Lice have existed since at least 4,000 BC; researchers found nits on the remains of human hair in a cave in the Judean Desert.

One wonders how parents got rid of lice in those days.

Today, parents scratch their heads trying to decide which option to choose that will successfully remove lice from their children’s hair. Some, like the pyrethins, (the synthetic version Nix, for example) have been around for years, but that is changing. The FDA has approved Ivermectin 0.05% lotion, or Sklice, for over-the-counter treatment of head lice infestation. Babies who are at least six months old can be treated with ivermectin. It had been available by prescription only. The pyrethins, made from the chrysanthemum flower, just kill the live critters; they don’t touch the eggs.

Other prescription medicines still available include ivermectin tablets and the topical lotions benzyl alcohol (Ulesfia); malathion (Ovide); and spinosad (Natroba). The benzyl alcohol only kills live lice; malathion kills live lice and some eggs; Spinosad, made from bacteria in the soil, kills all.

If you prefer the natural route, a Mayo Clinic webpage includes some home remedies for treating lice, although they haven’t been proven to be effective. Wet-combing, use of essential oils, and smothering the lice with mayonnaise or petroleum jelly could be considered for treatment of head lice, but it’s always a good idea to contact a medical doctor before applying any treatment to your child’s scalp. Essential oils can cause allergic reactions, and petroleum jelly can be difficult to remove from hair.

If you’d like to avoid messing with the lice at all, having someone else do the nit-picking might be an option. Some specialty hair salons will manually remove the nits, or even provide a “tele-coaching” session to help you do it yourself (good news during the pandemic).

Another hot new device for treating lice is a souped-up hair dryer originally dubbed the LouseBuster (now called AirAllé). AirAllé uses warm air to dehydrate lice and eggs, and is used by some lice-removal clinics. The heat from the AirAllé is lower than a hair dryer provides, and the air flow is higher, so a regular hair dryer won’t work and could burn your child’s scalp.

The take home

Lice is a sticky problem without an easy solution. There are options for ridding your child’s hair of lice, but be sure to check with your child’s doctor before you choose one.