There are numerous home remedies that people claim can treat head lice, but there is a lack of scientific evidence to show that these remedies are effective and safe.
Research into many of these remedies has produced inconclusive results. Scientists have frequently found that home remedies for lice do not work and may not meet safety standards.
It is important for people considering these remedies to speak with a doctor, review the evidence, and weigh up the benefits and risks of at-home treatment.
Although doctors continue to debate the effects of home remedies for lice, they agree that a person can take non-medical measures to reduce the spread of lice and prevent them from returning.
Lice are tiny insects that feed on human blood. Adult lice measure 2–3 millimetres in length and lay their eggs on hair, close to the skin.
They can infest pubic hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows, though they most commonly live in the hair on the head.
As lice lay eggs that hatch quickly, an infestation can build up rapidly. Killing lice requires the elimination of both the insects and their eggs.
If a person uses a treatment that does not kill the eggs, they will need to repeat it once the eggs have hatched.
Many people believe that home remedies can kill lice, eggs, or both. Below, learn about these remedies, as well as when to seek medical treatment and how to prevent lice from spreading.
6 home remedies for lice
1. Anise oil
Anise oil may coat and suffocate lice. A study of natural remedies for lice in children found that anise oil was one of the most effective natural remedies.
Although other natural remedies were frequently effective, anise oil was one of just two that permanently eliminated lice.
People who used other herbal remedies typically reported re-infestations within a couple of months.
2. Olive oil
Olive oil offers similar benefits to anise oil, potentially suffocating lice and preventing them from coming back. Like anise oil, it ranked among the most effective remedies in the same study.
People who want a highly effective home remedy should consider using olive oil and anise oil together.
Olive oil may have other benefits for the hair and scalp.
Olive oil is available to purchase in many grocery stores and online.
3. Coconut oil
Coconut oil is a popular treatment for dry skin and hair.
The researchers behind a study in Brazil explored the effects of several natural head lice remedies and compared the results with those of over-the-counter (OTC) treatments.
Of the tested remedies, the team found that pure coconut oil was the only effective treatment. Within 4 hours of applying the oil, an average of 80% of the head lice were dead.
The two most effective medicated shampoos killed 97.9% and 90.2% of lice in the same period.
4. Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is a popular home remedy for many skin conditions because of its antimicrobial properties.
In a 2010 study, researchers measured the effects of a tea tree and lavender oil blend on head lice in 42 people. After three treatments at weekly intervals, 41of the participants no longer had head lice.
This success rate is comparable to that of many prescription and OTC treatments.
However, other research assessing tea tree oil as a treatment for head lice has found the remedy to be less effective. Also, tea tree oil can sometimes irritate the skin and may cause a rash or itchiness.
5. Petroleum jelly
Petroleum jelly may kill lice by suffocating the insects and possibly their eggs.
Petroleum jelly can be greasy and messy, and removing it may require repeated washings. However, for people with treatment-resistant lice or an allergy to lice shampoos, it may be an effective option.
The United States version of the television series “The Office” may have popularized the use of mayonnaise to treat lice.
Proponents claim that mayonnaise smothers lice and makes it easier for a person to comb them from the hair. Some people also say that mayonnaise can ease the itching and scalp irritation that lice cause.
There is no evidence that mayonnaise can kill or treat lice. While this home remedy is probably harmless, it is likely to be messy and inconvenient.
Herbalists and supporters of natural remedies argue that a wide range of products, including garlic, thyme oil, and sesame oil, can treat head lice.
However, there is little if any scientific evidence to support their effectiveness.
Research has shown that garlic has few benefits as a treatment for a lice infestation. While thyme and sesame oils led to some improvements initially, people who used them often saw the infestation resurge.
Anise and coconut oils worked better as head lice treatments.