I’m not sure which I find more disturbing: a large adult louse feasting greedily on my scalp or its young, the nits, hatching in my hair and rushing for their first meal. Either way, both must be dealt with to save one’s scalp from becoming raw burger, which is never fashionable.

Getting rid of nits is about finishing the job. Adults are easily destroyed with commercial lice shampoos (see below) and plucked out with nit combs. Head lice nits, however, take more effort. Most will survive the shampoos and creams and, even when an infestation is destroyed, both dead and empty nits will remain. Walking around with nits in your hair, even unviable ones, won’t win you any friends. In fact, as many school districts around the nation maintain a “no-nit” policy, they may just keep little Sara from getting her education (10% of all school children suffer head lice). But stop your fretting and scratching, for you can learn all you need to know about getting rid of nits here.

Hygiene and Nits

Both prince and pauper can get lice – it has nothing to do with your hygiene regimen; however, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, you may want to back off on the conditioners if you’re using commercial lice shampoos. Yeah, you won’t smell quite as strongly of strawberries, but these products can prevent louse-killing chemicals from adhering to hair shafts.

Best Ways to Get Rid of Nits

Live nits aren’t easy to spot. Live nits are yellowish gray, brown, or sometimes tan. Empty nits are pale white. They are hard to see – about the size of a knot in thread or a strawberry seed. Any nits found farther than a quarter inch away from the scalp have either hatched or never will, so having nits beyond this point does not mean you still have an active infestation. People often mistake nits for dandruff and debris, which, unlike nits, will fall away from hair freely. Nits strongly resist being moved from hair shafts. Here’s how we can do that:

Use Head Lice Shampoo

OTC commercial head lice shampoos help get rid of nits and lice. Still the frontline defense against lice, Pyrethrin and permethrin-based shampoos are derived from chrysanthemum flowers. Popular brands, Nix (sold at Amazon), Rid, or R & C, will kill lice, preventing them from laying more troublesome nits. It is extremely important to follow directions to the letter. The first shampooing will kill adults, while the second dose, usually done a few days to a week later, will kill any lice that have hatched in the meantime. If timed right, these newly hatched lice won’t mature fast enough to deposit any more nits.

Buy a NIt Comb

A quality nit comb is essential for getting rid of nits. The robust glue lice secrete to attach nits to the base of hair shafts is very strong. So far – despite claims to the contrary – no shampoo, cream, or home remedy can effectively break its hold. To rid your hair of these tiny eggs, you’ll need patience and a quality nit comb. Many people skip lice shampoos altogether and get rid of nits and lice (often crushed by nit combs) through combing and picking alone. The Licemeister Comb has positive reviews from different vendors and purportedly works well with all hair types to get rid of nits.

Use Your Nit Comb

Here is how to use your nit comb properly: Get set up in a chair and put a towel around your neck. Douse your hair with olive oil or conditioner for lubrication and comb out any snarls. Next, separate the hair into small sections and, using your nit comb, comb from scalp to hair end. Pay special attention behind ears and behind your head at the hairline. Wipe the nit-and-lice infested comb on a tissue after each swipe or two and toss them into a bowl of detergent. Some lice and nits will come out with the comb; some will need to be plucked. When finished, rinse and wash hair thoroughly and sanitize the nit comb. Repeat this process every few days to a week until you’re nit and louse free.

Wash and Clean

Prevent the spread of lice and nits through laundering and cleaning. Wash bedding, hats, scarves, pillows, and blankets in hot water and dry on high heat. Simply drying on high heat for thirty minutes will also do the trick, and it saves time when you’re laundering these items continuously. Vacuum furniture, pillows, vehicles, and often- used areas daily. Sanitize combs and brushes. Stuffed animals and other unwashables can be secured in a plastic bag for 48 hours. You need not go crazy – nits perish away from the scalp, and lice can’t survive two days without a blood meal.

A Growing Resistance?

Yes, in some areas around the country lice are becoming resistant to permethrins and pyrethrins found in OTC products such as Rid and Nix; however, almost all authorities argue that they are still effective in most cases. If you’re going the chemical shampoo route, try them first before going to the doctor for a different formulation. Skip to the bottom to learn more.

Getting Rid of Nits with Medical Treatments

Lice, unlike many ectoparasites, do not spread diseases or illnesses of any kind. The only real harm comes from scratching. Some people develop a slight allergic reaction to louse droppings on the scalp, which can make itching more profound. This is something to watch for in children (and adults who can’t help themselves).

Another reason to visit the doctor would be to get a prescription for a different lice shampoo formulation. In recent years, lice in some areas have grown resistant to the pyrethrins and permethrins found in traditional OTC products such as Rid and Nix. This happens across the spectrum in the pest control industry – an ongoing arms race in which we must constantly adjust to stay ahead. Try OTC products first, but if they fail, don’t let some hick doctor give you a stronger formulation of permethrins or pyrethrins – opt for an entirely different solution. You can get a benzyl alcohol lotion (BAL 5%), which is relatively new and works by suffocating head lice. It is the first non-neurotoxin approved by the FDA for head lice and is far less toxic than traditional solutions. It is not an ovicide, so it won’t get rid of nits. You’ll need to reapply the treatment after a week and use that nit comb diligently.

Other alternatives to pyrethrins and permethrins include lindane (Kwell, Bio-Well) and malathion.

More Tips to Kill Nits

Magnifying glass or black light

Doctors and some schools use something called a “Wood’s light” – which is essentially a high-end black light that causes nits to glow. A black light will work as well, and if you don’t have one you could always go to the club and ask the DJ about your nits. Of course, a traditional magnifying glass works well too and is undoubtedly more practical.

Shaved head

Buzz cuts are usually out of the question for women and girls, who are more prone to louse infestations. But if you’re a man, or you have an infested little boy, break out the clippers and save yourself some pain at the expense of your dignity.

Alternative nit treatments

As not all people are keen on dousing their scalps with neurotoxins (even if they’re deemed safe by the FDA), many alternative therapies are used to get rid of nits and lice. Tea tree oil and neem oil shampoos are popular, as is suffocating lice with generous slatherings of mayonnaise or olive oil. Air may one day be the best non-chemical treatment for both nits and lice, as both are keenly susceptible to dehydration. “Air-treatment” devices are currently being developed to take advantage of this weakness.

Robi Comb

This electronic comb zaps lice and gives you an auditory alert when it comes in contact with lice and nits. Sounds great, and for some people it is; however, the Robi has major reliability issues and tends to stop working for many consumers. If you want to give it a try, you can get this one from LiceGuard at Amazon.

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About the Author

Julianne Ragland

Julianne Ragland