Lice Advice From a Mother of 12

Lice are in the news, the news has been, um, lousy with stories about lice: lice that are resistant to pyrethroids, the active ingredient in most lice shampoos and preparations; and lice that kids get as a result of posing for selfies, with the little buggers jumping from head to head. Parents are freaking out, because if they can’t get rid of the lice, their kids won’t be able to go to school.

Now, I could have written this article as I usually do, by doing research and citing reputable sources, but then I thought, “Heck. If anyone knows about lice, it’s ME.”

After all, I raised 12 children. I’ve been dealing with lice for over 30, backbreaking years of checking heads, nitpicking, and laundering the bedding whenever I found evidence of an infestation. In my area, lice are rather common, so I’ve had to be vigilant and proactive.

Lice Advice

As a result, I’ve learned a lot about lice over the years, so I thought I’d share my accumulated wisdom with you, dear Reader (don’t thank me, I’m a giver—but not of lice!). So here goes:

Don’t use lice shampoo on a regular basis: So let’s say you and your kids aren’t allergic to lice shampoos or preparations—you still don’t want to use them on a regular basis. I did not need a study to tell me that lice become resistant to the shampoos. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Use it once (meaning: use it, wait two weeks, repeat, as is usually recommended), but then wait until half a year or so has passed before using it again.

Why? Because it simply doesn’t work the second time. The lice get used to it, and it doesn’t kill them anymore. That is what parents in 25 states are now seeing.

Alternate lice preparations: If you don’t want to deal with the lice on your own without shampoos, try a shampoo with a different active ingredient and alternate it with the more usual, more effective pyrethrin-based preparations. This way, the lice won’t become so easily resistant.

Not all lice shampoos are created equal: In theory, it’s a great idea to alternate the types of lice preparations you use, to avoid the issue of lice becoming resistant to the treatments. Unfortunately, the lice preparations that don’t contain pyrethrins aren’t really as effective. In fact, some of them just don’t work and you’ll find you’ve simply thrown away money and wasted time better spent on something else.

Teach kids to keep their heads far from other kids’ heads: In my day, there were no selfies. Instead, kids would get lice standing in line for things, like lining up for the school bus or to get food at the school cafeteria.  Children often don’t understand the concept of personal space. They may stand too close to the child in front and this is how they get lice. The lice can crawl from one head to another. So teach your child to maintain a distance from other kids’ heads. It’s that simple.

No way around the bedding issue: Lice can’t stay alive too long without hair. But they can stay alive for at least a day with no head in sight. That’s why you have to worry about your child’s bedding, after you’ve cleaned out those lice from her head.  You can hang things outside in the sunshine while your child is at school, and this will probably do the trick. But a good washing and a stint in the drier is best. Some parents put blankets and pillows in a tightly closed bag for a day or so, which should kill the lice, since they have no access to a head of hair.

Long hair is easier than short hair for getting rid of lice: Sometimes moms see lice and their first reaction is, HAIRCUT. This is not a good idea. It’s much harder to pull lice off a short strand of hair than off of a long strand of hair. That said, if the hair is very long, that could be difficult for nitpicking, too. Shoulder length is probably best for keeping hair lice-free.

Lice egg colors and what they mean: In my experience, dead lice eggs are whitish, flatter, and dry looking. Technically, you don’t have to worry about them and could leave them in, since they won’t hatch. Lice eggs that can hatch live lice are darker and rounder, and kind of shiny. But the color of both the lice and their eggs seem to adapt a bit to match a child’s hair color. After awhile, you’ll learn to spot them, but it takes some practice.

I believe this is the sum total of what I know about lice to share with you. But if I think of anything, I’ll add an update.

Here’s to lice-free, happy children and stress-free parents!