How to Check Yourself for Head Lice
When a child comes home with head lice, you might start scratching your own scalp more. That’s what a lot of parents start to ask, “Do I have head lice too, or am I just a little paranoid?”
Or maybe your scalp has been feeling itchy and now you’ve noticed a few white flecks. You thought it was just dry at first, but maybe now you’re not so sure.
The good news is that conducting a self-check for head lice is pretty straightforward. You should be able to confirm whether or not you have head lice from the comfort of your own home. If you do, then you can decide how to treat it.
And remember: Head lice is not a symptom or sign of poor hygiene. Some people find it a little embarrassing, but head lice is really just a normal part of life—especially if you have school-aged children at home.
The following steps breakdown exactly how to check yourself for lice:
1. Position two mirrors facing one another.
Lice tend to stay on the warmest, darkest parts of the scalp, which is the back of the head just above the neck and behind the ears. Many people start by searching the front of the scalp—easily viewed in a single mirror—but head lice don’t linger there.
Two facing mirrors, with good lighting, will give you the best possible view of the nape of your neck and the area behind your ears.
2. Get a lice/nit comb.
If you’re trying to remove lice and nits, you need a good lice comb. If you’re only trying to diagnose whether or not you have head lice, you can probably do it without a nit comb … although the specialized comb will still make it easier.
A lice comb (sometimes called a “nit comb”) is a small comb with very small, stainless steel teeth. The teeth on a lice comb are very close together and the best are also microgrooved to help them grab every strand of hair.
Head lice are visible to the naked eye, but they’re very small: about the size of a sesame seed. Nits (lice eggs) are even smaller and very firmly cemented to the base of hair follicles. A normal fine toothed comb can be helpful for parting hair, but it will not grab and remove lice—and it definitely won’t scrape nits off hair shafts.
This is even more important when checking for lice on your own head. Trying to figure out if there are tiny insects on the darkest parts of your own scalp is difficult, so you need a comb that is adequately designed to grab lice.
For details, see “How to Use a Lice Comb” →
3. Part the hair into sections.
Start by parting your hair down the middle. Then, on one side, create another part, perpendicular from the center part, down to the hairline behind the ear—giving you a front and a back section. Tie off the front section if the hair is long enough. Part the back section horizontally across the middle again, to create another set of front and back, or top and bottom, sections. Tie off the front section if needed.
With one small section of hair isolated at the back of your neck, use a comb or a fingernail to separate a very thin row of hair from the bottom—closest to the hairline. Tie up the rest of that section if needed. Then, use your lice comb to scrape the hair from the top, bottom, left, and right sides. Check the comb after each use to see if you’re pulling out head lice.
Is it head lice or dandruff?
If you’ve combed through the back of your scalp and you haven’t found a single louse, you might be dealing with something besides head lice. Dandruff and head lice are often confused, and it’s easy to see why: Both create intense itching and redness, and both are visible as white flecks in the hair.
Nits, especially, are often confused with dandruff, because they don’t move and they’re usually glued to the hair very close to the scalp. The easiest way to tell the difference is to simply try to remove it. Dandruff will easily flake off under a lice comb or even a fingernail. Nits, on the other hand, are very hard to scrape off.
Can adults even get head lice?
A common misconception about head lice is that it only affects children. It is true that children are more likely to get head lice, but it’s simply because of their behavior.
Head lice spreads quickly among children because of frequent close contact. Children crowd together to share a book or toy. Older children get close for mobile devices and selfies. Preteens and teenagers are also more likely to share hats and hair accessories.
But head lice don’t prefer children’s scalps over adult’s scalps, and will move onto an adult’s head just as easily if given the chance. That’s why parents and educators are more likely than other adults to get head lice.
Discover other common misconceptions about head lice. →
Lice treatments for adults
There are at-home treatments for head lice, or there are clinics and lice salons, for treating head lice, and they work the same for adults as they do for children.
Lice clinics offer a distinct advantage for an adult who may have to treat their own head lice. Any treatment option is easier to administer to a child or loved one, but you don’t get the same visual confirmation when you’re analyzing your own scalp. It can be nice to have a professional give you the “all clear.”
Lice shampoos and other OTC products can be used at home just as you would use them on a child who came home with lice. There are two main challenges with this treatment specifically for adults, though.
The first is that most of these products only stun or slow down the lice, so combing is still necessary for the treatment (which is very hard to do yourself). The second is that most strains of head lice in the U.S. today are known as “super lice,” because they have developed a resistance to the two main active ingredients in these products.
Learn more with, “What are super lice?” →
Dry vapor head lice treatments offer the convenience and assurance of a professional service and the privacy of other OTC treatment options. Hair is contained in a cap and dry vapor is delivered into the cap to kill lice and nits. Some people like to comb out lice and nits after a dry vapor treatment, but it is not necessary.
Learn more about how dry vapor head lice treatments work. →
Symptoms of head lice
Itching and white specks in the hair are the two most common symptoms of head lice, but there are more. Knowing all of the common signs and symptoms of head lice can help you determine if you have them, even before you reach for that nit comb.
Other symptoms of head lice include:
- A sensation of movement on the scalp
- Nits anchored firmly to hair follicles
- Red bumps or sores from lice bites
- Signs of infection from excessive scratching
- Trouble sleeping (Head lice are more active at night.)
If you’re also experiencing any of these symptoms, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with head lice.
Checking yourself for head lice
A self-check for head lice is not necessarily easy, but it can be done. The key is starting in the back of your scalp, which requires a couple of facing mirrors and a good nit comb.
First, review the list of head lice symptoms above and ask yourself if you’ve experienced any of those recently as well. If so, it’s time to get a lice comb and start a careful self-check for lice.
If it is head lice, weigh your options carefully. If you want an all-natural, dry vapor solution, check out the Novokid system. It’s pesticide and silicone free, simple enough to self-administer, and scientifically proven effective against head lice.