Head lice are a common household problem, especially if you have young children. While there are tons of over the counter remedies to stop the relentless itch, kill the critters, and prevent further outbreaks, there are natural ways to do so without the added effects of harsh toxins.
Learn more about what lice are, how they spread, and how you can use essential oil for external parasites like head lice.
What Are Lice and How Do You Get Them?
Head lice, also known as pediculosis, are parasitic insects. They live near the scalp, feed on blood, and spread easily from one person to another.
Lice infestations usually affect children, but this doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong as a parent (4). Remember, lice don’t carry disease or automatically mean your children are dirty. According to the Mayo Clinic, lice are not a sign of uncleanliness or poor personal hygiene (4).
They usually spread from close contact with someone already affected, which happens in daycares, school classrooms, summer camps, and even when touching an affected individual’s personal items. Transmission usually takes place from direct head to head contact, but lice can spread from other items such as (4):
- Hats or scarves
- Brushes or combs
- Hair accessories
Lice can’t jump from one head to another, so they use their claws to hold onto the hair and crawl from one person to another (I know, that part is cringe-worthy). They can’t live for more than a day without feeding as well, so these insects don’t live long on bedding or clothing.
Common signs of lice include:
- Itchy scalp, neck, or ears
- Little red bumps or bites on the scalp, head, neck, or shoulders
- Lice visible on the scalp
- Lice eggs (nits) stuck to hair shafts that appear similar to dandruff
Why Use Natural Remedies for Lice Prevention?
There are tons of lice-killing shampoos and medicated creams on the market today that are effective for lice, but they also contain insecticides like DEET, permethrin, and pyrethrin that are toxic. Permethrin, for example, is a neurotoxin used to control insects that can cause redness, burning or tingling, pain, and itching (3).
The effects can be much worse if these harmful chemicals are ingested, with people experiencing the following symptoms (3):
- Sore throat
- Abdominal pain
- Difficulty breathing
Harmful chemicals like permethrin may also contribute to the development of cancer cells and lead to other long-term effects. And when compared to adults, children are especially sensitive to pesticides and chemicals in the environment.
Most of these treatments are found over the counter or by prescription from your medical provider and many won’t even remove the nits, so you may need to repeat treatments each week to make sure you kill newly hatched lice.
In fact, a 2015 study suggests some strains of hair lice are developing a genetic resistance to certain chemicals like permethrin found in most over the counter treatments as an evolutionary tactic to resist our common way of immobilizing them (5).
Natural remedies using essential oils, however, allow you to kill and prevent lice without harmful side effects. And since oils have many uses, you can also use them to support your overall health and wellbeing.
How Can You Relieve the Itch and Kill Lice at Home?
Essential oils for lice help relieve the itchy symptoms and kill lice at home quickly.
Simple cleaning will rid your home of lice and nits, preventing anyone else in the family from getting them too. Wash clothing, hats, scarves, and bedding in hot water and dry them on the high heat setting. Stuffed animals and hair brushes will also need to be cleaned, and you should vacuum your car and furniture thoroughly to prevent further outbreaks.
Hard to clean items can be boiled in water for 10 minutes or soaked in vinegar for 30 minutes.
To stop the itch, you can use essential oils to create a lotion or hair mask or add drops to shampoo or conditioner at application. Shampoos can be easily created to relieve the discomfort while killing the critters in a matter of minutes.
The 10 Best Essential Oils For Lice
When trying to find what essential oils are good for killing lice, you’ll notice there are several effective options.
Studies have shown that some of the most effective essential oils for head lice, eucalyptus, tea tree, and rosemary, are more effective than the main chemicals used in over the counter lice treatments pyrethrum and phenothrin (2).
While allergic reactions from essential oils are rare, some kids may react to these oils, particularly tea tree oil. It’s important to test a small drop of the oil on the back of your child’s hand before treating lice for this reason.
Eucalyptus, nutmeg, aniseed, and peppermint should also be used with caution in very young children (under 2). They may irritate skin in higher concentrations as well, so use caution.
Here are the best essential oils well-known to effectively treat lice infestations.
Cloves are an exotic flower bud found on an evergreen tree called a Clove tree. The oil is extracted from the plant and used for a variety of benefits.
Found to repel lice in a 2016 study, clove essential oil contains two components that work together to drive away lice: beta-caryophyllene and eugenol (6).
2. Tea Tree
Extremely effective against head lice, tea tree oil (also known as melaleuca oil) contains antiseptic properties that repel lice. The number of hatched nits are drastically reduced when using this essential oil for lice and research has shown that tea tree oil kills 100% of lice in under 30 minutes (9).
Caution: Make sure to test a drop of your tea tree essential oil before use, as kids are more likely to have an allergic reaction to tea tree over the other oils on this list. If you notice a reaction, try one of the other oils on the list.
Rosemary is an evergreen herb from the Mediterranean used for its health benefits. This essential oil contains antiseptic properties similar to lavender that kill lice. It has been used since ancient times to alleviate muscle pain, improve memory, promote hair growth, and boost the immune system (8).
The safest option for young children, lavender is not the most effective essential oil for lice when used alone. Lavender works to repel many different types of insects. However, when combined with another oil like tea tree, it creates a safe homemade lice spray that’s tough and effective.
The pleasant aroma also helps calm the mind and the skin. It can be used to relieve anxiety, soothe inflammation, and even treat poison ivy.
One of the best essential oils to treat lice and nits at home, neem oil is extracted from the seeds and fruits of the neem tree. Thanks to its insecticidal ingredients, the reproduction and growth of lice are stopped in their tracks while other ingredients work to reduce and inhibit their appetite.
Plus, the soothing properties in neem oil help with scalp irritation and itching. Lice even hate the strong smell of neem oil, so you can use it to prevent further outbreaks.
Eucalyptol, the main component of eucalyptus essential oil, is often found in antiseptic mouthwashes. With known effects to repel insects like lice, Eucalyptus oil comes from the leaves of this fast-growing Australasian tree and is often used to reduce coughs, colds, congestion, and joint pain as well (7).
Note: Use caution when using eucalyptus oil in young children. Dilute heavily before application as to be safe.
A universal oil in most households, peppermint oil has a strong smell that is great for keeping lice and bugs away. The plant is versatile and grows in many settings, which makes it perfect for use in cooking, hygiene products, and medicines. It’s usually used to add flavor or fragrance, but the strong smell is known to rid insects from the home and soothe scalp inflammation or itching.
Note: This is another oil to use carefully in young children. Dilute heavily and it should be fine.
A popular spice in cooking, nutmeg in essential oil form is made from the dried seeds of the nutmeg fruit. It contains anti-inflammatory properties that help to reduce redness on the scalp and relieve itching while the spice suffocate lice and prevent further breeding.
From a flowering plant called Anise in the Mediterranean and Southwest Asia, aniseed’s flavor is similar to fennel or licorice. With a strong smell that lice hate, aniseed also keeps them from crawling to a new home. The best part about this option is that aniseed can be used on a daily basis to keep the scalp clean and prevent lice infestations before they happen.
10. Cinnamon leaf
An ancient spice, Cinnamon has been valued since ancient Egyptians discovered its medicinal benefits. Cinnamon leaf oil contains both antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, but the real reason this essential oil kills head lice comes from the benzyl benzoate and eugenol which suffocates lice.
How Do You Use Lice Killing Essential Oils?
The best way to get rid of lice is to snuff them out. Use essential oils to make your own shampoo or add a few drops to your current shampoo to prevent further infestations and smother any living critters. You can also create lotions, hair masks, and sprays to repel lice around the home.
Some oils can even be combined to create an even more effective treatment.
The best essential oils for kids include a blend of tea tree and lavender oil. Combining tea tree and lavender oil using a 10:1 ratio, for example, and applying the mixture to the head three times per week has shown to be more effective than chemical treatments, eliminating lice in around 97% of cases (2).
Because many experts believe most treatments simply stun lice and make them easier to catch (1), combing the hair with a metal lice or nit comb afterward is the most effective way to get rid of them.
5 Ways to Use Essential Oils For Lice
There are a few ways you can target lice and nits and relieve symptoms, but the best cure to completely rid your home of lice before the infestation spreads to a family member is to tackle them from all angles. You’ll want to shampoo thoroughly, create a hair mask, spray everything down, comb out the bugs, and soothe itchy skin.
1. Create a Shampoo
To get rid of lice with a shampoo, there are a few options.
You can mix two ounces of olive oil with 15 drops of essential oil and apply to the scalp using a cotton ball, letting the mixture rest on the hair overnight or at least 12 hours before rinsing.
Or, make a hair wash using two drops of an essential oil in 10 milliliters of water or vodka. Rinse the mixture, comb hair out with a metal lice comb, and repeat the process as necessary.
You can also add a few drops of tea tree oil to your current shampoo to prevent or rid lice. I recommend adding the drops to your hands at each application along with the shampoo instead of pouring drops into the shampoo bottle. Not all containers are optimal for essential oils (such as plastic or clear glass) so to keep the oils potent, you’ll want to add them fresh to a small amount of shampoo each time you use it.
Vinegar is another natural alternative you can use to rinse your hair after your primary treatment. To create this hair rinse and repel lice, mix 50 milliliters of vinegar with 50 milliliters of water and add in a few drops of one of the lice busting essential oils.
2. Spray Daily
Repellant sprays help rid your life of lice quickly. This method works to prevent infestations and eliminate lice when left on the scalp for at least 12 hours.
Mix around 15 to 20 drops of one of the above essential oils with four ounces of witch hazel. Put the mixture into a spray bottle and use to saturate the hair.
3. Comb with Oils
Coat the lice removal comb with an essential oil as needed while you separate the hair to completely comb through from scalp to ends. A few drops are enough. For the best results, shampoo and rinse the hair afterward or let the essential oil sit overnight before rinsing.
4. Try a Hair Mask
Coconut oil, when left on the hair overnight, can be used once per week to suffocate lice and make your hair silky smooth. Simply add a few drops of your favorite essential oil, place a shower cap on your head overnight, and rinse in the morning.
5. Lather on a Lotion
Combine neem and eucalyptus oil to create a lotion treatment. Lather the lotion on weekly to prevent and kill lice while stopping the itch immediately. Peppermint is also great at relieving inflammation and sore spots when itching or rashes have appeared.
Where Do I Buy Essential Oil?
You want to make sure your essential oils come from a quality source to ensure their effectiveness. Essential oils are an unregulated market (making it tricky to know where to buy), but there are a few places you can buy the best essential oils.
Check out our post on where to buy essential oils that actually work for more details.
Can I Repurpose These Oils to Take Care of Other Parasites?
Natural, home remedies can often target more than one problem, and many of these essential oils for lice prevention can overlap into helping you take care of other parasites as well.
Lice, like parasites, are small and can easily go unnoticed. Both can live on the hair, but parasites typically enter the body through contaminated food or water. There are some external parasites that live on the skin including scabies, bed bugs, and lice, which cause itching and are spread through direct contact.
They can both easily be addressed at home and quickly using many of the same essential oils such as (10):
- Tea tree
- Red Thyme
What is your favorite natural remedy to take care of pesky parasites or lice? Do you have an essential oil you turn to for all your needs? What are your favorite lice killing essential oils? Please share your experiences and let us know what you think in the comments below.
- Healthline (2013) Home Remedies for Head Lice: What Works? Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/lice-home-remedies#1
- American College of Healthcare Sciences (2015) Essential Oils and Head Lice. Retrieved from: http://info.achs.edu/blog/essential-oils-for-head-lice
- National Pesticide Information Center (2018) Permethrin. Retrieved from: http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/PermGen.html
- Mayo Clinic (2018) Head lice. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/head-lice/symptoms-causes/syc-20356180
- American Chemical Society (2015) Lice in at least 25 states show resistance to common treatments. Retrieved from: https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/newsreleases/2015/august/lice.html
- doTerra (2016) Lice Repelled by Clove Oil. Retrieved from: https://www.doterra.com/US/en/blog/science-research-news-lice-repelled-clove-oil
- Medical News Today (2018) The health benefits of eucalyptus. Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266580.php
- Medical News Today (2017) Everything you need to know about rosemary. Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266370.php
- US National Library of Medicin National Institute of Health (2012) Activity of tea tree oil and nerolidol alone or in combination against head lice and its eggs. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22847279
- The Survival Mom (2015) What’s Bugging You? Dealing with Parasites In Humans. Retrieved from: https://thesurvivalmom.com/whats-bugging-dealing-parasites-in-humans/