Few words strike as much mortal terror into the hearts of parents than “your child has head lice.”
Anyone with hair can get head lice. This is irrespective of age and gender. Children attending preschool and elementary school, as well as their caretakers and those in their household, have the highest risk of infestation.
What are Head Lice (Hair Lice)?
To survive, lice require human blood. They can survive for up to 30 days on the scalp. They lay three to five white eggs, known as nits, per day.
There have been no studies on the ability of hair dye to kill lice, but widespread anecdotal evidence suggests that it may. Hair dye, on the other hand, does not kill nits.
How hair dye affects lice
There are numerous types of hair dye. While regular hair dye does not kill lice, there are a few lice-killing hair dyes on the market. Permanent hair dye is the type of hair dye that kills lice.
Ammonia is present in permanent dye. Ammonia is an alkaline, corrosive chemical that emits a stinging gas. It is possible that this is why hair dye appears to be effective at killing lice.
Hydrogen peroxide, which is found in more permanent hair dye solutions, may also have an effect.
Nits are protected by encasing them in a hard shell. Hair dye chemicals are unable to penetrate this shell or detach the natural glue-like substance that holds the shells to the hair. As a result, hair dye is ineffective at removing nits before they hatch.
Does hair bleach kill lice?
Hair bleach contains chemicals, including ammonium persulfate, an oxidizer that removes color from hair. It also contains hydrogen and stearyl alcohol. These ingredients may help kill lice on the scalp, but, like dye, aren’t effective at exterminating nits.
How hair dye may kill lice
If you want to try to kill lice with hair dye, it is recommended that you repeat the process every week until the lice and nits are completely gone.
You should also combine hair coloring or bleaching with other removal methods, such as combing or using vinegar. Keep in mind that there is no current research to support the use of vinegar to kill lice or loosen the glue that holds nits to hair. According to anecdotal evidence, vinegar can kill immature lice.
If you’d like to try to use hair dye as a lice removal treatment, follow these steps:
- Start with vinegar. Saturate your entire scalp with a 50-50 solution of water and vinegar that has 5-percent acidity.
- Work the vinegar mixture down each hair shaft near the scalp, behind the ears, and at the nape of the neck.
- Leave the solution on your scalp for 5 to 15 minutes. If you experience a burning sensation, wash it off immediately.
- Rinse the vinegar and water solution from your hair thoroughly with warm water.
- Use a lice comb to remove as many nits and live lice as you can from your head. Clean and soak the lice comb in very hot water. Brushes and combs are a very common way of keeping lice alive and transmitting them.
- Make sure it’s completely free of lice and nits before reusing.
- Mix the hair dye according to package directions in a well-ventilated area.
- Saturate your scalp with hair dye. Concentrate on the same areas you focused on with the vinegar solution: the base of each hair, behind and around your ears, and at the base of your neck.
- Thoroughly rinse out the hair dye.
- Comb your hair again with a clean lice comb.
- Use a hot hair dryer to dry your hair. This may help kill off any lice left behind.
- If you’re unable to remove every nit within an inch or two of the scalp, you’ll likely have lice again in about seven days.
Dyed hair doesn’t repel lice and won’t stop you from becoming infested if you come in contact with head lice again.
Permanent dyes can cause chemical changes that affect your natural hair color. They can also irritate your scalp and cause allergic reactions. Side effects can occur on the scalp, neck, and face, including:
- hives or welts
These types of side effects may become more severe if you use hair dye or bleach products more often than intended. You may also damage your hair, causing it to thin or dry out if you use hair dye or bleach more than once a month.
When using these products, make sure to use the disposable gloves that typically come with them to protect your hands and other areas of the body that you might touch.
Make sure not to get any product into your eyes, nose, or mouth. It’s also important to avoid breathing in the fumes emitted by hair dyes. Always dye your hair in a well-ventilated area.
Hair dye and hair bleach aren’t recommended for use in children as a lice-removal treatment. Children’s hair is often finer in texture than adult hair, making it more prone to damage from the chemicals in dyes and bleaches. Children may also be more susceptible to chemical reactions affecting the scalp, hair, eyes, and airways.
Other lice treatments
There are almost as many at-home lice treatments as there are lice in an average infestation. You may have to experiment with several before you find the ones that work best for you.
Like many insects, some lice are becoming resistant to some tried-and-true treatments, such as medicated shampoos and stearyl alcohol. All home lice treatments require the manual removal of lice and nits with a fine-toothed lice comb.
Some common treatments include:
- Over-the-counter lice elimination kits, such as Nix, use varying types of insecticides, and some may not be appropriate for babies, toddlers, small children, and pregnant or breastfeeding women. Check with a doctor if you have concerns and follow package directions for safety.
- Coating the scalp with olive oil or mayonnaise may suffocate lice. This anecdotal remedy, which isn’t proven effective, requires that you leave these substances on the hair for 24 to 48 hours under a shower cap. It may help to braid long hair or pin it up after treating the scalp.
- Coconut oil hasn’t been scientifically proven to be effective, but it’s natural and nontoxic. To increase effectiveness, try using it after treating your hair with a vinegar solution.
- Essential oils, such as peppermint, lavender, or rosemary may repel lice. You can try using essential oils diluted with a carrier oil as a smothering treatment.
If at-home treatments such as Nix and diligent combing don’t work, talk to a doctor about prescription medications that may help.
Hair dye and bleach haven’t been scientifically proven to kill lice. However, anecdotal evidence indicates that they may be effective. They’re not, however, able to kill lice eggs, known as nits.
Other lice removal treatments will most likely be more effective. If you wish to try hair dye or bleach for lice removal, make sure to also use a lice comb to remove lice and nits, and continue to watch for leftover or live lice.