Head Lice Comb Comparison

- Metal, fine-tooth combs work best -

Summary: The proper lice comb is the most important tool in your head lice control toolbox. Fine-tooth metal combs work best for crushing and removing lice nits while plastic combs are good for untangling hair prior to nit-picking but the wide-spaced teeth miss a lot of nits.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

Plastic or metal lice comb?

Most experts agree that nit, or lice egg, removal is the single most important part of every head lice control treatment and using the proper lice comb is at the heart of the whole process. Removing nits from hairs is often called "nit-picking".

Lice combs are made from either metal or plastic (see photo right). Metal combs, with stiff tines, or teeth, and narrow slots between tines, will effectively remove or crush nits while plastic combs tend to "skip over" nits and are not as effective. Plastic combs should only be used to untangle long hair before nit-combing with a metal comb (see Steps To Safe and Effective Head Lice Control for more information).

Metal head lice combs are getting easier to find these days in drugstores and even the health care isle of supermarkets. While not too long ago you had to look far and wide to find a decent metal comb, manufacturers are finally getting the message that metal combs are by far the best defense against head lice.

The metal-tined lice comb on the left (dark blue) is far more effective for nit removal while the plastic comb on the right (light blue) is better for untangling hair. The combs pictured here are only examples and you can find many different sizes and shapes.

Metal nit combs come in either short or long-tined versions. Short-tined combs like the one pictured above work best with short hair while longer tines work better on longer hair. The proper metal comb, a good light and a little time (well, maybe a lot of time!) is the best approach to head lice control. You'll also need a flexible, bright light source that can be directed at the scalp. You can use one of the new compact fluorescent lamps to reduce the amount of heat.

Where to purchase lice combs

You may be able to find a good metal lice comb at your local drugstore. Combing aids are useful as well.

Lice shampoos and combing aids

There are a number products that aid lice combing by allowing the comb glide more easily through hair and by loosening the glue that attaches nits to the hair shaft (see Using Lice Shampoos and Lotions). These products can help a lot but still the most important "aid" is a good metal comb.

Related Articles

What are Head Lice?

What do Lice Nits Look Like?

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