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How to get rid of lice with tea tree oil (instead of insecticide)

I know lice are a super unpleasant subject, but if you’ve got school-age kids, pin this for future use.

As you may remember, in the summer of 2014, all four of my kids got head lice.

how to get rid of lice without insecticide

It was, um, not my favorite thing ever.

At first when it happened, I was all, “OH MY GOSH THE SKY IS FALLING! MY CHILDREN HAVE BUGS LIVING ON THEIR HEADS. GIVE ME THE DRUGS.”

So, as my pediatrician directed, the day the infestation was discovered, I:

  • bought eleventy-kazillion dollars worth of Nix
  • treated the kids and Mr. FG and myself
  • washed everything in the house
  • put stuffed animals in the freezer
  • generally ran myself ragged

nix and rid lice combs

I might have cried too.

(No, I definitely cried.)

The pediatrician said that Nix would kill the bugs, and we’d just be left with nits to pick.

(Haha.  I put “just” and nit-picking together in a sentence.  There is no “just” about nit-picking!)

But a few days of nit-picking later, straggler bugs remained.  They seemed a bit dazed, to be sure (not lightning fast like healthy lice), but still.

Live bugs.

Gah!

So then my ped called in a prescription for Sklice, a newer and super effective med that truly does kill not only the lice but the eggs (nits) as well.

This stuff is amazing, but awfully expensive, especially when you have multiple heads to treat ($50 x 4 adds up fast.)

I applied the Sklice, but kept nit-picking all of my kids for two weeks, just in case the Sklice somehow missed zapping an egg.

This was exhausting, tedious work, and I wished dearly that I could just give all my kids buzz cuts.

(More crying may have happened.)

Anyway, eventually everyone was clear, thanks to the Sklice and my nit-picking.

But then one of my girls got lice again, I think from some friends accidentally passing it around.

This time, I was much more calm.

(Basically, no caps lock is necessary to describe the second infestation version of me.)

I knew I could call the pediatrician and get some Sklice, but since I knew more about how lice worked by then, I felt pretty confident that I could get rid of them without the heavy duty stuff.

how to get rid of lice with tea tree oi

So, here’s how we got rid of lice with tea tree oil and conditioner.

1. Cover hair in conditioner/tea tree oil mixture.

I took cheap conditioner (Suave is fine), mixed a little tea tree oil in, and saturated the wet hair with it.

The idea here is to completely cover every strand of hair with this so that the lice are immobilized.

treat lice with conditioner

Use a liberal hand and then some.

2. Comb through hair with a nit comb.

Next, you take your nit comb and comb through all of the hair, small sections at a time, while the conditioner/tea tree oil is still in the hair.

tea tree oil conditioner for lice

This way you will easily catch any live bugs and remove them from the scalp.  They are very, very easy to see against the white conditioner.

get rid of lice with tea tree oil

An additional benefit is that the conditioner and oil make the nits much more likely to come off onto the nit comb.

(The lice glue their eggs to the hair strands, which is why they are so hard to remove.)

Basically, you just run the comb through a small section, and the comb will pull a bunch of conditioner off the hair.

Scrape the conditioner off into a small bowl (you can wipe it between every sections if you are really devoted. I was not.), check it for bugs/nits, and keep repeating until you have the whole head combed.

lice comb and conditioner

3. Rinse and repeat every other day.

Then you can rinse the hair off and repeat the process every other day until you’re consistently seeing no nits in the conditioner.

I ended up with two types of combs, and between these two, the purple one worked way better.  I hear that the best thing is a high-quality metal nit comb, but the purple plastic one was definitely the best of these two.

nix and rid lice combs

The first time I did this treatment, I snagged all of the live bugs and most of the nits.

The next time, I got more nits and also a nymph, and from then on, I found just a few more nits and no more hatchlings, and then finally, we had a nice string of clean combing sessions.

tea tree oil for lice

It IS slightly scary to not be putting any lice-killer on the hair, but I felt less nervous once I realized how well this worked.

This is really important to understand:

Even if I did miss a nit or two, and those nits hatched, it was going to be quite a simple matter to catch any of them before they reached reproductive age.

Why?

The conditioner/oil immobilizes them and that pretty much guarantees that they’ll get caught in the comb.

tea tree oil conditioner for lice

Also!

This is SUCH an easy way to tell if any other kids in the house are infested.  If you have a fresh infestation, there will be live bugs, and they are super super easy to see when you do the conditioner/comb combo.

The first go-round with lice, I treated everyone in the house blindly without actually knowing if everyone had lice.

(SKY IS FALLING!!!!!!! mode, and all that.)

But the second time around, I did the conditioner/tea tree oil thing on all of the kids and was able to confirm that only one kid actually had lice.

It has now been 9 months since I used this combo on my kid’s lice-infested head, and there has been absolutely no recurrence, so I know this really did work!

4 Reasons This is Superior to Commercial Treatments

1. It’s cheap.

Nix, Rid, and Sklice are all pretty pricey, and the priciness really adds up if you have a bunch of heads to treat.

But conditioner is only a few dollars, as is tea tree oil, and you can do tons of treatments with just a bottle of each.

2. There’s nothing iffy in it.

Sklice is supposed to be quite safe, and some of the other treatments are a synthetic concoction made to imitate a substance from chysanthemums, so it’s probably not the worst thing in the world.

Still, the directions on Rid and Lice say not to do too many treatments in a row, which gives me pause.

Plus, that stuff is awfully hard on scalps…when we used it on our heads, even those of us with no lice had itchy heads for a good week.

(This will freak you out no end when there are lice in the house.)

I felt much better about putting conditioner and tea tree oil on my child’s head, that’s for sure.

3. It works better than Rid and NIX.

Unfortunately, some lice have become resistant to these classic insecticides, which means you can put all of that on your kiddos’ heads and still be dealing with live bugs like we were.

Once I did the initial comb-through with the conditioner/tea tree oil, though, I got all of the mature bugs in one fell swoop, which is WAY more than I can say for Rid and Nix.

4. It’s WAY easier than dry-hair nit-picking/combing.

Trying to find each nit by hand in a headful of dry hair is so tedious. And nits cling to hair like crazy.

I found it to be far simpler to use the comb in a head of conditioned/oiled hair, and since the oil/conditioner loosens the nits, they come off so much more easily.

Downsides

There are just a few downsides to the conditioner/oil method, but they are not enough to sway me back into the insecticide camp, especially because they are only downsides when comparing my way to Sklice.

1. You have to keep doing this every other day until the head is clear.

This isn’t EXACTLY a downside, because unless you’re using Sklice, which does kill nits, you are supposed to keep nit-picking every day until the nits are all gone.

I did dry nit-combing and picking during our first go-round and I am here to tell you that the conditioner/comb method is way, way, way less frustrating, and I found it to be more effective.

So, given the choice between nit-picking every day and conditioner/tea tree oil combing every other day, I would pick the latter every single time.

2. This method doesn’t kill anything.

I don’t consider this to be a downside, given that some of the insecticides we tried didn’t kill the bugs either!

And unless you have Sklice, the insecticide you use isn’t going to kill the nits anyway (only the live bugs, and that if you’re lucky), so you still have to get them out of the hair somehow.

So, this, “Oh no! I’m not zapping any of the bugs!” thing is really more of a mental block to get over, I think.

__________________________

Well.

I dearly hope that none of you ever need this information, but I’m putting it out there because it really was a lifesaver for me.

I mean, I’m not at all hoping for another lice infestation, but armed with this method, I’m not nearly as terrified as I used to be.

Supplies

Here’s a highly recommended nit comb.

Here’s the Suave conditioner we used, but any inexpensive conditioner should do the trick.  Just get a lot of it so that you can generously cover the hair.

Here’s a tea tree oil similar to what we used. You don’t need a super expensive variety.

__________________________

P.S. Sonia would like you to know that she merely modeled for these pictures, and that she does not have lice. 😉

P.P.S. If you found this post via a google search and your kids currently have lice, ALL OF THE SYMPATHY to you.  Hang in there, and give this method a try!  It’s gonna be ok.

P.P.P.S. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t drive myself nuts by washing/freezing/disinfecting my whole house.  The important thing is to get the children’s heads treated.  If you do that, you should be good to go.

P.P.P.P.S. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments!

P.P.P.P.P.S. Here’s why you don’t need to panic about super lice.

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Liz

Thursday 10th of June 2021

I have very high hopes for this remedy!!! Thank you for posting it! In December last year there was a little girl that came into the shelter house my daughter and I were living in (I was 8 months pregnant). Well she decided to bring some extra friends in with her and her mom made the unfair and irresponsible choice not to say anything for weeks. As soon as she told me about her daughter I checked my daughter, who naturally has itchy problems because of eczema, and sure enough she was infested. I immediately ran to the restroom to find my hair was just as bad. With some help from my mom we shampooed, sprayed and combed both of our hair.... Taking 3 and a half hours a piece to comb through. Repeated a week later like the instructions said and thought we had it cleared up. NOPE!! A few days back from winter break and I get the dreaded phone call that they found lice again. Now I had to juggle caring for a newborn while dealing with the headache of treating both our hair alone. Did I mention my carpel tunnel from the pregnancy??? So much fun trying to comb through long thick hair when you can feel your fingers!!! I've been treating both of our hair with various products multiple times a week since them and still can't seem to clear our heads completely!! I've tried just straight tea tree oil on dry hair because I was told that would have the bugs literally dropping dead out of our head and all it seemed to do was piss them off and cause them to run around our heads like crazy driving us both nuts!!! I'm a single mom of two struggling to get back on her feet so paying an arm and a leg for the prescription stuff isn't an option for me. Fingers crossed this will bring us some much needed relief from this never ending cycle, headache and embarrassment.

Kristen

Thursday 10th of June 2021

Oh man; hugs to you! Lice are so frustrating.

Darlene Kahpeaysewat

Thursday 6th of May 2021

Hi what ratio did you use with the conditioner and tea tree oil?

Kristen

Thursday 6th of May 2021

I used probably 1/2 teaspoon tea tree oil for a cup of conditioner.

Ricky

Tuesday 17th of November 2020

Do you use any leave in product in your kids hair when they don’t have lice? I’ve been spraying my daughters hair with watered down tea tree oil, every morning before she goes to school. Am I wasting my time?

Kristen

Tuesday 17th of November 2020

I didn't do any leave-in products, and I still successfully got rid of the lice.

Laura M

Thursday 12th of November 2020

Thank you so much! I'm actually a mom with lice and teen age boys who got lice in preschool...I never thought I would and have no clue how I got it. Anyway, I have tried various things but the tea tree oil with the conditioner is the best and I am almost nit-free! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! PS. I'm using the standard metal nit comb...I'd like to purchase your purple comb but when I clicked on your link I couldn't find it??? A lot of other products but not a nit comb in that shape. Would love more details on that.

Kristen

Thursday 12th of November 2020

So, the purple comb actually came with the boxes of Nix that I bought! I don't know that it's available separately. This one looks very similar, though: https://amzn.to/2IuOvRw

Sarah G

Thursday 15th of October 2020

I've always done it with just plain conditioner and a Nitty Gritty comb (that might just be a UK brand, I don't know). Last time was just a few weeks ago. Despite social distancing measures at school, when I took my 12 year old to the hairdresser she had to discontinue the cut because she found nits. Nothing live, thank goodness, just eggs. But how on earth he caught them in the pandemic is beyond me...

Starr

Saturday 28th of November 2020

I am African American and it is not common for us to get lice. My daughters have it and we have eggs . I was so caught off guard. Then I remember that it was 2020 and this was the year for f**kery.

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