Lice might be teeny, but they strike fear into the hearts of parents everywhere. To take away at least a little bit of the panic, I asked a lice treatment professional all of the big questions about lice that parents want to know, touching on everything from lice prevention to facts, treatment, and cleaning tips.

This post is sponsored by Lice Free Noggins.

Nothing makes a parent’s skin crawl faster than hearing the dreaded L-word: lice.

The second the letter comes home from school, parents start itching. Every time your kid so much as brushes her hair out of her face, you lunge, combing through with your fingers in an effort to find the little critters you are sure have taken up residence there.

So far, we’ve had lice once and I still have nightmares thinking about it. Both girls and I ended up with it and I spent weeks combing through our hair and cleaning every surface in our house I could think of. By the end of our ordeal, I was ready to shave our heads and move, leaving all of our belongings behind so that no little creatures could hitch a ride with us.

Figuring it doesn’t have to be that dramatic an experience, I decided to talk to a lice professional and ask her every single question I could think of about the little buggers. Lena Gorelik, founder of Lice Free Noggins, was kind enough to answer all of my neurotic questions without making me feel like an idiot.

What’s the best thing you can do when you get the dreaded note that someone in your kid’s class has lice?

Take a deep breath, don’t panic, and most important, don’t let the itch creep up on you. In most cases, when a parent receives the dreaded letter, they take a quick glance at their child’s hair, don’t see anything, take a big sigh of relief and move on. Wrong move.

Lice are photophobic and will quickly move away from the light when a child’s hair is spread during a visual inspection. In a very new and mild case, where only one louse is present, it is very difficult to detect a positive case visually. For this reason, when a parent is notified that someone their child has had contact with has lice, it is best to either continuously check their hair visually over the course of two weeks or to do a thorough comb-out check. A comb-out check is the most effective way to detect head lice, even at the earliest of infestations.

Do lice prevention shampoos actually work?

Yes and no. A lice prevention shampoo repels head lice through the use of strong essential oils. If the parent washes their child’s hair on a daily morning basis, which of course no one does, then perhaps the shampoo would be effective as the smell of repelling oils would remain strong enough throughout most of the day. However, if the shampoo is used in the evening or after school, unfortunately, the repelling properties would not be strong enough to keep head lice at bay the next day.

In order to prevent head lice, I recommend several strategies to my clients. Primarily, it is important to break the bridge of potential head-to-head or hair-to-hair contact by keeping hair up. If possible, braids and buns are the preferred choice when it comes to lice prevention. A good lice repellent spray should be applied daily before school and reapplied after school if attending extracurricular activities. Adding gel or hairspray is an additional barrier against lice and is recommended in order to maximize the chance of staying lice free.

What are common ways that kids get lice?

Head lice is primarily spread through head-to-head contact. It takes just several seconds of hair contact for a louse to transfer over to their new host. Since young children do not have a good grasp on personal space, they are usually the ones most frequently afflicted with head lice.

Head lice also spreads through the use of personal objects, such as hair accessories, hats, and pillows. This mode of transfer is less common as head lice do not willingly come off their host to move to inanimate objects.

Is it true that lice don’t “like” dirty hair?

It is true that head lice have a harder time grasping onto dirty hair as dirty hair is oily. This doesn’t mean that dirty hair is automatically exempt from head lice as they do not discriminate. Given the opportunity, a louse will gladly make a home on anyone’s head which has hair and warmth for their nits to incubate.

What should you look for if you suspect that your kid has lice?

Identifying head lice can be tricky, especially for first-timers. When looking for signs of lice, I suggest looking for nits (eggs) which would be firmly attached to the hair shaft. Nits appear as brownish-grayish teardrops which do not easily move or change shape when touched. Nits are never white in color and should not be confused with normal hair findings such as hair casts or sebum buildup.

What should you do if you find lice?

Finding head lice usually turns into a stressful ordeal, when it does not need to. First, you should decide how you want to go about treating it. I am strongly against applying chemicals on my children and would advise others not to go that route when dealing with lice. There are many safe and gentle ways of ridding the pesky problem without the use of harsh chemicals.

Everything You Need to Know About Lice - from professionals

I hate the idea of slathering chemical pesticides all over my kids’ heads too. What safe, natural options actually work?

Over-the-counter lice shampoos are not only toxic to a developing child’s neuro system but are also frequently ineffective. Lice shampoos and products do absolutely nothing for the nits (eggs). This is important to realize because regardless of which product you use, organic or toxic, the nits must be manually removed. If a viable nit is left behind, the infestation will persist.

There are many natural products which may work to kill live lice. At Lice Free Noggins, we use a natural Lice Free Noggins Comb Out Spray which suffocates live lice while working to dissolve the nit glue, making the combing process easier. To successfully rid an individual of head lice, you have to be equipped with a good stainless steel nit comb (I prefer the Nit Terminator Comb) and lots of patience.

Do home remedies like mayo, oils or vinegar work?

The idea behind applying home remedies to combat lice is one I hear on a daily basis. In theory, yes, home remedies work in killing live lice. When a substance, such as olive oil or mayo, are applied to the hair and left under a shower cap for 8+ hours, live lice should suffocate as they can only hold their breath for up to 8 hours. Yes, they are certainly resilient little buggers. If the case is extremely mild, where no nits have yet been laid, the lice infestation should cease. However, if nits are present, the home remedy would have done nothing to aid in their removal. Nits must be removed manually.

I never recommend the use of shower caps on children overnight. This can pose more harm and danger than benefit.

At what point should you call in the professionals?

A lice professional should be called when the idea of treating head lice is just too overwhelming or when you have tried it all and the lice still persist.

How do you make sure your home is lice-free?

After being treated for head lice, it is important to clean inanimate objects which the affected individual may have had direct head contact with. All bedding, towels, and robes should be laundered. Stuffed toys which are in the bed should either be bagged for up to two days or go into the dryer on a high heat cycle. Hair accessories do not need to be thrown out. The loose hair strands should be picked and thrown out while the hair accessories should be placed in a ziplock bag and into the freezer for overnight. Boiling hair accessories is also effective. Surfaces, such as rugs, couches, strollers and car seats should be vacuumed. And of course, do not forget to clean any hats that may have been worn over the last two days.

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Lena, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us and dispelling any myths we may have been holding on to. Knowledge is power and I for one feel a little more prepared for the next time the school sends home a lice letter.

If you have any questions for Lena about lice or lice removal, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Lice Removal Treatment Service Brooklyn NY

Lice Free Noggins provides families with in-home head lice removal services, which are thorough, discreet and professional. They focus on providing the highest quality service by following a standardized lice removal system. They have treated thousands of families in the NYC metro area and their technicians are experts at making kids comfortable and the process quick, fun, and pain-free. They also provide a free online diagnosis.

Psssst. Check out my favorite quick and easy fancy pigtails tutorial. Also, read about how I went shampoo free.

Written by Jennifer Garry
Jen is a freelance writer and girl mom from New York. When she's not knee-deep in glittery crafts and girl talk, you can probably find her sprawled across her couch in the middle of a Netflix marathon with dark chocolate smeared on her face. The struggle is real.