Frequently asked questions
Sound tips and advice about headlice


Q. What is the difference between a nit and a head louse?


A. Head Lice is the proper name for the live parasites that you may find on your child's head. Technically, 'nits' are the empty egg shells which stick to the hair shafts. The empty shells are generally over 1cm away from the scalp. Lice lay their eggs as close to the warmth of the scalp as they can, so anything farther than this away from the scalp has probably been laid some time ago - long enough for the hair to grow a little bit. Anything closer could still be a full egg!

Many people often refer to the live parasites as 'nits', mainly because many of us remember the 'nit nurse' that visited schools years ago. The true 'nits' or empty shells won't do any harm, but can be a bit embarrassing if people see them after an infestation has been successfully removed. They are quite difficult to remove because of the strength of the glue, but can be either pulled out individually with fingers, or using a very fine tooth nit comb on wet hair can be successful.


Q. What do head lice look like?

A. Head lice are grey/brown in colour and have 6 legs and no wings.They can move very quickly and are very hard to see particularly when they are at the nymph stages. They are camouflaged on the hair, very close to the scalp. The best way to check if what you have found is a louse is to use a nit comb on wet hair.

Head lice stop moving when they are wet so they are easier to catch. Wipe the comb on a clean tissue to inspect it. A live louse will begin to move again when it dries out! Always make sure that lice removed from the hair are killed or disposed of, as, if possible they will try to attach themselves back to any hair that is in close proximity!


Q. How are headlice caught?

A. Head Lice, contrary to popular belief, can not jump or fly!

They simply crawl (quite quickly) from one head to another when one head of hair is in contact with another. That's why school children, playing and working closely are the most at risk group of catching and spreading head lice.

They can not be carried by pets and it is unlikely that they can be caught from exchanging head gear or playing with other children's cuddly toys or sleeping in their beds.

Lice that crawl off the head in this way are generally dying and therefore unlikely to infest more hair. They can't survive away from the head for long! It is also a myth that head lice like clean hair - they are not really bothered whether hair is clean or dirty. All they are bothered about is getting a good feed of blood from biting the scalp!


Q. How can I tell if my child has head lice?


A. If a child starts scratching their head regularly, as a new habit, this can be a sign of having a head louse infestation. However, the scratching does not necessarily begin immediately after a head louse has crawled onto the child's head. Often the infestation has taken place some weeks before!

The itching is caused by an allergic reaction to their saliva. Some children don't have this reaction and so don't itch! Therefore it is vital that you check your child's head for Head Lice very regularly. We recommend that you do this at least every other hair wash! The best places to look are behind the ears and in the nape of the neck. These are nice warm places on the scalp that Head Lice often choose as good places to lay eggs. You must check for the small grey/brown eggs which are attached very tightly to the hair shafts close to the scalp.


Q. What do I do if I find head lice?

A. If you find either an egg or some live head lice, you must begin treatment to get rid of them before they are passed on to another person. There are various solutions on the market that claim to 'kill' head lice. Many of these contain pesticides or organophosphates which many parents and health professionals are not keen on using on children's sensitive scalps, particularly if regular treatment is necessary. It is also thought that the headlice themselves are becoming immune to some of these thus making the treatments ineffective.

The preferred method of head lice removal is now the 'condition and comb' method which is quite simple and doesn't require any expensive solutions or treatments. You will need: A very fine tooth nit comb, some conditioner (ideally one that contains some sort of repellent properties such as Escenti Tea Tree conditioner), a tissue and a lot of patience!

The method is as follows:

  1. Wash the child's hair, again ideally with a repellent shampoo.

  2. Condition the hair well using repellent conditioner and leave on.

  3. Make the child comfortable and comb through the hair with a normal comb first to remove all the knots. Make sure that you clean this comb well before using it again on anyone else.

  4. Divide the hair up into sections and begin to comb carefully with the fine nit comb. Each time, wiping the comb on the tissue to remove any eggs or live head lice. Remember, live head lice stay still when wet but move again when dried out!

  5. Continue all over the head, taking care around the nape of the neck and back of the ears as this is where eggs are often found.

  6. Rinse the hair as normal and dry.
    If you have time, it is adviseable to comb the hair again once dry to try to remove any empty shells left on the hair.

  7. You must repeat as suggested in question 6.

  8. It is also adviseable to use head lice defence products such as the Escenti range for each wash and even use the Escenti Leave-in Spray between washes to try to combat re-infestations!

 

Q. Why do head lice keep coming back?

A. If you seem to always be finding new infestations, then you are probably not getting rid of all the lice when treating the hair. The life cycle of a head louse is as follows:

A female adult will lay approx 6 eggs per day.
The baby lice (nymphs) are 'born' after about 7 days.
The nymphs go through 3 stages of growth before becoming fully grown. They stay on the same head whilst doing this, which takes approx 6 days.
These then become adult lice and can then start to move from head to head.

When you know this, you understand that it just won't work removing the head lice once with any method of removal. If you miss just one live egg, then this can hatch and mature and lay more eggs within the space of 2 weeks! So it is recommended that you treat the hair (prefferably with the condition and comb with repellent conditioner method) on day one, then repeat again after 3/4 days to remove any further nymphs that have hatched or nymphs that have matured to adults, then again after another 3/4 days for the same reason. Finally, repeat the process again 2 weeks after the first treatment to ensure that the head is clear. If any lice are found at this stage, either the child has been re-infested or you have missed an egg. If so, repeat the whole process again.

Another way to avoid re-infestations is to protect the child's hair with repellent products such as Escenti Tea Tree shampoo and conditioner as soon as you have completed treatment and continue to do so.

We also recommend tying up long hair in plaits or tight pony tails to avoid coming into contact with other infested hair, or passing on your own infestations!

Although it can be embarrassing, it is also really recommended that you inform the school or nursery if you find that your child has head lice. This way all parents to check and treat their own children quickly, before the head lice are passed around unwittingly.


Q. Can head lice harm my child?

A. Head Lice don't harm you!

They may make you itch if you are allergic to their saliva. Some children scratch too hard and break the skin, but apart from this, they can only be an embarrassment and a nuisance!


Q. Who can catch head lice?

A. Anyone with hair who comes into close contact with someone with head lice can catch head lice.

It is always adviseable to treat everyone in the family or anyone who has been in a position to catch them at the same time and in the same way as described above.