Ultimate Guide to Getting Rid of Lice

Fine-Toothed Comb

Fine-Toothed Comb

(Bonus Below: A Mother in Israel’s Ultimate Guide to Lice Removal)

“Are you going to post about the lice?,” asked my teenage daughter the other night.

I had noticed my 1st-grader scratching her head, and even though it’s been a few years we located a louse right away. Since the best method is thorough, frequent combing, I wasn’t looking forward to the experience. Especially when the subject has long hair and does not always get through daily routines in a timely and calm manner.

“I’ll comb it for you tonight,” my teen offered her sister (and me). The fact is that when you have dealt with lice enough times—they are extremely common here—they stop being repulsive and combing can even be relaxing. And at this point my daughter’s close vision is a lot better than mine. I suggested she offer her services to the public for a fee, but she said it was too boring.

When I advised my little girl to avoid putting her head near those of her friends, she was dismayed. “What, no secrets?”

A Mother in Israel’s Ultimate Guide to Lice Removal

There’s no need to wash pillowcases, brushes, or stuffed animals. Lice need a constant supply of food (blood from the scalp) to survive. Eggs could theoretically hatch away from the head, but the young would not survive for more than a few minutes.

It’s nearly impossible to kill or remove all the eggs in hair. So the key is to comb often enough to catch smaller lice as they hatch and grow, but before they become old enough to lay eggs. This gives you a window of about a week for each individual insect. If a louse lays an egg just before you combed for the first time, it will not hatch for another week. And at first they are so tiny you might miss it with the comb. Two days later, you are more likely to catch it.

Always check everyone in the family.

Two weeks of thorough combing usually does the trick:

  • One week to catch the live ones, big and small, while waiting for all of the eggs to hatch out.
  • Another few days until the smallest ones grow big enough to catch with the comb.
  • Add a couple of extra days in case you missed a few mature ones in the early days.
  • If you are still finding insects at the end of two weeks, continue to comb.

I don’t use rosemary or special shampoos, although some people swear by them. Lice are resistant to the shampoos, which generally don’t kill eggs.

There’s no need to buy separate lice combs for each child, just wash well and clean with an old toothbrush after use.

Combing Method:

Comb once every two days. You may prefer to comb every day at first, especially if there is heavy infestation.

  1. Wash the child’s hair and rub all over with about a half-teaspoon of conditioner.
  2. Use a wide-toothed comb to remove knots.
  3. Keep tissues or a small bucket of water for any lice you find.
  4. If you like, put a white towel over the child’s shoulders.
  5. Comb with a lice comb from the crown of the head to the ends of the hair. Repeat, moving in sections around the head until you get back where you started.
  6. Check the comb after each pass through the hair and remove any lice into the water or tissues.
  7. Be sure to comb from the scalp through to the ends of the hair.
  8. Comb the underside of the hair too.
  9. After a few days you will notice fewer insects, but remain vigilant. Don’t allow more than two or at most three days between combings. It’s normal to have a spike in the number of lice after a week or so.
  10. When there are fewer insects the combing will go faster, because you won’t spend as much time removing the lice from the comb.
  11. Drying with a hair-dryer kills eggs,  but I wouldn’t rely on that alone.

“A Daughter in Israel” adds:

  • Get the relatively inexpensive plastic comb that clicks open and closed. You can easily remove lice and eggs from it, and it’s comfortable for both comber and “combee.” The comb we use, Lochdan, is made in Israel by Regev.
  • Take special care to comb well around the ears.
  • Combing for lice requires a lot of patience.

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Comments

  1. Bli ayin hara a million times, we have not had this happen to us, but I read that lice and nits do not adhere well to hair that is dirty or has a lot of “product” on it. When I read that, I suddenly did not feel so irritated with my 12 year old for using what seems to be half a bottle of conditioner every time she washes her hair. And with super long, super curly hair, the combing would be very difficult.

  2. Tesyaa, I’m glad your daughter hasn’t had it, but I’m skeptical about that being the reason.

  3. I’m one of those who swear by the rosemary oil – a drop behind each ear and at the knape of the neck every single morning. We’ve gone years between episodes, and the recent one occurred when we forgot the rosemary oil. I’m convinced.

    I’m over the worst of my American-born ick factor (I used to literally gag at the first sight of one) but I’d take prevention over cure any day.

    When you do need to treat, instead of the harsh chemical shampoos we’ve had good luck with plain melted butter or margarine. Cheaper and a lot more environmentally- and kid-friendly, though it does make a bigger mess in the bathtub. To use, melt the butter/margarine (make sure it isn’t hot enough to burn) and work through the child’s hair with a wide-tooth comb. Wrap their hair in saran wrap and cover with a shower cap. Wait 20 minutes then comb with the lice comb. Shampoo (twice to get it all out). Repeat a week later.

    How I wish I didn’t know all this… Lice are absolutely endemic in this climate. Yuck. Yuck yuck yuck. (Ok, maybe I’m not completely over the trauma after all.)

  4. There was a period of time that I was known as the Lice Lady, being in charge of checking in our summer colony and in my girls elementary school. What I found of great help was good old fashioned white vinegar. After a thorough shampooing and rinse with plain water, saturate your head with the vinegar. It makes the hair too slick for the lice or nits to stick to and it’s far easier to get them combed out. You may smell like vinaigrette dressing for a bit, but that’s better than having the lice.

  5. In the UK last summer, I bought an electric lice comb. It has a small current through it, small enough that the combee doesn’t feel it (in theory – my kids complain about it nipping sometimes), but high enough to kill the lice. It also means that if you don’t get them all out the comb, they’re dead anyway. It emits a noise so you know if the lice is creating a circuit, it stops beeping until you clear it out.

    We’re halfway through clearing out one child from lice now. I’m dousing the others in rosemary every morning…

    • I dont know who told you that you dont need too wash that stuff because you are highly mistaken!

  6. “There’s no need to wash pillowcases, brushes, or stuffed animals.” Wish someone had told us that. The people that “helped” us told us to obsess over just that. Wish I had learned the comb method first.

    And yes, tons of conditioner is supposed to be protective against lice.

    I bought the rosemary, too. Not sure if it helped nearly as much as the comb, comb, comb.

  7. I think I have used just about every comb, shampoo, gadget, amulet and oil against lice in my 13 years of parenting. The absolute best comb in my experience is Licemeister (it’s a bit tricky to find, but you can mail-order it over the net).

    My kids hate combing, so a couple of weeks ago I promised I would show them any lice and nits we would find under our newly-purchased microscope. They loved it, but boy was that disgusting!

  8. I had to deal with this years ago. Once the play group teacher told me that one kid had lice, I found it on my daughter and on her siblings. I first used the toxic shampoos. But, as you said, it does not kill the eggs. I asked my pediatrician for advice. He recommended spreading petroleum jelly all over the hair and scalp and letting it sit for hours. It worked! But getting petroleum jelly out of hair takes a lot of washing. After this happened, I was told blow drying helps get the petroleum jelly out of the hair and that mayo can have the same smothering effect on the lice and nits.

  9. Two other notes: it must be fairly common in the US, as well. My daughters report lice checks at their school just about every 6 weeks.

  10. Ariella, of course it is common in the US. It is especially common after long vacation when people return home after visiting their Israeli cousins!

    Lice is so much easier here in Israel than in the states. For one thing, my daughter wasn’t allowed back in school until she was lice-and-nit free (on the other hand if Israeli schools had this policy we’d probably have alot less of a problem).

    My friend Pnina is a “professional” lice lady who has been been featured in the Jerusalm Post and the Yediot Achronot. She uses no chemical shampoos and, yes, Mom, her method is comb, comb, comb. She swears by Pantene conditioner, saying there is something about the consistency that makes it easier to comb out the hair.

    I invested and Assy 2000 comb because I was told it was the best. But I do feel that it breaks the hair and maybe is not so comfortable for the one daughter who seems who seems to be the one prone to this dreaded condition.

    And I am so much more relaxed about this now than I was in the states.

    But it’s still totally gross.

  11. Robin–with the butter plan two things concern me. 1) By the end of the week the child will be enormously itchy and 2) without frequent combing the child is more likely to infest family and friends.
    ProfK–I am going to try the vinegar next time we comb. I have heard that it helps nits slip off. I would think the smell dissipates quickly like it does after being used for cleaning.
    Ruth, haven’t invested in one of those yet.
    Leora, sorry you were given bad advice. Daughter in Israel disagrees with you about the conditioner, but it may depend on quantity.
    Leah, the disadvantage of the Lochdan is the relatively short teeth. I once had one with very long teeth and it made combing a little faster.
    Ariella, suffocating the lice also doesn’t help with nits. Full-page lice shampoo ads in major parenting magazines show it is a big concern.

  12. Baila, I think lice are common in non-Jewish school as well. I’m glad a pro agrees with my advice! Is the Assy the one with the round, long teeth and the rounded tips? I think that’ the one I lost.

  13. My three year old told me this morning that they learned in gan about the kinim that jump from one head to the other if girls don’t keep in their hair pins and pony tails. She claimed her friend Racheli was going to get lice because she took out her ponytail 🙂 That said she’s had lice 2x already this year! I’ve gotten Kincare from Moraz and it seems to help its a rosemary tree tea oil shampoo. BH my daughter lets me comb, comb away, she even wants to do it herself sometimes, once she eve found a louse!

    • Hi Yael, Not sure if you realize but other readers may not–the lice live near the scalp so long hair and ponytails don’t make a difference. They usually jump when the children’s heads are close together. Glad your daughter is so cooperative!

      • Leah Peretz says:

        Hannah, the lice crawl from one head to another. It’s a myth that they jump.
        I also comb only. Am not using any special shampoos nor vinegar.
        A problem with vinegar could be the stinging in wounds caused by the scratching, so when the child’s been scratching for a while, s/he’ll probably have wounds.

  14. I used the LiceMeister Comb, too. I ordered it from these folks: http://www.headlice.org/licemeister/index.htm
    But it looks like now you can get one on Amazon.

  15. Thanks, Leora. Here is the link to the Licemeister at Amazon: The Licemeister Comb
    (This link includes my affiliate code so if you end up buying it I will get a small commission.)

  16. I agree with MiI that combing often, and from the roots out, are the most important things in removing lice and nits. It works.

    Our family’s favorite lice comb:
    http://www.rafa.co.il/Index.asp?CategoryID=33&ArticleID=268

    Family’s favorite authoritative site about lice etc:
    http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/headlice.html

    We shouldn’t be plagued with anything worse!

  17. Oops, I didn’t write that clearly. Of course you still have to comb the child’s hair out with a good lice comb every day or at least every other day – the butter is only in place of the toxic shampoo, NOT in place of combing.

  18. Shimshonit says:

    Thanks for your advice. My neighbor, the week after we made aliyah, gave me “the talk.” Others told me to use olive oil, butter, mayonnaise … but those are only supposed to suffocate the lice, and require shampooing with Palmolive afterwards! I tried this once, but have stuck to frequent combing since.

    The Assy 2000 works well getting live ones and nits out, but my middle daughter has a very sensitive scalp, and it really hurts her when I comb her. I may look into the gentler comb for her.

  19. Robin, I agree with Shimshonit that if you are going to comb anyway the mayo or butter is not worth the mess.

  20. ProfK, I did try vinegar. Slightly harder to comb out knots than with conditioner. Otherwise it worked as well and the smell was gone by morning. And it’s cheaper.

  21. Chiming in to say that the combing (every night for at least 2-3 weeks) seems to be the only effective means of elimination.

    That being said, the first 2 evenings we do the comb out, I do apply a liberal amount of olive oil to the kids’ hair. Usually, I apply the olive oil (just enough to make the hair “wet”) and then stick a shower or swim cap on the kids hair and let them “marinate” for approximately 15-20 minutes. Olive oil is a great natural conditioner, and with copious amounts of curls to contend with, I find that it helps with the potential tangles AND allows both the knits and the comb move through the hair more effortlessly.

    We use vinegar between strokes to clean the comb. And we also joke that the child getting the “treatment” is the evening salad. 😛

    It is messier than a “bare” comb through. But no messier than the shrieks, tears, and yanked snarls of hair that we’ve experienced without…. And in addition to being an inexpensive and non-toxic solution, the kids’ hair is glorious for several weeks after (remember those VO5 hot oil treatments from when we were kids?)!

    Like many olim, the “yuck factor” doesn’t hit as hard now as when we first arrived, BUT!… let’s not forget it WAS one of the makot! (ugh!)

  22. 1. Mayo worked for my kids. Disgusting, but effective.

    2. Our family tradition, is that during the esser makot, we repeat “kinim”, over and and over again (making it about 15-20 makot).

    3. The ASSY 2000 (which we also own) is probably the dumbest name ever for a lice comb.

  23. okay….i’m itching while reading this post and all subsequent comments.

    i don’t think i’d ever get used to it.

  24. If you have the patience to comb, comb, comb, and you know what you are looking for you can get rid of lice yourself. If you don’t want to bother, you can call RoshNakki and they will do it for you

  25. Penina Neustadter says:

    Hi there, I am the Kinanit/Lice Lady of Israel. I have numerous clients that I check on a weekly basis. Then I have may families that I clean out and I clean out in an average of 2 hours (depending on the severity) and not one nit or louse is left! I will tell you my trick since I know that I can not clean out this entire country, the trick is to do a double technique of combing with conditioner, wash out the hair and THEN to do a visual re-check strand by strand!! No need for chemicals, no need to sleep in any product, just 10 shek conditioner, white paper towels, a good comb (I recommend the Assy 2000) and a pair of eyes!!

    The problem lies in the finer hairs on the head by the baby hairs of the bangs and nape of the neck. The comb is unable to grip the nits in these areas. It is totally possible to remove all the nits and lice in one session. Of course the more severe cases might take a few hours but once the lice and nits are out, please don’t forget to re-check every 2-3 days for new bugs that are picked up from school and friends. I call it getting it to baseline-zero. It is much easier to clean a head that is not swarming with lice and keeping it under control. Happy picking to all of you.

  26. Penina Neustadter says:

    Sure. A visual recheck strand by strand, is when every hair strand is looked over for any residual nits. As I mentioned, there are areas of the head that are prone to nits that the comb, any comb, will have a hard time grabbing onto them. Also, some nits are to small and the comb won’t grab a hold on them but they can be seen visually. Anyone can contact me at kinanit@gmail.com for any questions or to schedule an appointment to check or clean out your kids.

  27. Thanks, Penina. I don’t think you’ll lose any business by sharing your secrets! It takes a lot of time and patience to remove lice.

  28. Use cotton wool (tzmer gefen) to clean the comb after each swipe, as the creatures don’t always get caught in the tissue, and (ugh, disgusting…) they know how to crawl out of the tissue! And yes, combing with a liberal amount of conditioning is the way to go!

  29. Article was a breath of fresh air. I’ve instinctively focused on the combing, and not on the pillowcases and stuff, but always felt guilty. Now, as silly as this sounds, I feel empowered with my handy little lice comb. Lice beware!

  30. It seems as if I have tried everything, olive oil, mayo, even the pesticides, and combing. To think that the amount of money and time wasted could have easily afforded me a luxurious spa weekend. The Israeli lice are truly of the stubborn kind! I have had to resort to cutting my child’s hair really short. I cant understand why the schools dont take a more proactive approach. The kids should be encourages to come to school with a ponytail at the very least.

  31. We moved to Israel three weeks ago and we’re already dealing with lice. I had already bought a comb figuring that with school starting in a few weeks we would have to face it sooner or later. My daughter complained last night about an itchy head. Sure enough I saw some dark flecks at the base of her scalp. I washed her hair and applied a lot of conditioner to get out the tangles. Then I combed..Assy2000.. In the end I found one louse that was moving and a couple dozen of the dark little things clinging to her hairs around her ears, the top of her head and the base of her neck. So, what I want to know, is what stage did we catch it? Also, I itch just thinking about it, but I’ve had my husband check me and he couldn’t see anything. I have dandruff/dry scalp…so how can I be sure? Also, I cover my hair with scarves when I’m out and about, but not at home. Does this make a difference?

    • Welcome to Israel. A fairly late stage. But it doesn’t matter, it pays to comb every other day for two weeks no matter what. If you have lice you will eventually find them. I suspect you don’t and your hair itches from the hot weather. Good luck! May this be your biggest challenge. Shabbat shalom.

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