As the holidays wind down and you return to your normal routines, it’s the perfect time to check for any unwanted house guests that may be lingering in your hair. Catch lice now before a full-blown infestation occurs.

Holiday gatherings are the perfect setting to transfer head lice. Wrestling with cousins, snuggling on the couch in front of the fire, spreading the love… and unfortunately, lice.  Over 98 percent of head lice transmissions are from head-to-head contact. They don’t discriminate, so yes, Grandma and Grandpa are not immune to the pesky critters.

What is the best way to check for lice? Visual checks are good, but depending on your lighting, vision and where you make part lines, lice can be difficult to detect. The best way to check is to run a good lice comb through wet hair. Weekly checks are recommended to prevent major infestations.

How quickly can a case of head lice progress? A female louse only needs to be impregnated once in her lifetime to lay between 5-10 eggs daily for the rest of her adult life, which can be around 20 days. One female louse can lay up to 200 eggs in her lifetime. When those eggs hatch and mature to become reproducing adults in as soon as 14 days from when they were laid, one can see how quickly a case of head lice can become severe. Early detection is key.

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

Thank you Coffee on pixabay.com for the cute image!