Lice Shampoos & Lotions

- Medicated hair products for lice -

Summary: Medicated lice shampoos and creme rinses are still effective for killing lice and ending infestations when used properly. Lice eggs (nits) must be removed first with thorough combing or "nit-picking" with a good metal comb. New combing aids can help with this critical step.

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

Lice shampoos and nit-picking

The only way to effectively control lice is to treat both active, live lice and eggs, or nits. If either stage is missed the infestation will continue and may even get worse. Head lice and pubic lice glue their eggs to hairs (see photo at right) making removal difficult. Body lice, on the other hand, lay their eggs in clothing and are easy to remove by washing alone, which is why body lice are relatively rare in populations that have access to clean clothes.

The only sure way to remove head lice eggs is by nit-picking or combing. Active lice can be killed with a number of medicated shampoos and rinse treatments after nits are removed. For information about the different types of human lice see Related Articles below.

the best lice shampoos kill nits that are attached to hairs

Louse nit (egg) glued to a hair shaft. This is actually a pubic louse nit but head lice nits are very similar. Body lice nits are found in clothing, not attached to hair.

Nit-combing aids

There are a couple of products that may help with the most difficult and most important part of lice control, namely nit-picking. These products are essentially lubricants that help to de-tangle hair and make the hair slippery so the nit comb can glide through more easily. LiceMD(tm) and RID Lice & Egg Comb Out Gel(tm) are two such products. LiceMD is a dimethicone-based product whereas the RID gel is a more conventional hair conditioner.

Choose a good nit comb

Good nit-combing begins with a proper nit comb. Ordinary combs won't work because the tines, or teeth, are too far apart and too flexible. Good lice combs have stiff metal tines with narrow spaces between tines. These combs effectively remove or crush nits as the comb passes through the hair. Select a comb with long tines for long hair and short tines for short hair (see Plastic vs. Metal Lice Combs).

Lice shampoos & creme rinses

Lice shampoos like RID contain pyrethrum and piperonyl butoxide (PBO) that kill adult lice. Once live lice and nits are carefully removed by combing these shampoos can provide the final clean up of remaining lice. Pyrethrum is a natural product made from extracts of the chrysanthemum plant. Follow package instructions carefully.

An alternative to lice shampoo is a permethrin-based creme rinse like Nix. Like lice shampoo, creme rinses are used to treat adult lice but are applied after regular shampooing. Permethrin is a pyrethroid-type insecticide. There has been some insecticide resistance to permethrin found in some populations of head lice. However, this active ingredient is still very effective in most situations. Follow package instructions carefully.

Some things to avoid

Don't bother treating household furnishings with lice sprays. Since lice can't survive for long off their hosts it may be a waste of time and money to treat anything other than hair.

  • Never use products that contain the insecticide lindane.
  • Never apply products for longer than package instructions say.
  • Never wrap hair when treating.

What about olive oil, and similar oils?

Oils help condition the hair and make nit combing easier so may be beneficial. Any hair conditioner will likely work in a similar way but will NOT be a substitute for careful and thorough nit-picking with the proper comb.

Related Articles

Head Lice & School Kids

What Exactly are Nits?

What are Pubic Lice & Body Lice?

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