A Real Head Scratcher
Schools are struggling with how best to handle lice
Reluctant to use pesticides-sometimes repeatedly-on their kids, many parents turn to alternative products. Some, for example, rub tea tree oil or rosemary oil on their child's head in an effort to prevent lice, but scant research has been done on these oils, and they can sting and burn the skin and cause hives in those who are allergic, according to the National Capital Poison Center.
Other home remedies might be worth a shot, says Burkhart. Two years ago, dermatologist Dale Pearlman published a letter in the journal Pediatrics reporting a 96 percent success rate using a nontoxic lotion that he called "Nuvo" to kill lice by suffocating them. The lotion-which he later admitted was Cetaphil skin cleanser, rebottled "with a nozzle-type cap to facilitate delivery to the scalp"-is applied to the head, dried on with a blow-dryer, and left for eight hours. Smearing a child's head with Vaseline, mayonnaise, or olive oil can also work to suffocate lice, though none is even close to 100 percent effective. "I've found about half of lice die, and it's somewhat easier to comb the living bugs out after treatment since they're immobilized," says Burkhart, who has studied these remedies. Be aware that such nontoxic substances will not kill nits.
A new hair gel treatment you may soon hear about at school is Licefreee!-part of a lice education kit recently sent out by the National PTA to 32,000 PTA chairs. Licefreee! uses a salt solution to kill lice. That salt might dehydrate lice doesn't surprise Frankowski, though she questions how effective it could be at killing nits. Steve Smith, chief executive of Tec Laboratories, which makes Licefreee! (and is a corporate sponsor of the PTA), says research conducted by his company found that it kills 100 percent of lice and nits. He adds that sales for the product are up 25 percent since the mailing.
Some families who can't defeat lice on their own are taking advantage of a new mini-industry: the professional nit-picker. "Most people have gone through three products and hundreds of dollars before coming to us," says Maria Botham, who started Hair Fairies, a lice treatment salon with locations in New York and Los Angeles, eight years ago after reading a newspaper article that suggested a need for such services. Children are entertained by Game Boys and DVD players while trained professionals shampoo and pick through their hair. The average cost? About $330 for the three appointments it typically takes to get the job done.