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Head lice treatments PDF Print E-mail

Head lice treatments come in the form of lotions, gels, sprays and powders. They contain insecticidal agents to kill head lice and their eggs (called nits). Ingredients include:
* pyrethrins
* piperonyl butoxide
* pyrethroids (e.g. bioallethrin, permethrin)
* maldison (malathion)
* benzyl benzoate
* eucalyptus oil
* tea-tree oil

Health effects
Effects vary greatly according to the active ingredient involved. They include the following:
1. Pyrethrins: Relatively safe and effective. They are usually combined with a synergist (such as piperonyl butoxide). May trigger an allergic reaction among asthma and hay fever sufferers.
2. Bioallethrin: A synthetic pyrethroid. Not likely to produce an allergic effect in sensitive people.
3. Malathion: An organophosphate insecticide. An effective 'once-only' treatment but NOT to be used as a preventive measure.
4. Benzyl benzoate: An acaricide and insect repellent. Can trigger reactions in asthmatics or hyperactive children (see also Food additives ).
5. Eucalyptus oil: General insecticide. Schedule 6 poison.
6. Tea-tree oil: Has bactericidal properties. Can provoke allergic reactions.

Sprays and powders are not recommended because of the risk of inhalation. Lotions, gels, creams and shampoos are safer, although the shampoos are less effective. All products should not be left on the skin any longer than necessary, in order to limit absorption through the skin. Wear gloves when treating more than one head at a time and wash brushes and combs to prevent reinfestation.

Environmental effects
See entries for the individual chemicals listed above. Lindane used to be in these products but is now banned under the Stockholm Convention. Any chemists holding old stocks of lindane-based formulations should be encouraged to submit them for collection to the relevant authority in each state.

See the website of the US HeadLice group ( which has a good discussion of the products and tips for treatment.

Regularly examine the back of the neck and behind the ears for nits, which look like dandruff but which are firmly attached to the hair shaft near the scalp. Comb hair frequently (the comb injures and kills lice).

If nits are discovered, use a fine-tooth comb ('nit-comb'), starting right down at the scalp where the eggs are laid and combing upwards to remove the nits. If all this fails, use a lotion, gel or cream containing pyrethrins, or if these are not available, one containing malathion. Follow the directions carefully.

To prevent head lice from spreading:
* Check every member of the family if one is infected.
* Do not share hats, combs or brushes.
* Comb hair daily.
* Wash combs, brushes and bed linen in hot water and dry them in the sun, to kill any live nits on them and prevent reinfestation.

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