How to prevent head lice as kids go back to school

Back to school time comes with one dreaded threat: lice. But when that note comes home from school, don’t freak out! 

“The biggest misconception about lice is that it means you are dirty or that it affects certain groups more than others,” says Eduart Tare, owner of Hair Butterflies. “Lice do not discriminate! No matter the race, religion or economic status, anyone can get lice.”

Each year, between 6-12 million kids ages 3-11 in the United States get head lice. 

In fact, lice actually thrive in clean hair and are very contagious. Despite popular belief, they do not jump, fly or swim and they can only be transferred by direct contact.  

“Lice can only crawl. So sharing personal items like brushes, hats and hair ties help spread lice along with social activities,” Tare says.

There is no complete safeguard against lice, but there are things you can try.

Maria Botham of Hair Fairies suggests trying a natural route since lice have not developed a tolerance for natural products.

“Try to use products with natural oils, such as tea tree, witch hazel, rosemary, lavender, peppermint and nettle with astringent properties. Also wearing protective hairstyles and applying prevention oils before school are good safeguards,” Botham says.

It’s also a good idea to do weekly checks on your child’s hair, especially considering only 50 percent of head lice cases cause itching.

Nits to nymphs

When checking for lice, it’s important to understand the different stages and what to look for.Head lice eggs, called nits, are hard to see and are often confused as dandruff. When the eggs hatch to release a nymph, the nit shell becomes a more visible dull yellow and remains attached to the hair.

Nymphs mature about seven days after hatching and become adults called louses with six legs, each with a claw, and are tan to grayish-white. Adults multiply quickly, laying up to eight eggs a day and can live up to 30 days on someone’s head.

“Nits are usually about ¼ inch away from the scalp,” Tare says. “They vary in color from a translucent white to a darker brown-gray. Nits will not come off easily. Anything that flakes off is definitely not nits.”

Bothan says nits can look like sesame seeds. “If you run your finger through the hair strand with a nit, it feels like a knot on a string.” 

Check dry hair in a well-lit area using a comb with a Nit Free Terminator, working up from the nape of the neck in small sections, Tare says.

If you find them, Tare says “prepare to spend lots of time combing the hair.”

“Comb daily, at least for the first week, and repeat the treatment process by then. Nits are very easy to miss the first time around.”

Both Hair Butterflies and Hair Fairies offer a free service where you can send a picture and they help determine whether you are dealing with lice.

“Once lice is discovered, it’s important to get everyone in the household checked to avoid the spread,” says Botham. “Also to curtail the spread, it’s important to notify your school, friends and family who may have been in contact.”

Don’t freak out!

The confirmation of lice can leave you scratching and in panic mode. But don’t destroy your house trying to kill them.

Lice can live no longer than 48 hours off a person, so that means you do not have to replace furnishings like couches, carpets, furniture or mattresses.

Instead, lice treatment centers recommend daily washing of clothing, bedding, brushes and hair accessories used during your lice infestation for at least seven days. Plus, vacuum the mattress, couches, floors and car interior. 

Put stuffed animals or blankets into the dryer for 30 minutes on high heat. Items that can’t go in the dryer should be put into plastic bags for at least 72 hours.

“Concentrate on the daily wear like school clothes, sweaters and jackets. No need to wash everything in the closet,” Botham says.  

The easiest way to treat lice is by going to a lice treatment center. “Although it is costly, it gets the job done and helps get you back to your daily routine right away,” Tare says. Once your lice infestation is over, take a deep breath and know you survived one of your rites of passage as a parent. 

Bugs begone

Hair Butterflies

1440 N. Kingsbury St., Chicago; (312) 374-3240

425 N. Marion St., Oak Park; (708) 524-5423

Hair Fairies

2336 N. Clark St., Chicago; (872) 228-5423

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