Aromatherapy essential oils for nits (head lice)

Aromatherapy A-Z: Nits

A million children in the UK have headlice at any one time, and we spend millions of pounds on cures from combs and chemicals to oils and professional help. Here is our advice on how you can treat lice and nits effectively with aromatherapy essential oils!

There are 4 very important points to remember when dealing with head (and body) lice (officially called pediculosis).

  1. There is no shame – anyone can get head lice, and the assumption that they only live in dirty hair is a complete myth.
  2. There are some extremely toxic treatments out there, and a child's skin/scalp is very sensitive so these chemicals WILL be absorbed through their skin – go for the safe natural options, they DO work!
  3. Head lice cannot fly, but they do crawl very quickly. Entomologists say they can crawl through hair at 12 miles a minute. This means they can easily be spread to other members of the family by head to head contact. As soon as one member of the family gets them, you'll need to check other family members and friends.
  4. Essential oils can and will work if you follow our suggestions and persevere! (The tenacity goes for whatever route you choose - chemical or natural!)

My experience (yes we suffered from these little blighters when my daughter was much younger) and my research indicates that there are certain essential oils that work really well. The formulas are easy to blend – and more importantly – SAFE to use. What's the point of getting rid of these parasites but risking potential future health problems for your children? The chemical-based head lice treatments actually contain pesticides that are neurotoxins and proven carcinogens. They have also been linked to skin rashes and breathing problems including asthma. So why would we want to smother our children’s heads in these toxic substances, particularly when research shows that ‘super head lice’ are becoming resistant to these pesticides, in the same way that bacteria are resisting antibiotics. Remember our skin absorbs trace elements of what we put on it - aromatherapy is partly based on this principle – so why take the risk with these toxic substances, especially if they don't work!

Facts about head lice

Before we discuss our natural aromatherapy treatments, here are a few facts about head lice:

  • Adult head lice are generally 2-3mm long and dark brown in colour
  • A female can lay 8 eggs per day and these are ‘glued’ onto the hair shaft close to the scalp
  • Newly laid eggs are very hard to spot. They are white-grey in colour and about the size of a grain of salt
  • An egg takes 7 days to hatch
  • The discarded egg shells are known as ‘nits’
  • A baby louse (also called a nymph) matures into an adult in 7 days
  • Head lice can live on the human head for up to 30 days
  • They survive by biting our skin and feeding on our blood
  • They will generally only survive for 24 hours once leaving the head and their source of food
  • Anyone can catch nits, they are not an indication of poor hygiene
  • They are spread by head to head contact. They cannot fly or jump but do move very quickly and can swing from hair to hair
  • Head lice do not spread through bed linen or clothes etc. Lice are clever and know that they need to stay attached to the head in order to survive. Similarly, they are generally not transferred via brushes or combs

Symptoms of head lice

Symptoms of head lice include itching – this is caused when the skin reacts to their saliva as they bite the skin. The itching can take weeks to develop however, and if you’ve had head lice before you may be less sensitive to it and experience little or no irritation.

You may also see tiny red bite marks on the back of the neck, scalp or forehead and small dandruff-like spots that are difficult to remove. You may even see head lice moving through the hair, although they are quite hard to detect as they move so quickly.

Aromatherapy treatments for head lice

The aim of any treatment is to kill the lice themselves, their eggs – and help act as a preventative against future infestation.

There are quite a few essential oils recognized as being effective against head lice, but in my experience the most useful are: Eucalyptus, Thyme or Rosemary, Tea Tree and Geranium.

Nitty Gritty Hair & Scalp Mask

Wet hair first, so the mix is easy to wash out. Take 50ml (for smaller child's head with short hair) or 75ml of Grapeseed oil. To 50ml add 10 drops Eucalyptus, 10 Tea Tree, 15 Lavender and 10 Rosemary. To 75 ml add 15 drops Eucalyptus, 10 drops Tea Tree, 25 drops Lavender and 15 Rosemary. Massage the oil into the scalp and try to ensure complete coverage, especially to the nape of the neck and behind the ears, which are favourite egg laying sites. Leave on for 1 hour, and then comb through small sections of hair with a fine toothed nit comb (see the combs in the Bug Buster® Kit as recommended by the NHS). The mask will make the eggs easier to remove from the hair shaft and will also trap the live, or mostly dead or dying lice, enabling them to be removed via the comb. Have a bowl of hot water with 5 drops Tea Tree and 5 drops Eucalyptus in which to place them after each comb through. Do not just wipe them on a tissue as they may crawl off - unless you squash them with your nail or the flat end of a pencil. They are very resilient! Rinse your comb to ensure it's clear of all lice and eggs before combing the next section of hair.

Shampoo the mask out as normal (see recipe below).

Repeat the same treatment every 2-3 days until all traces of lice and eggs are gone.

Head Lice Deterring Shampoo & Conditioner

To every 100ml of SLS free Shampoo add 10 drops each of Tea Tree, Rosemary and Geranium. Shake well before use.

To help prevent further infestation use more conditioner than normal so the smell of the essential oils remains in the hair. Mix our Hair Conditioner with the same essential oils as the shampoo recipe above.

Alternatively, if you don't want to blend your own oils you can try our pre-blended Nit Aid pure essential oil with Rosemary, Lavender, Geranium and Tea Tree. This can be blended with carrier oils, shampoo and conditioner and can also be made into a hair rinse or spray.

Important Safety Advice

Please do not use the above blends if pregnant, epileptic or with children under 3 years old.

One final interesting fact...

Did you know that Native Americans stuffed their bed bundles with pine needles – to help prevent lice and fleas! Hopefully with the recipes above you won't need to go quite that far!!!

Good luck!

Joannah Metcalfe
Consultant Aromatherapist

Disclaimer & Safety Advice

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