Family Health Guide

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Lice: Complementary/Alternative Treatments


Comb Out

Definitely the most time-consuming of treatments (and one that requires a very cooperative kid), the comb out, when done well, can be effective, says Dr. Frankowski. It’s often used in Great Britain where many lice are resistant to chemical treatments. You have to purchase a specialized metal lice comb such as the Licemeister online or at your local pharmacy

Here’s how to do a comb out:

  • Sit your child in good light, either outside or under a lamp. Provide them with distracting entertainment, such as their favorite DVD or computer game.
  • Dampen hair with water or their usual conditioner and comb tangles out with a regular comb or brush. Divide hair into sections, clipping it up with pins  to isolate one section at a time.
  • Begin at the scalp and slowly move the comb to the ends of the hair, wiping with a paper towel or in a bowl of water in between combs to remove nits and lice. When you have completed a section, re-clip it and move on to the next.
  • Repeat the process in the days following (you might need to do it for 10 to 14 days to cover the life cycle of a louse) to make sure no louse or nit was missed. To watch a video of the process, visit the National Pediculosis Association, an organization which advocates non-chemical approaches to treating head lice.

Occlusive Methods

Another non-medical approach that is a little less time consuming is to use a product such as petroleum jelly or Cetaphil to smother the lice, and kill them. “Limited studies have looked at these kinds of treatments, but they can be effective if done right,” says Dr. Frankowski. “You should do at least two or three treatment cycles and really do it properly.” To try the Cetaphil approach (also called the Nuvo treatment by the doctor who invented it), Dr. Frankowski recommends following the detailed instructions found here.

Lice Salons

When there’s a problem you can count on clever entrepreneurs to find a way to solve it, which is why there are now lice salons where, for a pretty penny, you can have your child’s hair combed in the manner above by a professional. However, you should know that these businesses are not regulated, so there is no guarantee that the treatment you will receive will be effective or completely non-toxic.

Beware of Other Natural Remedies

Drs Frankowski and Bocchini both recommend steering clear of treatments that are billed as “natural,” such as tea tree oil. Dr. Bocchini draws a distinction between trying a home remedy such as mayonnaise, which is harmless, and using “something with a chemical in it, such as tea tree oil,” that has not been tested for safety or efficacy.


  • Wash bedding and clothing that has been recently worn in hot water and dry on high heat. But don’t go too crazy wiping down the whole house; lice can only live on surfaces and objects for about 24 hours.
  • Vacuum beds, sofas, stuffed animals, and car seats.
  • Soak combs and brushes in hot water for 10 minutes.