Head lice treatments guide

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  • Updated:21 Aug 2007

05.How to treat lice

Worried about lice? Decide whether your situation matches A or B below, then follow the steps.
Read our Treatment tips for more information.

The letter AYou know that your child has lice. Either treat using the conditioner and comb method or
if you'd prefer to use a dedicated head lice treatment go straight to Step 2.

The letter BYou check for lice as a weekly routine or
your child’s friends or school is infested. Go to Step 1.

Step 1: Check

Check for/remove head lice and nits using the conditioner and comb method. Live lice or eggs?

  • Yes. Either repeat (the conditioner and comb method can be used to treat light infestations) OR go to Step 2. Check all other members of the family. After use, wash combs and hairbrushes in just-boiled water for at least 30 seconds
  • No. No treatment is required, but it’s still advisable to check for head lice weekly (so repeat step 1 weekly)

Step 2: Treat

Purchase an insecticide treatment or a herbal treatment. Apply according to label instructions. Lice are dead?

  • Yes. Go to Step 3.
  • No. The lice may be resistant to this product so try one with a different active ingredient. Return to Step 2 using alternative treatment

Step 3: Repeat treatment

Whichever product you use, you’ll need to repeat treatment as instructed after 7 to 10 days. Treatment is successful if no live head lice are found for 10 consecutive days. Return to Step 1.

The conditioner and comb method

The conditioner and comb method can be used for detecting and removing eggs and lice, as well as for treating light infestations. Here’s how to do it:

  • Apply any type of thick, white conditioner to dry, brushed (detangled) hair and comb through with a normal comb. The conditioner stuns lice for up to 20 minutes and makes it difficult for them to grip the hair or crawl around
  • Systematically comb sections of the hair from the roots to the ends with a head lice comb (see Combs)
  • Regularly wipe the comb onto a tissue to check for lice and eggs
  • Comb every part of your child’s head several times
  • If you find live lice or nits, you need to treat your child’s hair. You can recognise live eggs because they’ll pop when you squeeze them.
  • Using this method once a week will help you detect lice early, reducing the need to resort to chemical treatments. But it’s very labour intensive and good technique is vital. And if you’re using it as your sole treatment method it needs to be carried out at regular intervals for two to three weeks to get rid of all lice and eggs.

Treatment tips

  • Always use treatments as directed. Pay special attention to instructions for how much to use, how long the treatment should be left on and whether rinsing the hair afterwards is recommended
  • No treatment kills all lice in one hit, so it’s suggested you do two applications 7 to 10 days apart. The purpose of the first treatment is to kill all live lice; the second treatment is to kill young lice hatched in the interim
  • There’s no need to treat the whole family if they don’t have live lice and eggs
  • Avoid head-to-head contact until the lice are under control
  • Tell your close contacts immediately and report it to your kids’ school. Experts say synchronising treatment with your child’s direct contact group gives the best chance of stopping reinfection
  • The risk of transmitting lice by sharing hats, hairbrushes or bed linen with someone who’s infested is extremely low, so there’s no need to blitz the house the moment you spot a live louse. To be safe, use a hot wash (at least 60°C) for the pillowcase, or dry it on the hot or warm setting in your clothes dryer — heat kills lice and their eggs
  • There’s no product available that prevents head lice. Using the conditioner and comb method once a week will help you detect any head lice early and minimise the problem
  • Tying back long hair can help prevent the spread of head lice
  • If your child has head lice, most Australian states require them to have started treatment before they’re allowed back to school.

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