SueCarr-new-smBy Sue Carr

Lice. It’s one of the most dreaded words in the mommy vocabulary.  The mere mention of it can set your scalp tingling with the thought of tiny critters having themselves a big ol’ bug party on top of your head. Ewww!

We’ve gotten two notifications from our school so far this year alerting us to lice infestations. Both of my children’s grades have been affected, though thankfully not my children. This time. But—oh, yes—we’ve been there before.

Hello, my name is Sue Carr, and my children have had lice.

There’s a definite stigma that goes along with the whole lice experience, like you’re obviously not washing your children enough or doing your laundry frequently enough or somehow not parenting well enough. But in reality, none of this is true. Lice infestations happen to clean, well-fed, well-loved children of tidy households. They happen because kids put their heads together and spread them around, plain and simple. It’s not the end of the world, and it’s not a cause for a major freak out.

But let’s be real—if you get them, you’re going to freak out. So take my advice: temper your freak-out by educating yourself before they invade your space. Don’t make the same mistake I did. I panicked.

When I discovered lice on my daughter’s head last year, I sped to the grocery store and bought the most ominous-looking chemical lice treatment I could find, with big red letters and guarantees to kill, kill, KILL! I went home and slathered that insecticide on her head while my husband sprayed pesticide on our furniture, in our cars, and on everything her head had touched.

Once I calmed down and did some research on sites like Mother Nature Network, I came to realize the toxicity of these FDA-approved products I had applied to my own child, and I felt horrible.

So learn from my mistake. Arm yourself with knowledge so that if the situation ever arises, you can approach it with a cool head and an arsenal of naturally effective remedies. I suggest you begin with the MNN article linked above, which explains the life cycle of these little blood suckers. By understanding that, you’ll better understand why certain treatment methods work the way they do.

As this article points out, the safest—and most effective—lice treatment is the painstaking act of nit-picking, which means, quite literally, picking the lice eggs (or “nits”) out of your child’s hair one by one. (If you’re not too squeamish, check out this head lice slideshow on WebMD so you know what to look for.) Do this using an extremely fine-toothed comb called a nit comb, which you can find at most drug stores. You’ll need a little help getting the things to release from the hair, because they’re stuck on with a sort of biological glue. Some advise using mayonnaise, but I personally find this option a little gross. My toxic chemical treatment packet came with a comb-out conditioner meant to release the nits, and that’s what I used, but there are other, gentler products on the market. I’ve even heard that a standard conditioner will work just fine.

Comb through the hair in small sections, bit by bit, making sure to get every nit you can. Be prepared—it may take a couple of hours depending on the length of the hair. My daughter and I would do this in front of the TV with a good light, a bowl of water, and a towel. Comb, wipe, rinse. Comb, wipe, rinse. It’s time consuming, it’s tedious, it’s not fun for anyone. But darn it all, it works. Many people skimp on this step. Big mistake. Think about it. If you leave just a few nits, you’ll have a whole new colony in a couple of weeks. So do yourself a favor and stick with this. MNN advises doing this once a week for three weeks. I didn’t want to take any chances. I did it every day for a week, then tapered back to every other day for another week. Believe it or not, I still found nits even after days of combing. That’s why it’s so important to keep at it. I can’t stress this enough.

Another MNN post explores natural remedies to kill the live lice and prevent infestations, including tea tree oil, neem oil, a suffocation method involving a gentle face wash, and, of course, combing. MNN recommends combing out conditioned hair weekly with a nit comb to prevent infestations from taking hold in the first place. Let me assure you, I will make this a regular part of our Saturday evening routine.

liceAnother prevention method we’ve employed this time around is what I call hair management. You can see from the picture how my kids went to school today: my son freshly buzzed and my daughter with her glossy locks pulled tight into a double pony. And I sprayed them both with a rosemary and tea tree oil spray, which lice apparently hate. Fingers crossed, we may avoid becoming victims this time around.

I encourage you to check out Mother Nature Network to gather some helpful—and surprisingly reassuring—information about treating a lice infestation. And to do it now, when you’re not panicked and rushing to the store for the most lethal chemical treatment you can grab. With a little research, you’ll find it’s really not the terrible ordeal you’re envisioning. I promise.

So, is your scalp itching yet?

Sue Nelko Carr is a freelance writer, editor, blogger and a full-time mother, trying to live a greener life in Pittsburgh, PA. Sue blogs at