By Alexandra Zissu, Editorial Director
There are lots of things parents should look out for during spring break. Here’s a fun one to add to the list: head lice. Unfortunately for you and your kids, lice don’t take a spring break.
According to lice removal experts—and parents of school-aged children everywhere!—late winter’s annual getaway is invariably followed by outbreaks of head lice. In many communities families return from vacation carrying more than just suitcases.
Head lice don’t fly or jump. They can only crawl, and we need direct contact with them to become carriers ourselves. This happens during the hair-to-hair touching so common with kids as well as via shared items like pillows, headgear, hairbrushes, and, of course, airline seats.
While most of us have attached a longstanding social stigma to head lice, this is misplaced. The critters are incredibly common—there are up to 12 million cases in the U.S. every year—and they don’t transmit disease. They’re also equal opportunity parasites whose affinity for clean and dirty hair alike says absolutely nothing about personal hygiene. Truly.
To get rid of lice, people typically turn to shampoos that contain pesticides like permethrin, pyrethrin, lindane , or malathion. While the amounts of these toxins in the products are small, the potential side effects are anything but. Lindane, for example, has been linked to cancer and nervous system damage while malathion is an organ toxicant and suspected endocrine disruptor.
Studies have linked the use of lice shampoos to an increased risk of childhood leukemia and brain cancer and reports to the FDA’s Med Watch program reveal instances of seizures, behavioral changes, neuromuscular issues, skin problems, and other side effects following chemical head lice treatments.
Try Natural Treatments for Lice
Thankfully natural treatments are both effective and far safer. Anecdotally, parents report success by smothering (soak hair with mayonnaise or olive oil and cover with a shower cap overnight) and by relying on various essential oils. Meticulous manual extraction of eggs and lice with a fine toothed-comb is said to be the most effective method. Getting rid of lice is apparently an art, which is why there are removal services parents can hire to naturally banish the bugs. Watch and learn as strong-armed women coat tots’ heads liberally with a mix of natural conditioner and baking soda, then work a lice comb under bright light.
Since lice can only live 1 to 2 days without human contact, combining natural non-toxic strategies like these with laundering and prolonged isolation of any potentially infested items should take care of any itchy heads your family brings home from spring break. Infestations thrive when other parents at school aren’t similarly diligent. A stern letter or email from the school nurse is always helpful.