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18th May 2021

The ins-and-outs of head lice: what to do when critters invade your child’s scalp

They're NO fun.


how to treat head lice

We’re itchy just talking about it, but someone’s gotta…

Nobody wants to have to deal with creepy-crawlies, never mind creepy-crawlies in their child’s hair.

Ugh. But deal with the common childhood critters we must, as statistics show that 85 per cent of children will be infected with head lice at least once during their school years. The appearance of head lice causes a major headache for parents and very few of us will escape having to de-louse our children. Shudder.


Even the high-flying chief operating officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, included a head lice anecdote in her best-selling book, Lean In. She recounts the horror of taking her daughter to a business conference (on a private jet owned by the boss of eBay no less) and discovering halfway through the flight that the young girl had head lice.

“Then just as the flight finally took off, my daughter started scratching her head. “Mommy! My head itches!” she announced loudly, speaking over the headset she was wearing. I didn’t think anything of it until her itching grew frantic and her complaints grew louder. I urged her to lower her voice, then examined her head and noticed small white things. I was pretty sure I knew what they were. I was the only person bringing young children on this corporate plane – and now my daughter most likely had lice.

I spent the rest of the flight in a complete panic, trying to keep her isolated, her voice down, and her hands out of her hair, while I furiously scanned the web for pictures of lice. When we landed, everyone piled into rental cars to caravan to the conference hotel, but I told them to go ahead without me; I just needed to “pick something up.” I dashed to the nearest pharmacy, where they confirmed my diagnosis. We grabbed the shampoo that I needed to treat her and, as it turned out, her brother – and spent the night in a marathon hair-washing session. I missed the opening night dinner, and when asked why, I said my kids were tired. Frankly, I was too. And even though I managed to escape the lice, I could not stop scratching my head for several days.”

The joy of motherhood, eh?

So what exactly are these horrible yokes and how can you get rid of them as fast as possible?

Lice are parasites, greyish in colour and measure between 2 and 4 mm. They nest (I just threw up a bit typing that) on the scalp, hair and clothing of humans. The eggs, called nits, are whitish in colour. Lice crawl around the head but the nits remain stuck to the hair. Lice usually infest children’s scalps but adults can also be affected, and their presence has zero to do with lack of hygiene.

Lice spread like wildfire throughout the scalp due to the rapid lifetime of each louse. Nits take 7-11 days to hatch, then lice take 9-14 days to become fully-grown adults. Once they’re adults, they mate and female louse lay their first eggs within a day or two. They can then lay 8-10 eggs per day. A louse lives about 3 to 4 weeks, so as you can imagine, a small infestation can quickly multiply into the hundreds.


Lice cause an itchy scalp. Lice and nits are found on the scalp, commonly behind the ears, at the nape of the neck and on the top of the head.


Lice are transmitted by direct contact. They can also be indirectly transmitted by objects, in particular during the exchange of headbands, hair accessories or headwear.


Unfortunately, there is no preventive treatment when it comes to head lice. You should frequently check your child’s hair and scalp if your son or daughter has been in contact with a child who has lice. This check should be done at least every two days for about two weeks. Tying hair back can help to prevent contamination.



Treating lice can be a long and painful process. There are a wide variety of lice-treating products available in pharmacies. Ask your pharmacist or doctor about the formulas and brands available (shampoos, lotions, sprays etc) and follow the directions for use on the package leaflet carefully.

Many commercially available products contain an insecticide and/or an ovicide (to kill the eggs) and are so are not advised for use in children under 30 months of age and pregnant women.

The more ‘natural’ treatments available are composed of oils or silicone which obstruct the respiratory tracts of the lice, resulting in their death (sorry, not sorry). But be warned: because these products are not ovocidal, treatment should be repeated every two weeks or so.

An untreated head lice infestation and the severe scratching it causes can lead to painful bacterial infections and brittle, unhealthy to treat head lice

I can see em! What now?

Apply a lice-treating product as soon as you find nits or lice on your child’s head. Do not leave any product on the head beyond the time period indicated in the instructions. Redo a second application seven to ten days afterwards in order to kill off any survivors from the first application. It is essential to carry out a second treatment one to two weeks later in order to completely interrupt the life of the lousy louse.

Adult lice can survive for around twenty-four hours on a pillowcase or cushion, so decontaminate clothes, towels, pillowcases, or anything that’s been in direct contact with the head, by washing them at 60°C. Also make sure to disinfect all combs and brushes.

Bet yiz’re feeling a wee bit itchy now…

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