Yes, this is a gross post. Sorry. Just remember it's here so when you get that dreaded email from the school nurse about lice in your kids' class, you can come back to this.
We learned all about lice a couple of summers ago when E came home from a day camp with some critters. To be fair to the camp, it was a very lovely dance and theater camp, but they tried on/exchanged costumes and hats all day. Recipe for licedisaster right there. I spent a lot of time researching and trying out different things, even paying $10 for some Australian lady's online handbook about "Living Lice Free." I'm grossed out just typing that.
Anyway, here's my magic list on prevention and treatment. Since that awful experience a couple of years ago, we've dodged the cootie bullet everytime it's come up at school. And lest you think it's only my kids' hippie school that has a lice issue, last year Eanes (the fancy Austin district) had a rampant lice EPIDEMIC.
There are a lot of natural prevention products out there (Fairy Tales is my favorite), but in addition to the obvious (don't share hats, jackets or combs), there are some simple and inexpensive options for prevention. I do some or all of these things when we get "The Email" as well as after a break (holidays, summer) at school when kids have been traveling, hosting relatives, etc.
* Use tea tree oil shampoo and conditioner. You can just add a few drops of tea tree essential oil to your regular shampoo/conditioner. Lice also hate lavender and coconut.
* Use a leave in conditioner or hair gel. Coating the hair makes it hard for the critters to stick to the hair shaft. You can also put some tea tree oil in this.
* Don't wash hair every day. It is easier for lice to attach to squeaky clean hair. This is counterintuitive, I know. But true fact -super clean kids get lice easier than dirtier kids.
* Put long hair in a ponytail and braid it. Finish with a good spritz of hairspray.
* My coworker swears by this one: dab a bit of tea tree oil/lavender around the base of neck. Use caution as some kids are sensitive to direct essential oil application.
* Check hair every day after kids come home from school - if you can catch them before they have a chance to lay too many eggs, eradicating them will be a lot easier.
* DON'T use Nix or other poisonous treatments "just in case!" They kill only live bugs, and there is no point in using these highly toxic treatments if there is no evidence of lice. That would be like taking a massive course of antibiotics because you heard a kid at school maybe had strep. If you are just freaking out and need to do something, anything, cover hair in coconut oil, put a plastic cap on and leave it there for 3 hours. That will smother whatever live bugs might be in there and also act as a repellent. And make hair really soft and nice smelling!
* First, stop freaking out. Your kid is not dirty, you are not a bad parent. It's not the school's fault either. Now that you've got that out of the way, let's move on.
* Like the overuse of antibiotics, the overuse of lice poison (Nix, Rid, and prescription stuff) has resulted in ever more resistant critter strains. Not only are they harsh on hair, the environment, and little neurosystems, the chemical treatments just aren't working anymore. Same thing with the home sprays. Lice aren't like fleas or ticks. They can't live more than 24 hours without a host, so you can just wash bedding, car seat covers, and clothes in hot water, soak combs/brushes in alcohol, bag up stuffed animals and pillows for a few days, and vacuum the daylights out of your house. If you can't help yourself, just use the hair poison ONCE, and then rely on daily manual nit removal, or a follow up nontoxic treatment.
* Even CVS and other mainstream drugstores nowcarry nontoxic treatments that work better than the poison. Cool Cuts for Kids (on Bee Cave) carries the "Fairy Tales" line, which has a treatment mousse that is supposed to kill live bugs but also dissolve nits, making it easier to remove them. I have not had to use this yet, but I have heard it works great. We have a box in the cabinet just in case.
* Once lice hatch, the new bugs (called a "nymph") are not able to reproduce for 7 days, which means if you (a) initially kill the live ones using whatever method you prefer (and please consider NOT using the toxins), (b) remove nits and any nymphs that might hatch out every day for a week, (c) wash clothes and bedding every day in hot water, then (d) use a follow up nontoxic "smothering" (covering the hair in coconut or olive oil for 3 hours) or other method about 5 days after your first treatment, then you're probably good.
* What is a nit? It's a very tiny little egg that is stuck to the hair shaft with a powerful "glue." If it brushes out easily, it's just dirt or dandruff. If you have to use your fingernails, it's a nit. Google images to help you see what they look like before you get started.
* Have two different people help with nit removal and to do the hair in sections. It's really hard to see those tiny little things.