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Head Lice (Leave Mommy alone, She's Shaking in the Corner)

CDC Headlice PhotoI was a green mom until the lice came. When I saw the first louse I thought, “My goodness, get me some chemicals.” There were parasitic beings suckling on my child’s scalp. After sitting down and crying for a minute (twenty perhaps), I pulled myself together, grabbed a cup of wine and did what every rational mother does.

I called my mom.

Nothing, she had no advice for me. “Ask your brother, one of his girls had it a few times,” was her only bit of help. I call my brother who chortles, “Ha ha, it’s your turn to throw everything out.” I could hardly reply, I thought I was talking but the words wouldn’t come out. He continued, “Call the Doctor and get a prescription.”

So. Not. Funny. I love clean. I adore a clean and spotless house. When my windows glisten I beam with pride. Now I have a child with bugs in their hair. I call the doctor for the prescription, who am I to reinvent the wheel?

A few hours later I’m on the phone with the Pediatrician and our conversation goes exactly like this:

blah blah Shampoo no conditioner blah blah put the medicine on blah blah comb for the lice blah blah get 100% of the nits out blah blah clothing laundry blah blah blah blah there is no shame in this you aren’t a bad mother but people will think you are blah blah Malathion.

It’s my truth, leave me alone.

In reality the Pediatrician gave me the basic head lice rundown which is found all over the net (here’s what the CDC has to say). Kill them, brush hair with a nit comb for anywhere from one to eight hours, collect nits in plastic bag, launder everything in hot water and repeat… endlessly. Like Caroline Savery, I am a fan of Western Medicine. I’ve been known to taunt my mother for her excessive use of tuning forks in healing her wounds, but when I heard Malathion I stopped listening. I knew that whatever prescription the doctor phoned in would go unfilled, and that I would be on the hunt for a natural remedy.

Google headlice and you’ll find a host of natural remedies. I suspect that most of them are really great and simply getting your hands on them in the middle of an outbreak is the biggest problem. I was literally paralyzed; I couldn’t leave the house because I was overwhelmed with fits of hysteria.

I’ll give you the short version, because the trauma is still fresh. I combed my child’s hair for 11 hours over the course of one evening and a day. I used combinations of olive oil and organic hair conditioner. Between the eleventh and twelfth hours I cried for about 20 minutes and then I called The Picky Mom and stood around feeling inadequate while someone else took over my parenting duties. If I had a limitless bank account I’d recommend calling someone like The Picky Mom in your community within the first hour.

In less than 72 hours and my washer and dryer have hardly had a moment to cool down. I’ve washed just about everything we own on high heat and then put it through the dryer. I’ve used bundles of paper towels and rubber gloves. My families’ carbon footprint this week exceeds what is reasonable, and I feel awful about that. There are little victories though, I didn’t rub carcinogens into my child’s head, I met a most remarkable woman and we eliminated every bug and nit within three days.

Now I need a nap, because parenting isn’t for sissies.


  1. Ugh! I am so dreading my first encounter as a mom with head lice. I know most kids get them eventually, and I hope I can fight them off so successfully too. Ideally before they somehow get into my hair too. My sister had to deal with that when her daughter had head lice. She said her head itched from the memory for months!

  2. Don’t feel bad, they freak me out too. I break out the chemicals too (I’ve had to do it twice, but luckily caught them before their were a lot of nits to pick out). I’ve seen so many children who just get re-infested over and over and over again because their parents just don’t know how to completely get rid of all of them.

  3. You are a wonderful mom. It was somebody else that was a bad mom, their kids got head lice and gave them to your beautiful children….. You are a saint in my book. I would have given up LONGGGGGG before 11 hours!

  4. Actually I never did fill the prescription. Olive oil, conditioner and un-manicured fingernails did the trick.

  5. Susan Quill says:


    Good for you for not giving in to the temptations of chemicals. We initally did and they did NOT work for us. Most of the chemical shampoos do not kill the eggs so they say to reapply in 7 to 10 days. By that point, sanity had prevailed and we found a natural solution and the Terminator nit comb to use (both made by NitFree) that saved us and allowed us to ditch the chemicals and the cheap comb that came with them.

    I actually carry the comb with me on vacation now just in case and every time the “Lice Letter” comes home I do a quick comb through of my girl’s hair and we keep a bottle of NitFree chemical-free Mousse on hand so we are not tempted to go out and buy the chemical stuff in our feverish rage to get rid of them as quickly as possible.

    I am in Canada so we got our NitFree stuff at http://www.nitfree.ca but I think they also sell in US and Internationally through http://www.kleen-free.com. If I should nto have posted those links, please delete them as I do not want to sound like a shill for the company. I am just really impressed by theri products and they saved me, my fingernails and my sanity!

  6. How aweful! I think it is so cool you resisted those chems and did it with natural remedies! The commenter above is right- chemicals never kill parasite eggs and you end up having to re-do over and over. You are certainly not dirty or a bad mom, most fleas & lice LOVE clean hair! When I was in 3rd grade my very OCD mom nearly croaked when she found fleas in my obscenely clean hair after visiting a dirty vet clinic. I wish she had your patience and would have used natural solutions.

  7. oh that is horrible!! when we had moved to a new state, new neighborhood, new friends our first sleepover with a friend gave us all lice, all 5 of us. With my mom being a clean freak it was horrible, oh it was horrible :(

  8. We have battled this off and on for months. My step-children keep bringing it back to our house because my husbands ex doesn’t do laundry she just sprays everything with the chemical spray and leaves it. My 15 year-old is allergic to the chemicals and nearly lost her hair from the precribed shampoo. Upside is
    I’m finding alot of success with mayo and /or olive oil and washing and drying everything in site but I’ve had to limit the triplets from other siblings rooms because they come back to our home every other week invested again. What a nightmare! I’d love to give the ex some house keeping lessons and tips on prevention. I’ll have settle for praying for her to figure it out.

  9. Zenbohemian says:

    Three of my five were infested the year we lived in south florida. tried chemicals, tried the combs. kept coming back. until the day we saturated their heads with olive oil, stuck a shower cap over them, wrapped their naked bodies in sheets for warmth (white so we could see if anything jumped off), and had them sit in the bathtub watching a portable dvd for forty minutes. then the combing out, took two of us only two hours (kids watched three hours of dvds and ate four bags of candy to keep the peace-well worth it!) They haven’t had it again since we moved, now I use tea tree oil shampoo as a repellent during the lice season. The olive oil was my savior, even if it took multiple treatments i wouldn’t mind. it does take a buttload of shampooing to get the hair not greasy afterwards, but leaves it nice and shiny for weeks.

  10. Zen, I haven’t cooked with Olive oil in weeks. It’s the saddest thing ever… oh well, it killed the little stinkers.

    Cat, I’m speechless. The thought of getting rid of them only to get them back. Argh.

    Vanessa, I love your mother already. Did you say clean freak?

    Leslie, I’m sure I’m making other wretched mistakes with my children… no worries, they’ll have stories to tell.

    Susan, I’m leaving the links. Why reinvent the wheel?

  11. Over the counter remedies are dangerous enough and they don’t work. Prescription remedies are even more dangerous. After a month of battling we chose to shave heads in our house. Both boys and my husband shaved out of solidarity (even though it was just one boy with the problem). I endured mayo treatments just in case.

    My advice, at the very first sign – shave the kid’s head to 1/4 inch.(of course, I’ve got boys, don’t know if I would do it to a girl). Wash and dry everything in hot water and do it daily for two weeks. Check hair every day for two weeks.

    If we had done this at first it would have saved a lot of heartache and been much more eco-friendly and safe than the two over the counter treatments we gave our son, all of the pillows that we ended up throwing away and replacing, and the extra loads of laundry because it came back.

    It’s not easy. It took me a while to realize harsh measures had to be taken. But once I made the decision, I felt the first peace I had felt in weeks.

    I can really relate to Jessica’s mental state over it. It’s amazing the amount of stress it causes.

  12. Great read, I really enjoyed it. I will be coming back for sure. By the way, if you are interested in skin care products, then you should check out Tripeptinon. It works Great. 😀

  13. Well said, finally a good report on this stuff

  14. Nicely put I agree for the most part, I’ve book marked the site, I’ll be back and see what you have to say

  15. I don’t usually post a reply but this is good work keep it up…

  16. Great work! I also have my own blog I just find it hard to write quality content like this.
    I guess I really don’t have the time.

  17. Wow, don’t even get me started with lice. They RAVAGED out family a few years ago also. I was THISCLOSE to shaving off my daughters hair, but yeah, those brown pouty eyes just wouldn’t let me do it.

    I know what you mean! It is really hard to stay “Natural” when trying to kill these things, seemed like nothing would ever work right? The truth is that there is no “money” in having the doctors tell us the truth, but they get a HUGE payoff (kickback) when they promote their products. Honestly though, doctors do that w/ everything. They just aren’t into natural at all for any problem…look at the huge medication business itself…when you sometimes just need to eat better quality of foods and exercise more. But that’s a different story…nutrition can sometimes take the place of medications is all I’m saying.

    And of course being “dirty” has NOTHING to do w/ how lice operate. They like you cleaner the better….after all your head is their condo…

    Great article! Thanks for sharing.


  18. me too, me too!! I hate the lice. What a horrible experience, right? Sorry you had to go through it too, but it seems if you have a child in elementary school they are BOUND to get it at some point.

    I think the teachers in 1st period should do very quick spot head checks…it would keep the spreading down. By the time the nurse finds out, its too late..and has spread to dozens of kids.


  19. go through it too, but it seems if you have a child in elementary school they are BOUND to get it at some point.

    I think the teachers in 1st period should do very quick spot head checks…it would keep the spreading down. By the time the nurse finds out, its too late..and has spread to dozens of kids.

  20. Ewww…lice are little bugs from heck…if you know what i mean, so hard to kill the little guys. Spot checking is a super idea. I 2nd that!! Get them out of our schools, please.


  21. I know this post is old but I found this when googling lice treatments. My daughter had them. I used Rid, DIDN”T work at all! I was combing live bugs after treating and the comb sucks, was so hard to comb her hair! The next morning- I saw more lice (!!!) so I used Nix- later that day -still bugs in her hair!!!!!!!!! Her poor head! I felt so bad for subjecting her to unneeded worthless chemicals!! I called a lice technician who combs hundreds of kids and she directed me to this youtube video (not her video but made by another lice technician in New York) All you need to do us buy a long toothed metal lice comb ($5.oo walgreens) Pantene conditioner $4, baking soda $1 and paper towels $2. Spray bottle for water. I was told I could skip the lice shampoo because combing was the real key, if you do want one, they sell non toxic lice shampoos at pharmacies- No worries about plastic bags for the bugs you comb, just throw them in the trash with the paper towels- they can’t get away covered in conditioner bring the trash out right away. I combed for 90 minutes with pantene/baking soda and wow does it work! You know you are done combing when you continue to comb and no more bugs/nits come out- they are so easy to see in the white conditioner, I combed out 50+ tiny nymphs and a few adults- ack!!!!!!!! The eggs came right off this way too, it’s not nearly as greasy as olive oil either and I would guess it works better only because you can see the bugs- I combed 3 days in a row- 1st day got 98% of them (thought I got them all but the 2nd morning I combed 30 minutes, got 2 nymphs and 2 eggs- 3rd day nothing- I combed every 2-3 days for 2 weeks for 30 minutes and never found another sign of them- now I spot check once a week using the conditioner- just 5 minutes near the back of her head just to make sure they haven’t come back (she got them at school, I have no idea from who so just in case I keep checking with the comb/conditioner! ) Lice don’t survive more than 1-3 days off a human so I washed all the bedding in everyone’s rooms, had my daughter sleep on an air mattress for 3 nights on the living room floor (threw the sheets/pillow in the dryer every day for those days) no one sat on the couches for 3 days- I vacuumed the house and car daily. The eggs can’t live off a head, they need the warmth so when you read about bagging everything for weeks it’s not needed- First 36 hours most live lice will die away from their host it’s rare they make it past that but a small % can survive 3 days…so 3 days we spent most of our time away from the house- That did it! Hope this youtube video helps, I learned so much on how to do the comb outs -and it really is just as easy at it looks in the video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGsI6xuMalM

  22. Mommabeans says:

    Ann, even you went too far. There was no need to wash everything. Just put the bed clothes, including pillow in case, any blankets or pillows from the couches, into the dryer on high heat for one hour. Lice won’t even lay eggs off the head, so the “eggs won’t live off the head,” statement was moot. LICE won’t live off the head for more than 24 hrs. The eggs, once laid, won’t fall off the hair strands onto your furniture or bedding. Although, vacuuming the area where you were combing is recommended, to get any eggs that might have dropped, but even still, without a hair to cling to and a head to feed off of, the new hatchlings won’t last, so even that is unnecessary. Baking soda, also not necessary. I have, and do use windex to loosen SOME of the eggs but since I’m aware that NOTHING will remove all eggs, it’s really just “comfort” thing for me. Douse the hair with windex(helps dissolve the glue on the eggs), comb though with a nit comb(after removing tangles first), leave on at least 10 minutes but do not let dry. Wash with regular shampoo, then use conditioner, ANY conditioner, cheap dollar store conditioner works just fine, then comb the conditioner through with nit comb(again, after removing tangles). Comb until you are getting no more bugs or nymphs. Repeat process every day. Depending on the severity of your infestation, and your diligence, it could take 10 days to a month to completely be rid of the infestation. No need to put anyone on an air mattress. Lice don’t live in mattresses. They won’t be inside the mattress laying eggs and re-infesting. The idea is to get the juveniles out before they mature and lay more eggs and to remove any egg laying adults so they don’t lay more. Eggs hatch every day, and you will have lice of all stages of development in your hair, so a daily condition/comb is necessary to get them all. No air mattresses, no hot water washes, no plastic bags. Just keep your long hair tied up so it doesn’t touch each other hair, and kill off any nymphs with the hot dryer.


  1. […] July 22, 2008 at 3:57 pm · Filed under Green Options ·Tagged Head Lice, Jessica Gottlieb, Parenting, Writing I’m at Green Options today talking about head lice. […]

  2. […] may or may not remember my head lice trauma. If you don’t recall, the journey begins here. Unfortunately it continued here (careful I cuss a lot). I learned a lesson, it’s a horrible […]

  3. […] remember reading Jessica Gotlieb’s post about her lice experience and laughing but now I can relate and it certainly is not funny.  I was totally unprepared. I wish […]

  4. […] during high risk for constrictive this parasite.  I immediately reread Jessica Gottlieb’s post Head Lice (Leave Mommy alone, She’s Shaking in a Corner) and sent my kids to propagandize with tea tree oil sprinkled in their […]

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