Pediculosis, better known as head lice, is an extremely contagious infestation of small white insects known as lice. Their eggs are known as nits, and usually attach themselves to hair close to the scalp or body. Lice are spread by sharing infested clothing and items, and by direct personal contact. They’re pesky, but treatable–read on.

Things You'll Need

Assess whether you or your child actually has lice. Symptoms include itching, swollen glands in the back of the neck, foul-smelling hair and small, oval white or gray-white spots stuck to the hair shaft.

Check for live lice and nits. Work in strong light and section the hair. Use a fine-tooth comb (a pet flea comb works well) to find the insects and to comb them out if possible; or remove them using tweezers, your finger-nails, or a piece of tape wrapped around your finger, sticky side up. Adult lice are reddish-brown; nits are white or clear and adhere to the hair shaft. They do not jump or fly.

Check everyone in the household. Lice are very contagious.

Wash all bedding, recently used towels and recently worn clothing in hot water, and dry them in a hot dryer. Soak all combs and brushes in hot water for at least 10 minutes.

Treat eyelashes and eyebrows with a thick layer of petroleum jelly. Apply twice a day for 8 days. Never use any chemical treatment on eyelashes or eyebrows.

Try using olive oil or mayonnaise on the head. There is some evidence that it works by smothering the nits. Massage it into the hair and leave it in as long as possible. Manually comb out the nits after the olive oil or mayonnaise application.

Use a blow dryer, as heat can kill lice and nits. But exercise caution and avoid placing the dryer too close to the scalp.

Examine the hair daily to make sure that all nits and lice are gone. If you see more nits, it may mean that there are still lice in the hair or that re-infestation has occurred.

Report the presence of lice to your child’s school so the staff or faculty can check for an outbreak. Children with a lice infection should be kept home from school. They can return after the lice have been removed or have been treated with a commercial product.

Check with your pharmacist to make sure that any product you plan to use does not contain lindane. The National Pediculosis Association strongly advises against using lindane because it has been associated with a number of serious medical conditions, including seizures and possibly cancer.


  • If you don’t have access to a washer and dryer, isolate the infected clothes and bedding in a garbage bag for 2 weeks. The lice will die in this time period.

  • Avoid sharing hats, bicycle helmets, combs, brushes and clothing with anyone who may have lice. If you have lice, do not allow anyone to use your personal items.

  • Manual removal with a comb is the safest and often the most effective method of controlling lice.

  • Your doctor can prescribe a shampoo or cream that will kill lice or nits.