Head Lice Treatments: Home Remedies – Do They Actually Work?

We’ve all turned to a home remedy from time to time, from toothpaste on spots, cherry juice to bring on a good night’s sleep, brandy on your toddler’s gums to soothe teething. And while some people find success in managing common ailments, in most cases it’s been a waste of time.

Head lice is another condition popular with home remedies, so we’ve identified the most popular solutions that people turn to, and following that, assessed whether or not they really work.

small_mayonaisse for head lice treatment· Mayonnaise – This is a popular choice of home treatment, and for some reason those who advocate this will insist that the real full-fat version is the only way to go. Apparently the lice can handle the low-fat version.

small_washing up liquid for head lice treatmentWashing up liquid – Aside from whether or not it works as a treatment, one of the great downsides of washing up liquid is that it dries out the scalp, which means that people who use it as a home remedy treatment tend to suffer with terrible dandruff in the weeks following. Naturally this makes it more difficult to search for head lice and therefore complicates the eradication process.

small_hair gel for head lice treatmentHair gel – The thick kind that stiffens the hair.

Hair Gel for Head Lice Treatment


small_jelly for head lice treatmentPetroleum jelly – another popular choice, and while it smells nicer than mayonnaise, it certainly isn’t easy to wash out.

Petroleum Jelly for Head Lice Treatment


small_olive oil for head lice treatmentOlive Oil – will grease your hair like nothing else, but a common go-to choice where home remedies are concerned.

Olive Oil for Head Lice Treatment

The reason these products are selected is not because of the Omega-3 found in mayonnaise, the Magnesium Sulphate in washing up liquid, or the paraffin in petroleum jelly that offends the head lice. These products are in fact not used because of their ingredients at all, but because of their viscosity. This means that the application of these products could potentially clog the head lice’ breathing holes. In fact, the goal of all home remedies generally relies on somehow suffocating the head lice through smothering. So if you hear one parent saying to another: “Mayonnaise not working for you? Have you tried honey and peanut butter?”, then they’re essentially about to embark on the same journey and achieve the same results. One will have no greater effect than the other, as they are all selected purely for their gloopyness.

Do home remedies actually work?

People advocating these home remedies generally advise applying the product to the child’s hair and scalp before covering their head with a shower cap and leaving it for a 10 hour period. But will this kill the head lice? Studies have shown that it will not kill the lice, but rather, it will likely stun them. They’re also not likely to kill the eggs laid by the head lice, i.e. the nits.

What do the scientists say about home remedies?

Many of these home remedies have been largely disproven through medical testing. The Department of Entomology, University of California, tested the most popular remedies(like vinegar, isopropyl alcohol, olive oil, mayonnaise, melted butter, and petroleum jelly) and concluded: “None of the home remedy products we surveyed was an effective means of head louse control.”

Why have people used these home remedies?

The vast majority of resources available on the subject of home remedies generally advise that a head lice comb should be used in conjunction with them. As we mentioned earlier, the head lice can be stunned from home remedy products, which scientists have discovered will merely slow them down. Whilst this makes them somewhat easier to catch with a comb, this is certainly not a solution. And furthermore, this has nothing to do with the power of olive oil or mayonnaise.

It’s easy to see why some people have seen some measure of success in the past with home remedies, but if these viscous products are only slowing the head lice down and not killing them, then that’s simply not good enough. And, quite crucially, even if the home product slows down the head lice enough to catch with a comb, that still doesn’t take care of the nits (head lice eggs) which are glued to the hair shaft.

The potential dangers of other home remedies

There are several other considerations to be made when it comes to the battle against head lice. Besides the gloopy products, people have tried lots of other ways to win their war on head lice, some of which really should carry a warning sign.

· Essential oils such as Tea Tree Oil

small_tea tree for head lice treatmentTea Tree Oil for Head Lice Treatment

Tea Tree Oil has been a popular option because some believe that head lice cannot stand the smell of it, which would lead to them vacating the premises in favour of a nice smelling host. Which is why those who recommend this remedy will also advise that everyone in the family home should rub tea tree oil into their hair too. These claims have never been substantiated.

For years Tea Tree has been a highly trusted product because of its ‘natural’ properties despite being a fungicide and bactericide. According to studies referenced at the National Pediculosis Association, perhaps in this case the word ‘natural’ is misleading: “If it kills organisms, then it must be treated with respect. Pure tree oil is contraindicated for babies, young children, pregnant women, and some pets. Tea tree oil is not to be used daily, and is toxic to the liver in high doses. High doses can also be irritating to the skin and provoke an allergic reaction in some people”. The conclusion of a study recorded by Scandinavian University Press found that, for safety reasons, the promotion of commercially available essential oils as treatments for head lice should be discouraged until more data is available.

· Kerosene/Gasoline
As the mark of a desperate last resort against head lice back in the early 1900s, people doused their hair and scalps with kerosene or gasoline. And although our modern times and advances in treatment should render this method null and void, the number of people still resorting to such measures suggest that a warning against it should still be issued. Kerosene is used as another suffocation method in the same vain as the household products, except this one can lead to far greater problems and is extremely dangerous. Avoid at all costs!

In conclusion, head lice can take some serious flack – that much is clear. The home remedies seem to have some effect thanks to their viscosity, but some researches have demonstrated that they are not as effective as one could think. And if you’re going to wear a shower cap full of mayonnaise and smell like a bad sandwich for 12 hours, it really does need to be worthwhile.