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Treating head lice and nits

Choosing head lice and nit treatments

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Choosing head lice and nit treatments

Trying to find out which is the best head lice treatment? This expert guide can help.

Our unique survey of more than 1,000 UK parents in February 2017, whose kids have had head lice, reveals the treatment that worked best. Not only will our results help you to get rid of head lice and nits, but we'll save you money, too – as you won't waste your cash on treatments that are less likely to work on your child.
51%of people use a medicated lotion, liquid or mousse to get rid of head lice.

The best nit and head lice treatments - are you wasting money on expensive treatments that don't work? Find out about the most effective treatments.

Read on to find out how to spot nits, how to deal with head lice, and a quick rundown of the different types of treatments available.

Head lice and nits: what to look for

Head lice and nits are, unfortunately, a common experience for kids: 39% of children aged four to 12 have suffered from head lice in the past two years, our survey revealed.

Our gallery, below, makes for grim viewing – but take a look and discover exactly what to look for, and how to spot nits and head lice. It may well make you itch, though!

How to spot head lice and nits – what to look for

Head lice need effective treatment to get rid of them successfully, and they're nothing to be embarrassed about. 

Head lice are the small brown lice you see on the hair, despite many of us calling them nits.

A nit is the egg case, which sticks to the base of the hair shaft, rather than the live louse. The white specs you can spot in a child's hair are the empty egg cases, and are usually the first indication that your little one has unwanted visitors and needs a bit more of an inspection.

10-20%The number of UK children who have head lice at any one time, estimated by Hedrin.

Head lice treatments

There are four main types of treatments for getting rid of head lice and nits. We explain the pros and cons of each below.

1. Combing

You can use a nit comb to detect lice in the hair, and to get rid of an infestation. It's one of the cheapest nit treatments available – basic nit combs start at around £1.30 – and is easy to use. You simply cover the infected hair in conditioner (so the lice will lose their grip) and comb through, starting at the roots and going all the way to the tips. After each stroke, check the comb and clean it on a tissue to see if there are any lice on it.

You need to comb the hair for at least 30 minutes and repeat four more times over the following two weeks to ensure all the head lice are removed, and to capture any head lice that may hatch between combing sessions. A general rule is to continue combing until you haven't seen any full-grown lice for three sessions.

31%of parents use a nit comb with conditioner to get rid of head lice.

This treatment is quite time-consuming. And, depending on your child and their hair type, it may be tricky trying to keep them still long enough to do a thorough job.

Battery-operated combs can be used on dry hair. These kill lice on contact, but there is limited evidence to show they really work. They are much more expensive than a basic nit comb, costing around £15 or more.

Pros No resistance concerns, reusable, no insecticides, also used to detect lice
Cons Fiddly, takes about two weeks, metal combs can hurt, electric combs not proven to be effective

Nits: top five tips for parents - find out how to combat nits quickly

2. Synthetic chemical insecticides

Insecticide products, typically sold in chemists, contain chemicals designed to kill head lice by various methods. Some poison the lice, while others will paralyse their nervous systems.

You should use this type of head lice treatment only if you have found a live head louse in the hair, rather than as a preventative measure because you've received notification of an outbreak at your child's school.

This is because the product can build up on the scalp, exposing the head lice to a non-lethal dose – which means lice can become resistant, and the product will no longer work when your child actually gets infected.

Always read and follow the instructions exactly. And even if a product claims to be able to treat head lice in one application, current advice is to check hair a week later to see whether you can spot any head lice that may have hatched, and follow up with another treatment anyway.

Some treatments are described as 'alcoholic lotions' and are flammable, so don't use a hair dryer on anyone who has been treated with one. Always read the instructions to check.

Pros Easy to apply, various trials have shown they work
Cons Can be prone to resistance, varying effectiveness in clinical trials, some smell horrible

3. Physical action to kill lice

Some products kill lice by physically coating them in liquid and drowning or dehydrating them. These types of products include Hedrin and Full Marks Solution.

Because these products kill lice through a physical action, head lice cannot become resistant to them. Some don't kill the eggs (nits), though, so it's vital that the treatment is repeated after a week to kill any lice that have hatched since the first application.

Pros No insecticides, resistance unlikely, odourless
Cons Trials have shown degrees of efficacy but more evidence is needed, reapplication is needed a week later

4. Natural and herbal products, and essential oils

Natural and herbal remedies include products such as tea tree oil or green tea shampoo.

Some remedies involve mixing, say, tea tree oil to a specific ratio. Depending on what you use, the smell can be very strong and you need to be careful to get the ratio right.

Natural over-the-counter products include Boots Head Lice Remover, Lyclear Sprayaway, Nelsons Nice ’n Clear and Quit Nits Head Lice Remover.

17%of parents use a natural or herbal product to treat head lice.
Pros Resistance less likely, easy to apply
Cons Little clinical research into efficacy of treatments, potential side-effects not known