By Megan Boyle, Editorial Director

Lice. The word alone can make a parent quiver.

About 6 to 12 million American children ages 3 to 11 get head lice each year. These infestations are uncomfortable, embarrassing and disruptive.

Eager to kill the nasty bugs, parents often reach for over-the-counter and prescription pesticide solutions that usually get the job done, but harshly. Or in the case of super lice, which are resistant to these pesticides, they may fail to work at all.

Now parents in search of a safer treatment may have another option. A new study released by the Dierdre Imus Environmental Health Center at Hackensack University Medical Center shows that the application of 100 percent dimethicone may be a safe and effective head lice treatment for children.

Scientists studied 58 children ages 3 to 12 treated by school nurses over four years. After they were treated with a product called LiceMD, which contains dimethicone, the children were soon rid of live lice and viable eggs. Only one reported a side effect—a brief period of skin irritation. The study recommends 100 percent dimethicone as a first-line treatment for head lice. LiceMD is available on Amazon and through many big box stores.

This treatment could replace common pesticide-based head lice solutions. Of these, lindane is particularly harmful. The American Academy of Pediatrics says it should not be used on children, yet it remains on the market. Some doctors still prescribe it.

While further investigation is needed, the results of the study are promising.

Dimethicone, also called polymethylsiloxane, is a silicon-based polymer often used in cosmetics to lubricate or condition skin or hair. Although researchers raise concerns about regularly applying dimethicone, it appears to be a safe alternative to insecticides for the infrequent treatment of head lice.

Here are some more nontoxic options for treating your family:

Some people have found that regular shampooing and combing are enough. Wash with hot water and your regular shampoo, then comb wet hair carefully with a fine-toothed nit comb. Parents, patience is essential. This treatment alone can rid your child of an infestation if it’s repeated several times to eliminate all eggs. It may be more effective on short or thin hair.

A more likely option is to smother lice with mayonnaise or a food-grade vegetable oil. Saturate the scalp and hair with mayo or oil—and wear old clothes to avoid a mess. Cover the coated hair with a plastic bag or shower cap for at least two hours. Then use a nit comb to remove all eggs that remain on the hair shaft. Use dish soap and then shampoo to remove the oil. You may have to repeat this procedure.

No matter what treatment you choose, you’ll need to wash all clothing, towels and bedding in hot water. Items that can’t be washed can be placed in the dryer, ironed or stored in a sealed plastic bag for at least a week.

Remember: prevention is key. Head lice can’t fly or jump—only crawl—so infestations result from close personal contact with other infested people.

Avoid such contact when possible and be honest about disclosing head lice in your family. It’s the surest way to protect your friends and community from the same trouble.