Just the thought of bugs crawling in your hair is enough to send anyone racing to the bath tub armed with bottles of lice-killing treatments. But wait! Before you treat, take a seat, take a breath, and get the facts of head lice.

Head lice are a common problem, with more than two million Canadians experiencing head lice annually. There is quite a market mostly dominated by the sale of head lice treatments that contain pesticide or other chemical compounds. These are toxic to lice and pose potential danger to humans and the environment if over used or abused. Children who are still developing or those who may have an underlying health issue should not be exposed to high levels of pesticide.  Although the levels in most of these over the counter remedies is low the potential risk comes from their over use and abuse when they fail to work as directed.   

Head Lice Removal Options

Shampoo and cleaning products made with preformed enzymes as the active ingredient are a great solution to products that rely on chemical or pesticide actions to kill bugs. These naturally occurring plants enzymes are safe for human use and are environmentally friendly. They are biodegradable and do not pollute the water system. Their action is mechanical and used in combination with reduction combing and environmental cleaning offer superior results.

The most important step in lice eradication is to systematically interrupt their life cycles by the removal of lice eggs. Systematic combing in combination with enzyme shampoo and environmental cleaning applications will ensure that the life cycle of the louse is broken and the case is completely eradicated.

What do Head Lice Look Like?

The hallmark symptom of head lice is an itchy head. It’s a severe itch, and parents often report children who wake up at night complaining of an itchy head. The itching is a reaction to the louse’s saliva which is left behind after feeding. However, itching is not always present, so you must do a proper inspection before you purchase head lice products or proceed with treatments.

Lice are about the size of a sesame seed and are grey-brown in colour. They are wingless and have six legs located at the front part of their bodies. They also do not hop, jump or fly. Lice eggs are tear-drop shaped, brown in color and are attached to the hair shaft. Viable eggs are typically found on the hair close to the scalp. Dead or empty hatched eggs are opaque and are referred to as nits.  These are found further down the hair shaft and are usually paler and may seem white but they are really clear egg sacks.  

Other debris found in hair includes flaky skin from the scalp, fluff, sand or dirt, hairspray residue and so on.  There are also common hair debris that get mistaken for lice eggs and these are called hair casts and DEC plugs. The true indicator if it is a nit or not is nits are attached to only one side of the hair shaft. A pocket microscope or a magnifying glass could clear up any confusion about what you are finding in the hair.   Great tools for diagnosing are a visor with a light attached or a nit magnifier.  These are sold through The Lice Squad Canada store.  

The internet is a great source of photos of the small insects and their tiny eggs but be careful of false product claims and odd remedies associated with some sites. There are far too many opinions on how to deal with lice and the conflicting information may leave you more confused or worse broke from buying too good to be true remedies.

Using tweezers pull a louse and an egg from the hair, tape it to a white sheet of paper and examine it, comparing these with photos from the web. Use a magnification tool to help you. If you are still not sure send your samples to a reputable lice removal company such as Lice Squad Canada for a free nit diagnosis.