a peek inside the fishbowl

05 Sep, 2008

The facts of lice

Posted by andrea tomkins in: parenting

We had a battle with head lice earlier last year. Lice treatment is hell. For the sake of someone’s privacy I’m going to skip the identifying details. But I will say this: there was a lot of hair, a lot of scratching, and a lot of heartache and a lot of my leaping to pick off imaginary fluffs of this person’s head LONG AFTER the lice population was decimated. Adult lice look like tiny seeds with feet. As for the babies? You’ll need a magnifying glass for those.

Speaking now as someone who’s gone through it, I realize it would have been more helpful to educate myself before I got The Call … instead of late nights doing panicky googling when I should have been in bed.

I didn’t know what to look for before I got The Call. Now I do. So if you are a parent with kids who have hair who might come in contact with other kids who have hair, listen up.

Start here: this article sums the experience up pretty well.

My best tips (which doesn’t get mentioned in the article above) are to :

1) Ditch the lice comb that comes with the chemical treatment and get a good flea comb from your local pet store. Save your child thousands of dollars in therapy and don’t tell them you’re using a flea comb. Flea combs are wider, and their longer handle makes it easier to use than the wee lice combs. They’re awkward. And they gave me finger cramps. The flea comb is ideal for the daily lice checks you’re going to need to do for the next few weeks. Or more. Gah!

2) Buy a pile of fun books or comics for the person scheduled for daily delousing.  Having the kid with head bent down in reading position was easier to than having a kid-with-head-up-in-TV-watching position. The process will take take a couple of hours every day, or more, depending on how much hair we’re talking about.

3) Use hair cutting scissors to snip out the lice eggs rather than pulling them out. The eggs aren’t just loosely laid in the hair, oh no, the lice use a sticky substance to glue each egg to a single strand of hair. They’re not that simple to dislodge. You will need to use the tight “clasp-and-slide” pinching motion with to get it out. I was constantly afraid that I’d dislodge it with my fingers only to lose it further down in the hair. After HOURS spent doing this – and pulling hair in the process – I discovered that cutting the egg out was much easier. I used the scissors to snip the one strand of hair, egg attached, and tossed it aside. Note: I did this outdoors, not indoors. You’ll need a good light for this.

We still do regular head checks, and we’ll do them more often now that the girls are back in school. I’ll also be spraying their noggins every once in awhile with a tea tree oil solution. Apparently the little buggers hate the smell of the stuff.

Good riddance lice! I hope I never see you again.

16 Responses to "The facts of lice"

1 | porter

September 5th, 2008 at 8:42 am


Thanks for this post. I’m a bit scared of having to deal with lice…I hope I never have to. As kids my husband and I never had lice but it seems pretty common in the school nowadays???? A couple of questions for you.
1. does the tea tree oil make hair greasy? my kids don’t have thick hair (like your lucky gals) so we have to be careful not to over condition their hair or it ends up looking dirty
2. does ones head itch when they have lice?

2 | BeachMama

September 5th, 2008 at 9:55 am


Thank you for this post! We had a scare last year, but thankfully none landed in our house. I will have to invest in some tea tree oil just to be safe.

3 | Julie

September 5th, 2008 at 10:41 am


Ugh. We had lice in the house last year during summer camp… when all our guards were down. During the school year I put dabs of tea tree oil on the backs of their necks and behind their ears, but never thought to do it during the summer. Never again… it was a nightmare I don’t care to relive. All the same, I forgot to check this week – thanks for the reminder.

4 | andrea

September 5th, 2008 at 11:02 am


Porter: during the outbreak we bough a tea tree oil shampoo that our whole family used. When washing the infected head i’d add a few drops of pure tea tree oil to increase its potency. I wouldn’t add the stuff straight to their heads though… it can be an irritant. Someone at school recommended diluting some with water in a spray bottle for this reason. (I’m not sure of the ratio. Anyone know?)

As for the itching – YES – having lice is a very itchy situation. I think it’s like having mosquito bites. I had phantom-itch for weeks afterwards!

*scratches head*

5 | Lex

September 5th, 2008 at 11:20 am


I had them as a kid. As a kid with long hair down past her waist. As a kid with long hair and an allergy to sulpher which, at least at that time, was a major component of the lice shampoo. The next morning I woke up with swollen red skin everywhere my hair touched my skin.

Good tip about the tea tree oil! I’ll be passing that along to all the parents I know.

BTW, that phantom-itch lasts a life time… my head is itchy just reading this.

6 | Sharon

September 5th, 2008 at 1:15 pm


I remember when Miranda had it and she got it from a Sunday school kid before she hit Kindergarten…Like days before.Imgine I heard the mother telling someone else her kids had it and seen me and shut up and while I was in church that day I seen the little buggers going in her hair. I was soooooooo grossed out. SO I jumped on that pretty quick. I keep Nathan’s hair short for that reason.

I used to use the tea tree oil to and put a dab behind each ear and at the base of the neck…Pure.

She never had it again

7 | LO

September 5th, 2008 at 2:59 pm


tea tree oil solution
want some-where do i get it or what is the recipe
want to be proactive ………

8 | Rosie : )

September 5th, 2008 at 6:25 pm


Tea tree oil can be bought at any natural food store. I have also seen some recently at The Body shop. The best tea tree oil is very concentrated. You can apply it to your skin as a disinfectant, or add some to water to clean your house. It is excellent for removing impossible stains {like black Sharpie} off your furniture. ;) Read the labels, and do more research, but this is my experience with the product!

As for the lice thing, I have heard that contrary to popular belief, lice will stay *away* from dirty heads. Thye actually prefer clean, good-smelling hair. So, maybe cut down the hair washing during lice season, it might help. Even having tea tree oil shampoo on-hand during this season is a very good idea. :)

Another pro-active thing to do is to tie up the girls’ hair. I do braids or a row of ponytails, tied up all the way down on my waist-length hair’ed girls. Teaching to never share hats, scarves and head apparel in general is always a good thing. :)

{crosses fingers} So far, none of the 7 kids have gotten lice, even with 5 kids in school…

9 | All About Parasites

September 6th, 2008 at 4:22 am


I love the idea of using the flea comb. Believe it or not, I saw one for the first time a few days ago. My friend showed me the one she bought to get the fleas off of her puppy. The thought crossed my mind that it looked like a lice comb. I love the handle. It does look it would be so much easier to use than a regular nit comb.

If you don’t mind, I’d appreciate it if you’d add your thoughts about using the flea comb to my site using the form at http://www.allaboutparasites.com/lice-infection.html I’m sure a lot of other mom’s would be glad of the tip.

Also, for those of you who don’t really want to use the over the counter head lice treatments because of the insecticide ingredients, there is an alternative.
In fact, many sources are telling us that the lice have built up a resistance to those chemicals over the years so they are becoming ineffective.

If you want a safe natural remedy, try olive oil. You need to really saturate the head (you can use the cheap stuff) and leave it on for at least 8 hours. This smothers the active lice.

Do it again in intervals of 4 days for 3 weeks. Seems a bit messy, I know, but it does the job without any harmful chemicals for your child.

There’s also a good herbal remedy you can make up using essential oils and regular shampoo and conditioner. It’s there on the site, too. The only concern with this method and the tea tree oil everyone is mentioning is that some essential oils can interfere with the hormonal levels. This can effect the proper development of children if used too often. Just something to consider.


10 | Shan

September 6th, 2008 at 7:13 am


My daughter had it in junior kindergarten. While buying the lice shampoo the lady at the pharmacy pointed me in the direction of tea tree oil. Since then once a week I shake a couple of drops in with their shampoo and wash their hair like normal. There have been a few outbreaks in her class since then and she’s never been affected. In fact I just got “the note” home yesterday that there is a case in her class right now.

11 | andrea

September 6th, 2008 at 8:22 am


Shan: great tip! I might start doing that too.

All About Parasites: Thanks for the additional info. If you think folks would be interested in my tips, feel free to post a link back to this post. (I couldn’t figure out where to do it on your site!)

12 | The Veg Next Door

September 7th, 2008 at 8:56 am


Anything else I need to worry about before I send my four year old to JK this week? Lice, wrong school buses, what else? Should be an interesting year. :-)

13 | Samanatha

September 8th, 2008 at 10:17 am


The flea comb is interesting. I did find a really god lice comb online called the NitFree Terminator which I bought at http://www.kleen-free.com and I have never seen it in stores.

They have a Mint Spray which I think works similar to the tea tree oil as a repellent and a mousse that helps to dissolve the glue that is holding the eggs onto the hair and it is all chemical free.

My best piece of advice is to be a boy scout and Be Prepared – you never know when you will find out that your little one has lice but you can be guaranteed that it will be 5 minutes after the local drugstore closed.

An ounce of prevention….


14 | jenn

September 8th, 2008 at 10:31 am


try this…



15 | Lisa

January 21st, 2009 at 9:39 pm


I was wondering, I keep hearing that to do a prevention of lice, to add a few drops of tea tree oil to shampoo…..but no one has said the ratio. Do I add a couple of drops in my hand with the amount of shampoo already on my hand.?????? Do i add a couple of drops of the oil to a whole shampoo bottle? Need to know. I have to bottles of it i got today. son had lice on Sunday, he’s been treated with nix(before I knew there was a natural treatment) So far, he’s ok…. we have been cutting out the eggs a couple of days after the fact, but I haven’t seen anymore as of today. I really want to either spray the tea tree oil on his hair (not sure on that ratio of oil to water for that either) And how long do you leave it all on if you are using it as a shampoo.??? Can someone please help. He is going to school and I can’t afford to get this back! thanks, lisa

16 | andrea

January 21st, 2009 at 10:45 pm


During the infestation I was using tea tree oil shampoo I bought at the drugstore, and as per the directions on the bottle I was adding additional tea tree oil to it (five extra drops or something like that) every time I washed someone’s hair.

From time to time I will add TT oil to the kids conditioner, (after shampooing with regular shampoo) as a preventative measure. I only add three or four drops.

Hope this helps!

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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