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Which? reveals best head lice and nit treatments

Combs or medication? How to rid children and adults of nits, eggs and head lice

Best head lice and nit treatments

If you haven’t yet received the dreaded ‘nit letter’, chances are it won’t be long before it appears in your child’s school bag alongside the crumpled permission slips and half-eaten sandwiches.

Over the summer, your child will probably spend less time with other kids, as everyone disappears off on holiday. However, come September and the return to school, and suddenly lots of children are pushing their heads together over school books, colouring, games or home work, and those sneaky head lice start to make their presence known.

Catching head lice is a normal part of growing up and is very common. In fact, a Which? survey* of more than 1,000 parents with children aged between four and 12 found that 39% of the children have had head lice in the past two years.

While the internet is full of suggestions, tips and frankly bizarre suggestions on how to get rid of head lice (mayonnaise anyone?), we asked 1,089 parents what they felt were the most effective nit and head lice treatments.

Find out what parents voted the best nit and head lice treatments.

Head lice: parents not double-dosing

We also asked parents about whether they were likely to apply a second dose of head lice treatment, and discovered that 16% would apply a treatment once. Their reasons ranged from it working after the first application (57%) to their children not liking the application process (12%).

However, according to Professor James Logan, from the London School of Hygiene &Tropical Medicine, and an expert in head lice and other arthropods, a second application is sometimes vital for head lice control.

‘Parents quite often say that a treatment hasn’t worked and the lice have returned,’ he says, ‘but it may be that the head lice never left because the treatment didn’t get rid of all of them – lice eggs included.’

It takes about 40 days from when an egg is laid to when the adult louse dies. There are three stages during this cycle: egg, nymph and adult louse. Eggs are laid by adult females and stick to the hair shaft, close to the scalp. After a week, they hatch and become nymphs. Around seven days after hatching, these nymphs become adults. Adult lice can live for up to 30 days on a person’s head, and the female adults lay up to eight eggs a day.

‘Head lice have a very distinct lifecycle, and once parents realise that, it makes it easier to understand why a second application is so important,’ says Professor Logan.

Some head lice treatments are extremely effective at killing head lice, but won’t kill the unhatched eggs. This means that a few days after you’ve treated your child, when these eggs hatch, you’ve got a new batch of lice that need to be killed before they also start laying eggs.

Even if you’re using treatments that claim to kill all head lice and eggs in one go and don’t require a second application, you should still double-check your child’s hair a week later. This is because if you missed a spot on your child’s head and failed to coat a head louse or egg in the solution, it could still survive.

Know your head lice myths (and truths)

Myth: Head lice can live on bedding
It’s unlikely that you’ll catch head lice from sleeping in a bed or on a pillow where someone with head lice has been sleeping. Head lice need heat and a constant supply of blood to survive, and quickly become quite stressed when they’re not attached to the hair. Once they leave the scalp area, they would only survive for a maximum of 24 hours. However, it’s worth remembering that sharing a bed can increase your chances of catching head lice, as you’re likely to have your heads quite close together, and the lice can easily walk between the two.

Myth: Head lice can drown
When lice are in water, they go into a state of suspended animation, but their specially designed claws mean they’ll stay alive and attached to the hair. This means they can survive showers, baths, rain, seawater and even chlorinated swimming pools.

Myth: Head lice can jump and fly
Lice don’t have wings, so can’t fly between heads. They also don’t jump. However, they can crawl very quickly, so even brief cuddles with your child could be enough for a head louse to move from them to you.

Myth: Head lice transmit disease
It’s not thought that head lice can spread disease, however, serious infestations of them could end up leaving someone feeling unwell. This is because the general itching can disturb sleep, causing tiredness. Lice also release an anti-coagulant when biting your skin (to make it easier to keep feeding) and low levels of this in your child’s system can actually cause flu-like symptoms. It’s where the term ‘feeling lousy’ originated from.

Myth: Head lice prefer long, dirty hair
Head lice don’t mind what kind of hair they live in, so long as it’s warm and there’s a plentiful supply of blood to feed on.

For more advice on how to check for, spot and treat head lice, read our top five nit tips for parents.

*Survey of 1,089 parents with children aged between four and 12.

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