What are lice?

Lice are bugs that feed on blood and normally are found on the scalp and in the hair. They take around 2 weeks to turn into adults and are the size of a sesame seed.

Infestation can happen quickly at 4 to 6 weeks after exposure to lice.

Within the United States lice is most common in children aged 3-11 years old; with approximately 6-12 million cases occurring every year!

How does one get head lice?

Head lice is spread through direct contact with the hair of an infested person.

In children, lice can easily be spread at:

  • School
  • Playgrounds
  • Camps
  • Sports activities
  • Slumber parties

Children should be taught to avoid head to head contact when playing and to not share hair products or hats/helmets.

How to prevent head lice?

To prevent head lice it is recommended for people to follow some of these good practices 

  • Periodically disinfect combs and brushes by soaking them in hot water for at least 5 to 1 minutes 
  • Clean items that were in contact with the head of a person with head lice in hot water and high heat when drying machine washable items.
    • If items are not machine washable enclose them in a plastic bag for 2 weeks in order to ensure the lice have died 
  • Avoid laying or sharing a bed, couch, pillow, or stuffed animal that was in contact with a person that has head lice
  • If someone in your family had lice, make sure everyone in the family gets checked for lice a couple of weeks after treatment 

Signs that you may have head lice

In mild cases, you may not notice any symptoms of lice, but after 4-6 weeks you may experience:

  • Itching 
  • A feeling of something moving on the scalp and strands of hair
  • Sores on the head from scratching

Once lice is confirmed, there are both OTC and prescription options for treatment.

How is head lice treated?

Lice medication is also called pediculicide and can come in the form of a shampoo, conditioner, or lotions. These medications will kill the lice and some products can also target the eggs of the lice without damaging the hair.

Some common OTC medications are:

  • Nix
  • Rid 
  • Triple X

Home remedies, such as mayonnaise, vinegar, and coconut oil are not as effective in getting rid of head lice and should not be used. 

How do I use head lice treatment?

  • First, wash the hair with a regular shampoo and towel dry (your hair should be damp)
  • Apply the anti-lice treatment immediately after 
  • Pour the full bottle or 60 mL of the anti-lice treatment into damp hair. People with long hair may need to use 2 bottles.
  • Work the creme into all the hair down to the roots until there is a lather.
  • Leave the shampoo on for a full 10 minutes. If you don’t, it won’t kill all the lice.
  •  Rinse the hair with water and dry.
  • Repeat the anti-lice shampoo in 9 days. This second treatment will kill any new lice that have hatched.

Written by:
Aminah McDougald, PharmD Candidate 2024
Philadelphia College of Pharmacy
St. Joseph’s University


“CDC – Lice – Head Lice.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 June 2023, www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/index.html