Lice Prevention – Overview
Lice prevention is something that most parents don’t think about until it’s too late. Is it possible to prevent head lice?
Maybe you just finished treating a case of head lice and you want to make sure it never happens again. Maybe you got an email from your child’s school that a case of head lice has been reported, and you want to make sure your child isn’t next.
Whatever the reason, learning how to prevent head lice can be easier (and less itchy) than learning how to treat head lice.
Fortunately, preventing head lice is pretty simple. A short list of best practices can keep you and your family very well protected.
1. Avoid head-to-head or hair-to-hair contact
It is a common misunderstanding, but head lice do not jump or fly. The only way for head lice to spread is direct contact, and they spread most commonly by head-to-head (or hair-to-hair) contact.
It may seem a little strange at first: How often does your head—or your child’s head—touch another head? But this is why children are especially prone to spreading head lice. Kids frequently huddle together to share a book or game, take a group picture, whisper secrets, etc.
If you’re monitoring kids at home, be sure to keep them from crowding together. If your kids are at school during the day, explain that they need to avoid hair-to-hair contact with their friends.
Head lice are parasites, so they don’t ever try to leave a human scalp, but combs and brushes can sometimes pull them off of hair. Lice can only live off a host for 48 hours, but that’s still plenty of time to move from a hairbrush to the next warm scalp that’s available.
Make sure that hair accessories like combs, brushes, clips, headbands, etc., are not being shared. Teach your children how to politely decline when a friend offers their accessories and how to gently refuse to share their own.
Similarly, head lice can live on clothing for up to 48 hours. Hats and hoods are especially applicable. If you or your child has long hair, this also applies to shirts, jackets, sweaters, scarves, etc.
Teenagers tend to share hats and clothing items more than children or adults, so be sure to talk to your teens, especially, about not sharing clothing. Make sure they understand that most people can have a case of head lice for days, or even weeks, before they become aware of it. It’s also important to make sure teenagers understand that head lice are not a sign of poor hygiene.
4. Inform your child’s school.
If you are treating a case of head lice at home, or have just completed treatment, be sure to notify your child’s school. Other children may have been exposed for days or weeks, and should be checked for head lice as soon as possible.
Clearing your local school of head lice is good for your family as well. Remember, head lice are insects, so there’s no kind of immunity or resistance created by getting rid of them once. Re-infestation is always a possibility.
If your child has been spending time with friends outside of school, it’s a good idea to notify their families as well.
Head lice almost always spread by hair-to-hair contact. The next most common method is sharing hair accessories and clothing items, but head lice can live on any surface for up to 48 hours.
If a school or home has been exposed to head lice, it’s best to avoid close, shared spaces for at least two or three days, including:
- Beds, cots, or other daycare “nap time” spaces
- Upholstered furniture
- Locker rooms
6. Wash and dry clothing in high heat.
An essential step to treating head lice is knowing which items and spaces in your home to clean—and how to do it properly. If your family has been exposed to someone with head lice, and you want to be very thorough about avoiding them, it’s a good idea to clean up as if they were in your home.
One key step to making sure your family is lice-free is to make sure the head lice are not on clothes. They could only live on dirty laundry for two days, of course, but if you want to be sure, wash clothes in hot water and dry on the highest heat setting that they will allow.
You’ll also want to put hard items that cannot go in the clothes dryer in hot water for 10 minutes. This might include brushes, combs, hair accessories, etc.
7. Clean bedding and furniture
Similarly to clothing, a thorough clean includes bedding and furniture. To get a good clean and prevent head lice from surviving on these surfaces:
- Wash bedding in hot water and dry on the highest heat setting possible.
- Put dry items (that cannot be washed in the machine) on a high-heat dryer setting for at least 30 minutes.
- Wrap large items (like furniture, large comforters, etc.) in plastic for at least 48 hours.
Preventing head lice: What NOT to do
There are other chemicals and products on the market that claim to prevent head lice, but their effectiveness is debated.
- Do not use fumigants – There are some chemical fogs and sprays that are marketed as head lice prevention and treatment options for the home, but the CDC discourages their use. They’re unnecessary and can do more harm than good.
- Do not use anti-lice sprays – There are also some over-the-counter sprays and chemical treatments that attempt to repel or prevent head lice, but more research is needed to determine if they’re actually effective. They’re also full of chemicals that you may not want on your child’s sensitive scalp.
Lice prevention products are available on the market because there seems to be a need for them, but there really isn’t.
How to prevent lice naturally
Some essential and plant-based oils have been proven to treat head lice naturally and can be used consistently as a form of prevention. There is some debate on whether these oils repel lice or simply treat infestations in the very early stages, but either way—they can prevent a full case of head lice.
Lice Prevention With Essential Oils
Tea tree, anise, coconut, and rosemary oils have all been proven effective in treating head lice. To use them as a preventative measure, blend about 15 drops of essential oil into a couple of ounces of coconut oil and massage them into the scalp in the evenings.
An even easier way to use essential oils for natural head lice prevention is regular, weekly use of a dry vapor treatment. The Novokid system is a scientifically proven, all-natural head lice treatment that applies to dry hair and only takes 10 minutes per application. It’s an incredibly simple and effective solution for preventing head lice.
Lice prevention 101
While there is no way to guarantee immunity from head lice, lice prevention is still very simple: avoid direct contact with hair or items close to the head, avoid closely shared spaces, and be sure to wash infected items in high heat.
In many cases, the first step is to have a short conversation with your kids. Explain, in an age-appropriate way, what head lice are, how they spread, what happens if they infest a scalp, and how your family can avoid them.