Education Parenting

In Fear of Lice

I am not a fearful person. I’m not afraid of roaches. I’m not afraid of spiders and have been known to pick them up by their legs and toss them out of the house onto the grass. I’m not afraid of snakes and have enjoyed the cool squeeze of a constrictor as it wrapped around my torso. While I do not like the idea of suffering, I am not afraid of death. I’m not afraid that someone will try to steal my child. I’m not afraid of fire and, once, in a New Orleans restaurant, a waiter whisked away my pretty red candle because I kept pouring hot wax onto my palm (and the fancy tablecloth). I’m not afraid of the dark and have taken long walks on overcast nights when there is no moon or stars. I’m not afraid of thunder and lightning, and while a young’un at Camp Seneca Lake, I used to run outside into torrential downpours with a bottle of shampoo to wash my hair while the sky reverberated and flickered. (I didn’t say I was smart; I just said I wasn’t scared.) There are plenty of other things I’m not afraid of.

I am, however, terrified of lice.

My fear of lice is partially irrational because I have never had them, but I have known many families who have been afflicted, and I am smart enough to know that I never want to meet a dirty, blood-sucking louse. I have heard the tales of woe: how the damn things keep coming back even after people picked-nits and bagged favorite pillows, washed towels and linens, even threw out hair brushes, combs and expensive hair accessories.

I have long, thick, curly hair and it seems like clippers would be inevitable. Like Samson from the Old Testament, I am nothing without my hair, so every time that damn letter comes home saying someone in my child’s class has contracted lice, I feel a little sick inside.

The tiny bugs, no bigger than sesame seeds, spread easily among children who are most likely to come into close head-to-head contact with one another. So while I don’t fall into the “at-risk category,” I do have a 10-year old son who ships out to summer camp each year for three weeks, so I feel my worries aren’t completely unwarranted as someone always comes home with the little buggers.

My good friend has sworn on a bottle of Quell that in the unlikely event I should ever contract lice, she would be my nitpicker. She is a very good friend.

I recently learned that some lice have become resistant to over-the counter remedies. (Be still, my heart!) When that happens, pediatricians sometimes choose to provide prescriptions for heavy-duty pesticides. Although some experts believe exposure in small doses to these chemicals is perfectly safe, these days many parents worry about dumping toxic substances on their children’s heads. (Note: I am not afraid of chemicals.) That said, I just happened to come across a great article about treating lice that talks about using Cetaphil skin cleanser and a hair dryer that “had a 95% success rate when repeated once a week for three weeks.”

So while I am still revolted by the possibility that lice could come into my life, I feel armed with more information and as children head off to summer camps across this great land – perhaps, this cheap and seemingly effective treatment might bring some relief to other moms who live in fear of lice.

Is it just me or is anyone else’s head really itchy?

36 thoughts on “In Fear of Lice

  1. Yes I am all itchy now! I know that if you color your hair, use gel or hairspray they will not bother you. I know when I received these notices I would spray unscented hairspray on my sons hair. I always checked him outside everyday for this. Working in elementary I dread seeing a class standing outside the nurses office. We all know that can only mean one thing! Ugh! Especially if they were heading to my room next! No headphones today kids 🙂

  2. After 6 straight years of getting the letter that there is lice in the class, this year we actually did get it. All I can say is it is a big pain in the neck. I have to say that I wasn’t grossed out by it – I was just completely annoyed and overwhelmed. When it returned in less than a month, I turned to the professional and went to Nit Wits in Cambridge. It cost kind of a ridiculous amount of money but it was completely worth the peace of mind. No chemicals were involved since they believe the lice have built their immunity to them. They are all about focusing on the hair and not worrying about the laundry and the cleaning, etc (lice can’t really live off a head so none of those things are as critical as getting the ones off your head). We left with a program of lots of combing using conditioner and olive oil treatments. They recommend continuing the conditioner/combing treatments monthly through 8th grade as preventative. I’m not sure I’ll be that diligent. The worst part of all is I wonder now if I’ll ever feel like we’ve beaten it and can get on with our life. I actually dreamt about the lice last night so it is particularly strange that it is also now the topic of your blog.

  3. Ugghh. Yeah, I’m itchy now.

    We’ve never had them in our house. I had them once as a small child and my mom cut my hair off to get rid of them. I had hair to my waist having never had it cut before in my life. I still shiver thinking about it.

    My sisters kids went to a grade school where there was generally more kids with lice than without and for almost 3 years she was dealing with them a few times a year. The poor kids didn’t see their stuffed animals for the entire time they went to school there. She was constantly shampooing carpets, taking every piece of fabric to laundry mats and picking through their hair.

    She to this day swears that tea-tree oil in your regular shampoo will prevent them and assist in their removal if they’re already there. Something about the smell. She put a few drops in every bottle of shampoo the kids used all through school.

  4. I am enjoying your daily blog – such parental insights with a great sense of humor! This one, however made me ITCHY! By the way, Kathryn really enjoyed meeting you & Cal.

  5. The hilarious part of lice is that children at not stygmatized by it at all since it has become such a regular part of their day. Prior to us ever having it in our house, whenever the girls play school someone is always the nurse and doing head checks on all the dolls that are the class. To them it’s just all in a school day.

    When we did get it, it was the day before we were leaving for vacation in FL. We had already planned to attend a school fundraiser at a local restaurant and since we didn’t have any food in the house, we decided to go through with the plan. A boy from our youngest’s class came and asked her why she left early that day. Without batting an eye and actually with a bit of pride in her voice, she just blurts out ‘lice’.

    I’ve tried to follow their lead with all of this and let them know that lice is annoying but have not put any judgment or criticism around it. I prefer their outlook on it to the freaked out, paranoid view.

    1. I’m glad to hear that there isn’t a lot of stigma attached to catching lice! As much as I live in fear of lice, I don’t worry about any stigma or people thinking I’m dirty or anything. I think it’s kind of like when you have your child go over to a friend’s house and you find out their other kid just had a stomach bug – and one week later, your kid happens to come home with a stomach bug. Kids get sick, right? They have germs. To me, lice are like that. They seem to come with the territory.

      Unlike viruses, however, they seem to be really hard to go away! 😉

  6. 1) Supposedly, they also don’t like mint smell either. Mint shampoos are readily available and possibly cheaper than tea tree oil.

    2) Pesticides don’t work well. LiceMD does. It will, however, require about 3 treatments.

    3) LiceMD and other pesticide-free treatments are not harmful and can be used when the kids come home from camp as a preventative measure.

    4) Many of the health professionals who search the kids heads MISS them. If you know there’s exposure, check for yourself.

    Ok. now I’m starting to itch….

  7. Yeah, overnight camp and lice often go together! The huge outbreak at CSL last August certainly was no picnic for lots of parents. However, my kid came home “clean”! Yay! I attribute this in part to being a little older and therefore knowing not to share hats, brushes, & other hair/head items and in part to a line of lice-repelling hair-care products from Fairy Tales ( No, I don’t get a commission from this! Just passing along info that has seemed to work for us. She did come home with lice her second summer at camp, as did at least half her bunk mates. Then I found out about Fairy Tales. Since then, she’s used the shampoo, conditioner and leave-in conditioning spray. She used to use it year-round for at least year after our lice incident (who wants to go through THAT again?), but now uses it mostly just at camp. I tell her to share the spray with anyone in her bunk who wants to use it. If lice stays out of the other kids in her bunk, there’s much less chance that she can get it. The stuff is all natural (oils of rosemary, tea tree, etc.), and I guess lice really don’t like how that smells. The spray can also be used all over the skin and clothes used as an insect repellent instead of DEET-containing products (pesticides). It seems to keep mosquitos away, too. (If you sign up for their monthly newsletter, you’ll get a coupon code for 10 or 15% off in each one.)

    I have also heard of the Cetaphil/hair dryer solution. I showed up at the JCC for camp pickup last summer with a bottle of it, just in case! I would definitely use that if the need ever arises again. I’d much rather do that than put pesticides on my kid’s head.

    Good luck for a lice-free summer!

  8. Hearing the words “poison ivy” or “lice” are the only words that make me itch. I have never had them, and I hope I will be able to say the same about my kids! Thanks for all of the great ideas on how to prevent them, too!

  9. Here in Israel the dry, sandy climate is very conducive to lice. So they’ve developed a revolutionary lice comb that not only gets the bugs and/or nits out, but also kills any remaining (invisible) eggs in the process. So the cycle gets stopped IMMEDIATELY. The combing becomes a part of the bath night process in homes here: shampoo, put in leave-in conditioner (which lice detest), and comb out. Usually there’s nothing at all. And if there ever is a bug that hopped in from a class-mate’s head, by the end of that combing, your kid’s head is clean.

    …And I sure do remember (fondly) the rowdy CSL shampooing sessions in the torrential rains.

  10. Dude chill…it’s OK! Lice like really CLEAN hair…they don’t like dirty hair…so It’s not so bad when you get lice 🙂

    OK…we have had it in the house three times – a girl – they play ‘hairdresser’. A giant jar of fat-ladden mayonnaise, a big bottle of white vinegar, patience (maybe a strong Scotch on ice) and time, olive oil, and a dryer. It’s not THAT bad!

    1) The mayonnaise suffocates the lice (who breathe through their legs and the mayo clogs up their breathing)…wash the mayo out after about 4 hours…
    2) Rinse with vinegar (loosens the ‘glue’ that holds the nits*eggs* to the hair shaft) and I found pinching the nits off the hair shaft with my fingers better than a nit comb, hands down (haha! pun) – taking time to really get each tiny section of hair makes a difference (had to tie the 5 y.o. to a chair with a belt because she was falling asleep).
    3) a layer of olive on the hair each night for two weeks (a shower cap on top) will suffocate any nits you may have missed, as they hatch(I know that word is creepy) and before they can lay any eggs.
    3) bag what you can for 2-3 weeks
    4) throw whatever you can in the dryer
    5) throw stuff out if you can (hair brushes, etc)

    NOTE: This worked EXCELLENTLY the first 2 times! The third year, I tried the RID (didn’t work) followed with a treatment of Nix (didn’t work) followed by (you guessed it) Hellman’s…like a charm 😀

    I, also, will be a nit-picker for you…I’m damn good too!

  11. The thought of lice make me sick to my stomach. Thank goodness my children never had it; however talk about another parasite called pinworms. That I have had experience combating!

  12. Oh man! Does this bring back such horrible memories! Picture me, 8 months pregnant with my 3rd, slumped over a tub picking the bugs out of my 2nd daughter’s hair! She had long, tight, curly hair, and it was a nightmare! Not to mention, you go on a cleaning frenzy! (Which, might be the silver lining in the whole thing.) It totally creeps me out; I’m not going to lie. Wish I could be cool like some of you people (Ginny, you rock!) and say, “It isn’t a problem” or “It’s not that bad,” but I wanted to scream. They were relentless! I’d get my girls totally clean, and then they would go back to the source (which we didn’t realize was Sunday school, until after the fact) and then it would start all over again!

    As a mother you have to “disengage” from a lot of things, otherwise you’d be puking 24/7, but LICE?! There is nothing “not so bad” about bugs crawling around your head! LOL! Man, I have creepy crawlies just thinking about it! Melissa was right hairspray/coloring detours them.

    Failing all else, shave it baby!

  13. Lice is awful! We were plagued with it three times over about six months a few years ago. Forget the chemicals! We soaked our heads in olive oils and wrapped it in saran wrap amongst other suggested treatments. By the third round, we figured out to just burn the suckers! Blow dry the crap out of your hair and then use a straightening iron. Now that worked!

    For boys, I would just shave their heads.

    I learned that two common phrases came from this experience: “nit picking” and “going through something with a fine tooth comb.”


  14. I had lice when I was a kid – this was some years ago – and my hair was my pride and joy. Thank God I was never forced to cut it all off. It was a couple of weeks of chemicals and my mother grumbling at me (all my fault, of course), but not a big deal.

    I’m sorry they gross you out. Nothing to be done about that.

  15. Yes, itchy is the feeling I am experiencing after reading this blog! This was a major problem in my previous schools. Those letters were always being sent to my home. I’m not one to be scared of much either, but lice are a very tough thing to get rid of. My mom always struggled to get rid of lice, but they always found their way back. When the day comes, I too, will be cautious of my children getting lice. Being that it is so easy to purchase the products to stop, or even get rid of lice, I will make sure I have them around the house, just in case.

  16. There is only ONE certain remedy: shave all the heads in the household. Second most reliable, but WAY more work, is to go through every strand of hair on everyone’s head with a special, fine toothed, comb. We are talking HOURS of nitpicking here, but done correctly, and daily for the first week, and then several more times over the course of a few weeks, you CAN eliminate lice from a household – but if all families aren’t on board with this program (and they rarely are) the lice will likely reinfest your family.

    I’m sorry to rain on the chemical pushers, but NONE of the chemicals are foolproof. The pyrethrin-type pesticides are the most likely to work, but there is absolutely no substitute for careful and diligent nitpicking (other than shaving bald).

    FWIW, shaving bald and going on a fun wig adventure can be easy and fun. 🙂

  17. For what it’s worth, Renée, my two sons made it through school and summer camp and all the way to adulthood without ever once bringing home lice. To some extent that is “luck of the draw” but you can improve your odds by explaining to kids that they are never, ever to put on anyone else’s hat, use their brush or comb, or play with other people’s hair.

    My kids are grown but I love your blog. Great, great stuff!

    1. I am laughing that you landed on my lice post! That thing gets more hits in a week than most posts ever get! It’s nice to meet you. I’m enjoying your blog, too! I’m in Florida right now – and can only read on my phone, but your page is very friendly to the eye! You will likely enjoy this week’s posts, as I have written several about my son’s bar mitzvah. Stay tuned! 😉

  18. My son came home with lice. (This was fifteen years ago now). I did not know it. He was six and at night I laid beside him, my head beside his, reading book after book to him. I have long brown thick hair. I got lice. That was not a good thing–as things like this make me go just slightly crazy–I had to do all the things you do to get rid of it–was very fortunate that everything worked. If you get it you will not have to cut your hair – though short short hair seems to be a preventative – my other son was in the shave your head stage of his young basketball career and he did not get it.
    It is a nightmare–but one you can survive (barely).

    1. I am hyper-ventilating as I read your words. That kid had better not get off the camp bus this year and tell me that his counselor had lice. Because for the last TWO years, his beloved counselor (the same guy) had head lice. I was like: Whaaaat? How did he get it again? Right from the camp bus, we drove to the local grocery store and straight home. I had barely hugged my son before I dumped Rid-X on his head. And mine.

      (Remember, this is an irrational fear. Irrational.)

      Okay. I’m itchy. 😉

  19. We just got it this past summer. It is a plague and an absolute nightmare! I am a emotional and physical wreck and needed to look this up as I am having a panic attack at work thinking about this. We have been dealing with it for 2 1/2 months with my two girls age 9 and 6. Found it June 29th and immediately went to a specialty salon and forked over $500 using a lousebuster treatment (natural heat) for all three of us (husband did not get it). Worked on my girls but not on me and I had to go back several times (covered under their guarantee). Finally called the doctor and the thing that worked on me was to use Nix for 8 hours! I used it for 12 hours! THEN, my niece slept over and I found it the next morning in her hair. She was the original source! Did the Nix and thought it was over but it wasn’t!

    Found out we had it again 2 weeks ago. We did the Nix treatment AGAIN, which seemed to work on me, but not for my 6 year old-I will still finding live lice and nits despite combing three times a day. I got a prescription for Permethrin Cream at 5% concentration, but that didn’t work either as I was still finding live adult louse and nits! Finally went back to lousebuster place on Saturday as I couldn’t stand it and did cream for 12 hours again on her. Haven’t found a thing, but I am not resting and am still combing out twice a day for at least 3 weeks.

    All in all, I have spent $1K on treatment and meds alone. I have lost many hours of sleep. I lost 10 lbs from not eating. I have washed sheets clothes and stuffed animals so many times and boiled countless times.

    Seeing other bugs sets me on edge, even ladybugs. I can’t stop staring at my kids’ heads. My husband keep reminding me that this won’t kill us, but I am losing my mind. I need these out!

    Writing this just helped me. I’m sorry if I’m freaking you all even more!

    1. I cannot believe you have spent over 1K on head lice. It’s unfathomable. I’m so sorry for all you have been though, and I will that I wold have cut everyone’s hair into pixie cuts by now, so you are infinitely more patient than I would be.

      I imagine you are suffering from some of PTSD, and I’m not kidding! This stuff can make people crazy. I hope you get things under control soon. Please know you are not alone. Bag up all throw pillows & stuffed animals for two weeks. Wash all clothes in scalding hot water -twice. Throw out what you can. And consider taking out the trimmers. Seriously. The hair will grow back. It will.

      So much easier to see nits in short, short hair.

      I don’t think I’ve ever been to grateful to have just one son.

      1. Thank you. And thanks for posting this blog. Reading about others’ experiences helps. I am pretty sure I have PTSD. Luckily, my best friend is an MFT and she is walking me through it. My short term goal is getting through a week, and then I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

        Stuffed animals and throw pillows have been isolated for 4 weeks now!

        Don’t think I haven’t thought about shaving everyone! I am sure my post did not help you with your fear.

        Luckily, girls don’t seem to be too affected. I’m grateful for that.

  20. The chemicals, even a prescription 5% permethrin didn’t work on my 6 year old. I finally had to go back for lousebuster (heat, non-chemical) treatment…VERY expensive, but 2 1/2 weeks later, she finally seems clear. I am combing for 3 weeks just to be sure. In my experience, there doesn’t seem to be any foolproof remedy and you have to try a bunch of things. It didn’t work on me but worked on the kids. Unfortunately, there is a S****load of washing, vacuuming, cleaning, etc., that has to be done until you are clear. I feel like an expert on this now. So sad….

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