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/

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