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Olive Oil Treatment: Get Rid of Head Lice Naturally

Head lice (Pediculus humanus capitis)

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Well, it has happened.  My daughter’s best friend had head lice, which of course puts my family at high risk for contracting this parasite.  I immediately reread Jessica Gottlieb’s post Head Lice (Leave Mommy alone, She’s Shaking in the Corner) and sent my kids to school with tea tree oil sprinkled in their hair.

Head lice causes many natural families to resort to chemicals, but you don’t need to.  There are a lot of weird things people try in order to get rid of it (mayonnaise, kerosene [do not try this!].  The most common over the counter solutions are pediculicide containing shampoo, which Pediatrics call non-toxic. Other lice remedies contain the neurotoxins permethrin, pyrethrin, or malathion.  Even though pyrethrin and permethrin are naturally-derived from chrysanthemum flowers, its use should be avoided in children for obvious reasons.  Furthermore, head lice is becoming resistant to these chemical, toxic solutions.

According to Harvard Medical School:

Head lice are tiny insects that go by the big name Pediculus humanus capitis. They thrive in the warm tangle of human hair, feeding off blood in the scalp and breeding with abandon. A female lays eggs called nits that she attaches to strands of hair. Nits hatch after about eight days, become adults in another week or so, feed for awhile, then begin to make more lice.

What to do

First off, here’s what not to do: don’t shave your or your child’s head, or coat it with petroleum jelly or mayonnaise or anything else designed to “suffocate” the parasite. You’ll probably end up with greasy, smelly, lice-infested hair…

If you are worried about chemicals, don’t ignore the value of a nit comb. A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2005 showed that combing out the hair with a fine-toothed comb (the “Bug Buster”) immediately after using conditioner worked better than a single treatment of an over-the-counter insecticide.

A natural, effective solution does exist for removing and killing head lice nits:  Olive oil!

You can get rid of head lice naturally.  It just takes repeated, vigilant practice.  Follow these steps:

  1. Treat the infected persons environment by cleaning clothing and bedding.  Stuffed animals can be bagged for three weeks or placed in the dryer for 20 minutes.  Pediatrics suggests:

    1) Clean all of the subject’s combs and brushes at home, by either putting them through a dishwasher cycle or soaking them for 10 minutes in isopropyl alcohol. 2) Change the subject’s clothes to fresh clothes. 3) Heat the subject’s pillowcase, sheets, blankets, comforter, and bedspreads in the dryer for 10 minutes and then put them back on the bed.

  2. Apply olive oil all over the child’s head and scalp.  Cover with a plastic bag or shower cap for two to three hours.
  3. Comb the hair with a nit comb section by section.
  4. Wash hair.
  5. Repeat on days 1, 5, 9, 13, 17, and 21.  Lice has a three-week life cycle.

Be sure you check everyone in your family and treat accordingly.

Olive oil works to suffocate the adult bugs.  It can be reapplied without worrying about toxicity, and it works on bugs that would be resistant and thus unresponsive to repeated chemical applications.


  1. Jennifer,
    Nice overview, but sadly you’re perpetuating some misinformation posted by others. For instance, olive oil or other such substance really hasn’t been well tested as a means to treat head lice. It is likely that you could just use a cheap generic conditioner to serve as a lubricant if you’re relying upon combing. It is not clear that it really is useful to suffocate lice or their eggs. Next, there’s no reason to bag toys, clothing or other objects. Head lice and their eggs just don’t survive long off a person’s scalp. Extensive washing of combs is not necessary. Just run the comb under hot water for a few seconds. If the water is too hot for rinsing your hands for more than a second, it is likely hot enough to ‘cook’ the lice and their eggs in just a few more seconds. Regarding pesticides, you suggest that they should be avoided for ‘obvious reasons’. It is not clear to me why you make that statement. If selected carefully and applied properly, those products can offer far more benefit than risk to a child. Furthermore, they’re far more likely to lead to success than by using olive oil. Far more educational information that I formerly hosted at the Harvard School of Public Health is now freely available at my website.

    • Jennifer Lance says:

      Can you post a link to your website?

      • Jennifer,
        The link should be active if you click on my name, but in the event it is not, then here it is: https://identify.us.com
        Thanks for asking.

        • Notfromharvard says:

          Olive Oil, Coconut Oil – very much so works – my daughter had lice from her school using the head phones there. I treated her with cold virgin pressed Olive Oil. I soaked her hair from scalp to tip of all 18 inches. after 1 hour, over 25 dead, not moving, very dead lice came out of the comb. and a few adult sized lice not being able to navigate effectively in the hair with the Olive oil came out of the comb. Then I go through her hair for the nits. I spend up to two hours expelling the eggs, by pulling them off the strands, and disposing of them. I then flat iron her hair that goes up to 400 degrees – in very thin sections that completely kills any eggs I missed on her long hair. and I repeat the treatment just incase once a month ever since. This article is absolutely correct as the lice can’t survive in Olive Oil. I don’t need a research or study on it, my own testiment alone stands as true reason to use Olive oil, but you can’t expect it to work if you use a table spoon. be prepared to use at least 2 cups comb it through the hair starting at the scalp and make sure every part of the scalp to ends of hair has been drenched in cold pressed extra virgin Olive oil. She has been lice free from the day I treated her since and has been over 6 months now.

  2. NICOLE ROSE says:

    We use Fairy Tales Lice Good Bye to treat head lice in our family and now use Rosemary Repel products to help prevent re-infestation. http://www.fairytaleshaircare.com

  3. With over 20 years of experience and tens of thousands of satisfied clients, LiceBustersNYC.com has set the standard in the business of head lice removal. We have been Featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, WNYC.org, WNYC820am, WNYC 93.9 fm, Child Magazine, AM New York, Time Out New York, CBS, The Daily News, The Jewish Week, The Jewish Chronicle, and many prestigious blogs have rendered a unanimous verdict: CEO Dalya Harel’s lice treatment is legendary. LiceBusters.co

  4. clare hayward says:

    i have had to de-lice my 3 kids 7 times in the space of two months, i know my son got them from school as my twin daughters are too young for nursery yet, the whole summer holidays i was trying to get rid of them i finally did with the use of an electric comb and oil based nit solution witch was very greasy and dripped all over!, now my son as just gone back to school after the summer holidays, hes only been back a week today and i am yet again having to de-lice all my kids,i think there really needs to be a nit nurse again as the letters sent out to parents have not worked, and i hear so many different ideas to kill them i dont know what to believe anymore!.

    • Jennifer Lance says:

      Our school has a zero nit policy. Kids are checked when returning. Periodic checks of every student occur throughout the year.

  5. linda diamond says:

    hi my name is linda, i have a problem at daycare my child keeps getting sent home because of nits and headlice. we put treatment on her head and comb her hair til they are gone but she gets them again.

    • Linda,

      There are a few explanations for what you’ve described.

      1. The ‘lice’ and ‘nits’ found on your child may really be something else. I’d encourage you to sample a few and send them my way for an independent evaluation. If they’re lice, then I’ll confirm that. If they’re really something else, then this would be good for you to know.

      2. If your child continues to present with bona fide lice, then it may be because you’ve never eliminated them. The treatments you’ve been using may simply not have worked (perhaps because of resistance), and you might be wise to explore other products that would not be so affected by that problem. Alternatively, it may be that your treatments have been effective, but that your child continues to acquire lice from another child or adult (including someone in the home).

      Sending kids home from school or day care because of head lice is not justified. It is not medically necessary, and it is a strategy that continues to fail. View my website for more guidance on that issue.

  6. linda diamond says:

    hi my name is linda, i have a problem at daycare my child keeps getting sent home because of nits and headlice. we put treatment on her head and comb her hair til they are gone but she gets them again.


  7. Rebecca Stone says:

    My child has nits, lice, dandruff and eggs and I used the treament and comb but that didnt work so then I tried olive oil. I soaked her hair in olive oil for 2 hours but that also didnt work. I know theres the possiblilty that it didnt work or I didnt do it correctly but I was wondering does any of them solutions actually work and is there another better one I could use.

  8. I have used olive oil in the past with success, however this round has been a pain. I am getting the problem under control, with far less and now no adult lice and fewer nits and smaller lice coming off the head. I think consistency is going to be my key as this infestation is worse than the others. I also testify that olive oil works. I have pulled a live adult louse off my daughter’s head last night (as a matter of fact) and doused a drop of olive oil on it, just to watch it stop moving. I don’t know why research hasn’t concluded this as well, it wasn’t rocket science that this thing was moving before the oil and after was not. Perhaps it would lose someone too much money for a household item to work so well. At any rate, I will stick with what I know, and do it a bit more religiously…followed up by a hair cut. Good luck to everyone.

    • Ann and ‘notfromharvard’,
      You each reported that lice dunked in olive oil soon stop moving, and you seem to have concluded that those lice have died. Those lice have merely stopped moving because they’re now in an oxygen-poor environment. But, they can remain alive in that condition for more than an hour. Some of those apparently dead lice will, once removed from the oil, seemingly come back to life. So, although this is not, indeed, rocket science, you need to be mindful not to be deceived by what you observe.

  9. There are many great professional services out there that eliminate head lice naturally. Home remedies such as olive oil are a hit or miss. It is all about the meticulous comb out. It has to be very thorough. If a nit is left behind, the cycle will continue. Lice Free Noggins is a great company in NYC.


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