Head Lice! Who’s Feeling Itchy Already?

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Does your family have a signature scent? Mine does. Well, actually, my kids do. And it’s not just of wet socks and jumpers, though there is that. Give my girls a passing sniff and you’ll pick up a heavy tea tree oil bouquet with, by the end of the day, some high peppery notes.

Making my kids fragrant is all my doing but it’s not for the reasons you might think. My daughters are ten and eight and couldn’t be less interested in smelling pleasant. But just as they know to put shoes on before they leave for school in the morning, they also know to shuffle up (miserably, with shoulders hunched and ALL the eye-rolling), so I can spray their heads with (diluted) tea tree oil.

I’ve found my home-made spray - 90% water, 10% pure tea tree oil - to be the very best defence against head lice.

So, well, why? Because I’ve found my home-made spray (90% water, 10% pure tea tree oil) to be the very best defence against head lice. And after the last school year, when they came home with around four cases of head lice (and then shared them with us at home so quadrupling the fun), I’ve yet to find a single louse on their heads since the tea tree regimen began.

Truth is I’ve become quite obsessed with the topic of head lice. Because when I added up all the hours and minutes I put into getting rid of the little buggers, it was actual, proper DAYS I spent on the job. Not to mention the fun family dynamics de-lousing generates in a household when your kid has to stand in front of the sink for the third ‘wet-combing’ of the week. Eyes couldn’t roll higher...

I’m late to the head lice party which might account for my tea tree oil-themed enthusiasm. We’ve recently moved back home after eight years living in the USA. My kids attended a big school there and yep, of course there were head lice. But whenever there was a case, every parent and carer was given a letter notifying them of the case and suggesting they check their kids’ heads. It gave people an opportunity to delve right in, break out the combs and nip any problems in the bud. And it helped break the cycle of head lice infestations. My kids came home with a few letters over the years but not with actual head lice.

Cue mild panic and frantic trips to the chemist once we returned to Scotland and I found head lice living the dream on my kid’s head for the first time ever last year. And why, by time number four, I’d honed treatment of them - and subsequent prevention down to a fine art. Or so I like to think…

Googling how to treat head lice will throw up all kinds of different advice and when you’re in the thick of it...

Googling how to treat head lice will throw up all kinds of different advice and when you’re in the thick of it, it can be conflicting and confusing. There doesn’t seem to be anything definitive.

Speaking to friends offers up precious nuggets of advice and between that and bits and pieces snatched from the back of a treatment bottle, lice were conquered (I don’t use this language lightly.

After DAYS spent treating head lice, I truly see eradicating them as a personal, full combat battle…!)

Crucially though, unless we’re getting something official from our schools about cases, it doesn’t matter how effective we are at getting rid of them at home – there’s every possibility our kids will just get them again as the critters continue bouncing around the classrooms unchecked.

There are concerns that advisory – or ‘alert’ letters like this may lead to finger-pointing and stigmatising. Of course, no parent wants their child named as the Mothership – as impossible as it would be to do such a thing! But neither do I want other children bringing home the unwanted gifts that keep on giving, thanks to my kid’s case. So after discovering live lice on her head, I contacted my daughter’s school so other parents could be advised and check their kids. Disappointingly, it turns out that under guidance from the local authority, the school is under no obligation to inform parents or issue letters.

Here’s what Perth and Kinross Council say on the matter…

“You may find that your school or nursery no longer sends out letters to alert parents that a child in the school has head lice.  There are a few reasons for this. Most schools and nurseries are likely to have a few children with head lice at any one time.  On that basis, ‘alert’ letters could potentially be required every day. ‘Alert’ letters also frequently lead parents to attempt to treat their children preventatively, which is not effective or advised. Head lice infection cannot be prevented, and overuse of insecticide treatments may lead to resistance.”

These are Scottish Government national guidelines and along with the advice, parents can access a helpful Health Scotland leaflet advising them on facts and treatment of head lice. Interestingly, this leaflet advises against mixing your own ‘potions’ (like tea tree oil), saying it “is unlikely to work and could be dangerous.” In particular it advises caution when used on children, pregnant and nursing mums.

Maybe it’s luck, maybe science? Or maybe it’s just a militant mum with a spray bottle!

So where does that leave me and my kids? Any advice I’ve found (both from books and from staff when purchasing essential oils) on the application of tea tree oil as a preventative measure, suggests not putting it on hair neat. So I don’t. It needs to be well diluted – as I mentioned, I do a 90% water, 10% oil concoction in my spray bottle.

Maybe it’s luck, maybe science? Or maybe it’s just a militant mum with a spray bottle! Whatever. I haven’t needed to use lice-killing treatment chemicals on my kids so far this school year and that must surely be a good thing? Plus, we have a signature scent. And the eye rolls to prove it!


Stuff I’ve learnt about finding, treating and preventing head lice:

  • Invest in a good nit comb! If your kid’s itching at their head a lot, get in there with your fingers. I didn’t really know what I was looking for the first time. Giant white bugs? Pulsating egg sacs? Unlikely. What I did see was teeny, pin-dot sized black specks around her hairline which I discounted, as, well, just little black specks. They weren’t white so they couldn’t be lice, right? Wrong – they were lice droppings and a clear sign of an infestation.

  • Once I found live lice, I got the medical treatment on. There are many different brands available. I preferred ones I could leave on for a longer period /overnight and comb through the hair (and dead/dying lice) in the morning. Don’t forget to repeat the treatment five to seven days on from the initial one, to catch any eggs that may have hatched.

  • Once the head has been treated, change bed linen, vacuum carpet around the bed, wash any teddies. Do the same around the sofa and anywhere else your kid ‘lounges’.

  • This next bit came by way of a hairdresser friend and I’ve followed it to a tee. Once you’ve done the second application (which should have killed any remaining, recently hatched lice) spend the next five days wet-combing the hair. That’s dousing their damp hair in conditioner, and taking time with a special nit-comb to comb it through, stopping at the end of each segment of hair to wipe the comb on a bit of kitchen roll (and inspecting for any lice or nits). It’s TORTUROUS, it’s slow and it’s a total pain in the a$%£ but, it means that any remaining lice are well and truly wiped out. You might wonder why this bit is necessary, given you’ve now done two medical treatments as well. Trust me, when I found more nits and a louse or two during the wet-combing, I was grateful for taking the extra time. Sheesh!

  • If like me, you’re going to go down the tea-tree oil prevention route, do so cautiously, especially if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. When buying your tea-tree oil, ask for advice on treating head lice and explain your situation. Don’t ever put it on without diluting it. I bought myself a little spray bottle (pink) and every couple of weeks, I refill it with fresh water and put in a few drops of tea tree oil. It sits under the sink wrapped in a little tea towel which I put around their shoulders when I’m applying it every morning so it doesn’t drip on them. Don’t say I’m not good to them…

  • Celebrate your kids’ lice free status! Get ice cream and eat it all yourself.

So, do you have any winning head lice treatment or prevention tips? Any good head-licey stories too? Please share!

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