No, it isn’t about your child’s behavior or grades, it’s the message that there has been an outbreak of head lice in the classroom. Or the Y. Or his Sunday School class.
Each year millions of children are treated for head lice using drugstore products like Rid, Nix, Kwell and Ovide. Many brands, including Rid and Nix, rely on the chemicals pyrethrins and permethrins, but some researchers have reported that more than 99% of the lice in the United States are resistant to them. [Journal of Medical Entomology, 2014]
Chemical treatments of head lice – and their side effects
The active chemical in Kwell is lindane, a highly toxic pesticide related to the banned DDT. It had been effective in the past, killing lice, but it did not kill the lice eggs (nits). Lindane has been found to be cancer-causing and can damage the liver, immune system and nervous system, triggering seizures in sensitive people. Because it can become lodged in fat tissues and vital organs (like the brain) and breaks down slowly, it can cause damage for decades after it is used. In 2003 the Food and Drug Administration cautioned that lindane should not be used by anyone weighing less than 100 pounds – the very people most likely to be exposed to Kwell.
Ovide uses malathion, the pesticide the World Health Organization considers to be a possible carcinogen. An interesting note: Ovide is flammable!
But medical journals and parental reports show there are effective non-toxic options available. In fact, some of the studies show the natural products are superior to the pesticide-based ones.
Effective and non-toxic (to humans) treatment options
In 2010, Burgess and colleagues published a study titled, “Clinical trials showing the superiority of a coconut and anise spray over permethrin 0.43% lotion for head louse infestation.” [European Journal of Pediatrics] Then in 2013 they reported that a spray with a version of vitamin E (tocopheryl acetate) was far more effective than permethrin. [BMC Pharmacol Toxicol]
Parents have found that tea tree oil effectively kills lice without the risk of pesticides. Not only does it kill lice, but it can be added to shampoo or rinse to help deter them. Or, put a little tea tree oil in a spray bottle with water and spray on newly shampooed hair.
Tea tree oil is strong-smelling but highly effective in killing germs of all kinds. It can help to prevent or heal acne and toe nail fungus and can be diluted to disinfect surfaces. This oil is intended only for topical use; do not swallow it.
One researcher found that a 1% concentration of tea tree oil killed 100% of lice in 30 minutes. [DiCampli, Parasitol Res 2012]
A 2014 study by Soonwerea concluded, “The results revealed that all herbal shampoos were more effective on pediculicidal activity (killing the lice) than chemical and commercial shampoos, with 100% mortality at 15 min….” [Parasitol Res]
Food grade diatomaceous earth is another low-cost, highly effective way to get rid of pests of all types. An online search will describe the many benefits of this remarkable material, which is safe for both humans and pets to consume, but avoid breathing in the fine powder or getting it in the eyes.
A simple way to apply diatomaceous earth is to fill a small plastic squeeze bottle (like the familiar red catsup containers) half-full. Have the child place a damp washcloth over his face and squeeze the plastic container to “puff out” the powder onto the scalp. You can also use it on pets, in the house, and in the garden to kill pests.