Wednesday 4 September 2013

Head Lice for Beginners

Are you itching yet? Hopefully this post will answer all of your burning questions and explain what head lice look like, how head lice spread and how you catch nits. How you can tell if your child has head lice and what you can do about it.

I'm not a Health Professional, I'm a Mum who has worked in education, and what follows is mainly from 20 years experience of head lice in my own children.

Headlice scare parents until you've had your 15th experience of them and by then you are getting a bit bored of it rather than horrified. With 7 children in our house who love each other and play 'rough and tumble' and read books together all the time, when one catches head lice we have a mini outbreak and inspection will usually reveal at least 3 victims.

What Are Head Lice Really Like?

First things first, head lice do not have superpowers.
They can't leap, they don't have big strong hind legs.
They can't fly, they don't have wings.
They can't decipher between different hair colours or styles, they just wander about and if another head is touching, they might walk onto it.
They don't care if your hair is clean or dirty, gelled or sprayed, natural or coloured, curly or straight - it's your blood they want.
They're really just a relatively unintelligent bug. 

What Do Nits And Head Lice Look Like?



This is what they look like full grown, and this is how they move. They can run slightly faster than that if you scare them, but only slightly. 

How big are head lice
A mature (adult) head louse

Young headlice are smaller and look much more translucent. Head lice are not chameleons, they cannot actually change colour at will, however when they're full of your blood they might look a little darker.

what do baby headlice look like
A baby head louse in a 1cm square
headlice walking
Top right mature and bottom left slightly younger head lice

If you look closely at those photo's you can clearly see in 2 of them that the lice have just poo'ed. This is a big part of the problem. Poo, however small, is still poo and it irritates the scalp. They poo a lot.


Nits are the eggs head lice lay. They look like tiny caterpillar cocoons. They usually occur in crops, several together and very close to the scalp, mainly because it was handy to lay them like that for the adult head louse. There are 3 nits in the following photo, if you imagine the black circle is a clock then there are 2 at 2-o-clock and 1 at 7-o-clock.

How big are nits

They can be incredibly difficult to spot if your child only has a few, even in fine hair. Once you've had a bit of practice it gets a lot easier.

can headlice jump

How Can I Tell If My Child Has Head Lice?


Scratching. It can actually take up to 3 months for a human being to become sensitised to the headlice and start to itch, so regular checking is important even if your child hasn't been scratching their head.

Look for the nits, the egg cases, they're usually easier to spot at first than live lice because the lice, like any other little creatures, will try to hide when you start moving the hair.

Nits are most often found behind the ears and at the nape of the neck because those are the warmest spots with the thinnest skin, but they can be anywhere on the head.

What Do Head Lice Do?


They bite through your skin and feed off your blood.
They poo a lot.
They breed.
Once mature the females lay eggs - around 4 a day, potentially as many as 150 before she dies.
They stick their eggs to your hair near to your scalp.
The eggs take around 7-10 days to hatch

What Can I Do About Head Lice? How Do I Treat Them And Get Rid Of Them?


Regular checking is the THE most important thing. Catching an outbreak early means less lice to remove and less chance you'll miss any.

A comb through with a head lice detector comb should remove all lice and larger eggs, and will need to be repeated to remove the smaller eggs once the lice have hatched. Unless you have incredibly tangle free hair it is far easier to wash the hair and apply conditioner before combing through. Wipe the comb after each stroke so that you don't just move lice around on the head.

Regular combing with a head lice detector comb will help you spot any new infestation quickly and remove any remaining nits.

There are many different commercial preparations around to kill headlice. They have different properties but most are a lotion or oil that you apply to the hair, leave for a specific period of time and then wash away. Some claim to kill only lice and some claim they kill nits as well. Nowadays most are mainly an oil to smother the lice and need a re-treatment a week later to remove newly hatched babies before they become mature and breed.

A new product on the market is a protection spray which is put onto the hair and left. Once the hair has been washed, or after around 4 days, the spray is no longer effective and needs to be reapplied. It's designed to kill lice as soon as they arrive, before an infestation can take hold. We've reviewed Hedrin Protect & Go conditioning spray and Lyclear Treatment Shampoo, as well as Vamousse Protection Shampoo and Headlice Treatment and Puressentiel 100% Natural Anti-Lice Treatment ourselves. 

Head lice can survive away from a head for about 24 hours, after that they will die from dehydration. If you are treating your family for headlice don't forget to change bedding and wash woolly hats etc.

Head lice are a pain in the neck, but they can be controlled and by regularly checking you will be able to keep your family relatively free from infestation. 

Above all else, remember that in order to catch head lice your child has friends, and that's generally a very good thing.

You can find more information about head lice on the following pages amongst many others -


If you have anything else to add, your experience is different or you spot any errors then please comment!

I've also written about another childhood favourite - Chicken Pox


  1. Great post, very informative - really hoping we don't have an outbreak here now M is back to school, her curly locks are a nightmare to comb through!

    1. Aw thanks Fiona - fingers crossed for you that you have a while yet! :)

  2. This is a fabulous post. Told me a lot I didn't know.

    My daughter's 5 and we haven't had the pleasure yet, but when it does I'll know what to do.

    Oh, and I'll start to check her more regularly now she's back at school!

    *scratches a bit*

    1. So glad you found it helpful. People always ask what they look like, so I really wanted to get that across. I'm really chuffed with your comments, thank you *Beams* :)

  3. This is a fab post with great information!

  4. so gross - but good to know!

  5. Great post for information but my head is so itchy now!

  6. This is a great post. Bit disgusting!, but informative and very helpful. xxx

  7. I've not even the thought about this, but now Boo's at pre-school I guess I'd best start checking. Thanks for the really useful info & tips, and the reminder to check it.

    1. Thank you! And yes - definitely start checking. If nothing else, it gets your child used to it :)

  8. Great post - will deffintley be checking my daughters hair tomorrow.

    Following from Mad Mid-Week Blog Hop :)

  9. Yep totally itching. If there's one thing guaranteed to make a staff room full of teachers scratch its discussing nits. What a great post - I wish I could hand it out to parents!

    1. Well thank you! I shall accept that praise with a large helping of pride :)

  10. *scratches head like crazed lunatic* A great post though, very informative. Clearly I didn't know enough either, thank you x

  11. Great post hun, very informative! *scratch itch* haha.

    Thanks so much for linking up to #MMWBH xx

  12. Ew ew ew! But fab post! Hope I never need it but I'm sure my time will come (we've been lucky so far!)

    1. Thank you! Sadly, I'm sure your time will indeed come :D

  13. Thanks for this! We made it to 5th grade and just had our first infestation this morning. Bring on the laundry!

    1. You're welcome! Thank you for the lovely comments :)
      I hope you clear them and they never return (we can all hope!)

  14. This is a great post. We have had the nits in our house lately - I am very glad I stumbled across this page for *when* we next get them. You know, I didn't realise that they pooed! I caught them off Alice a few weeks ago and we managed to get rid of them, but obviously it's not nice. I have been checking the girls every few days now just to be sure. x

  15. Thanks for sharing this again on Twitter, we've just recently lost our headlice virginity, and this is much more informative than the information I got from the doctors receptionist. I've been attacking the little one every day with my Nitty Nora bug explorer nit comb and myself, but just can't shake off the feeling of my skin crawling!

    1. Awww thanks Joanne. I'm really pleased it's been helpful to you. It makes you itch just thinking about it, let alone when you know they might be there! :)

  16. Great post - I did not know that about the head being sensitized.

    1. No, they don't tend to mention it, but it's definitely worth knowing - although it becomes almost irrelevant once they have had them! :)


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