This post was originally published in August 2015, but the other day, I received an email from a reader that said:
We’ve got lice raging through our school right now, and I remembered you’d posted about it a few years back. I searched for that post and found so much good, common sense, CALMING advice. Just wanted to suggest you repost it – maybe allow people to weigh in again on any new treatment or prevention products that have actually worked for them.
I think that’s a brilliant idea! So here is the post again. And I hope you’ll chime in with anything that has worked for you and your family. New effective combs? New effective shampoos? Other new treatments? Please share!
Have you been reading the crazy headlines about Super Lice? If you’ve missed out, here’s the summary: apparently, head lice in at least 25 states have become resistant to over-the-counter pesticides. Yuck.
But I have to say, I’m reading these reports with a raised eyebrow, because our big run-in with lice was over 6 years ago, and even back then, before “super lice” existed, I had zero luck with chemical responses to the bugs. In fact, if anyone asks me for lice advice, based on my own family’s experience, my response is always:
1) Skip the lice shampoo, it’s not reliable, and it gives false confidence.
2) Get the metal lice combs — the plastic ones don’t do a dang thing.
3) Don’t panic. Focus your energy on physically removing the lice (and the eggs!) from the hair. It takes time, so find time in your day (or evening), or hire a lice helper, or get an older niece or nephew to help.
For those of you in the middle of a lice catastrophe, you’re not alone. No shame, my friends. It can happen to anyone. And it’s totally the worst. Here’s how it went down at our house.
– We were living in New York. We get a note from the elementary school that there is a lice outbreak, and that one of my girls is affected.
– Next, gagging and a complete gross-out ensue on my part. So gross!!!! Then complete and total panic sets in. I envision lice on every fabric surface of my home. On the sofas, on the rugs, on the sheets, on the towels, on the clothes. I continue freaking out. And remember, at the time, I have 5 very young kids. Crawling toddlers, napping babies. Kids everywhere! So therefore, lice everywhere!! (Or at least, that’s what my brain was thinking.)
– So of course, I went out and bought ALL THE CHEMICALS. Every lice shampoo and lice spray I could find. I carefully read all instructions, treated the infected child with lice shampoo, and combed through her hair with the plastic lice combs that come with the lice shampoo. And though I was freaking out, I tried to act like it was no big deal to the kids, because I didn’t want to freak them out too.
– Then I checked all the other kids for lice, sprayed all the sofas with lice spray, and did approximately 1000 loads of laundry. Essentially, if you could put it through the washing machine, it was washed.
– And the whole time the shampooing and the laundry is going, I’m experiencing this continued panic. Are the lice spreading faster than I can spray and shampoo?!! And are the kids getting new lice from the sofa or carpet?!! I had this overwhelming feeling that I would never get rid of all the lice. I couldn’t see an end to this. Plus, I felt so much shame. I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about the lice. The shame was it’s own sort of trauma.
– After I had completed all the official lice shampoo processes, and washed everything in the house, I began to calm down. We did lice checks on all the kids, we couldn’t find any. Clean bill of health!
– But it turns out, that we didn’t get all the eggs. (I’m telling you, those plastic combs are no good!). In fact, I don’t think I even understood what I was looking for egg-wise. I think I was so grossed out by interacting with the actual bugs, that I let myself trust the shampoo, which was “guaranteed” to get the eggs. Here it was a few weeks later, and now, three of the kids had lice!!!!!
– At this point, it’s taking everything in me not to turn into a total basket case. This time around, I read everything I can about lice online. The most helpful thing I find is a timeline of a the lice life cycle. And knowing the life cycle, it gives me a much better picture of how to battle the lice more effectively. I also learn that much of what I’ve heard about lice is a myth. I learn that lice can’t jump or fly, that lice don’t spread infection, and that lice can only live for a couple of hours if they aren’t on a human. Such a relief! (I don’t have the original link I found 6 years ago, but this video has similar info about the myths and life cycle.)
– For the second round of lice, I go chemical-free. I skip the lice shampoos. I skip the extra laundry. I don’t worry about the couches or the rugs or the comforters or the clothes or the toys. My focus is on physically removing the bugs and the eggs from the hair. Which means, I also have to stop being a wimp about touching the bugs. I also get over my shame, so that I can talk to my friends about it and get advice.
– It’s summer time now, and the kids are out of school. I set up little lice removal station on the kitchen table with a view of the backyard. While the kids play outside and the baby naps, I take one infected child and put her in front of a laptop with a favorite movie. I spray her hair with water, then I use the metal lice combs to go through her hair in very small sections. I have a box of tissues next to me, and a bowl of hot soapy water. Every time I pull the comb through, even if I can’t see an egg or a bug, I wipe down the comb with a clean tissue, then I put the used tissue in the hot soapy water. (Eventually, the soggy, soapy tissues are put in a plastic garbage bag, tied off and sent directly to the outside trashcan.) This whole system takes a couple of hours per kid.
– The next day, I do the exact same thing, in case I missed anything. The good news is it goes faster this time. Maybe an hour per kid. When I finish this second combing session, I’m confident there are no more bugs. And I’m mostly confident there are no more eggs — but the eggs are so much harder to find, that I’m not 100% confident.
– Then, I wait 9 days. If I missed any eggs in the two concentrated combing sessions, they’ll all be hatched by 9 days later, but the new lice won’t be old enough to lay new eggs yet. That window of time is important! I do the lice combing station again. I find one baby lice, and that’s it. I don’t expect to find any eggs, and I’m right. There are none!
– We are officially lice free!!!
Here’s the thing, during that second round of lice, having 3 kids with lice was one million times less stressful than that first time having just one child with lice. The difference was of course the added knowledge. Understanding the egg timeline and the myths, plus understanding the importance of the physical removal (versus shampooing) did the trick.
I like to think that if it ever happens in the future, I’ll be more calm about it. But really, it won’t surprise me if I freak out again. Lice are stressful!
Okay Dear Readers/Lice Experts, what’s your take? Were any of you nodding your heads when I mentioned setting up a lice-removing station? Also, I know there are new lice-killing shampoos that come out all the time. Have you found something that works that maybe I haven’t heard of? And for those of you who have battled lice successfully, what system worked for you? Oh. One last question: in the last few years, I’ve seen shops open up where you can drop off your kids and the shop will physically remove the lice and eggs. Have you ever tried a service like that?
P.S. — Pro-tip: We’ve kept our metal lice combs all this time (see photo at top). You know what else they’re good for? Cleaning velcro! When our kids sneakers or jackets have velcro tabs that get filled with lint or random threads, the metal combs clean them up like new!