Chemical Head Lice Treatments: Not for Prolonged Use

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Head Lice Treatment

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You’re probably familiar with the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try again,” but, in terms of chemical head lice treatments, this might not be the sort of mantra you want to adhere to.  Millions of school children catch lice every year in the United States, and the most common remedies for the insects contain chemicals, some relatively mild – others not so much.  Treating head lice is obviously a must, but there comes a point when you need to step back and stop treatment altogether.

What’s in Your Head Lice Treatment Product?

If you’re using an over the counter treatment for head lice, then you’re more than likely using a product that contains pyrethroids.  These are a family of chemicals that have been used for treating head lice for quite some time, not exactly surprising, considering that they’re known to be relatively mild and safe, and have traditionally been effective. 

The problem today is that lice have grown a tolerance for these chemicals and are no longer responding to them like they used to.  About half of the states in the U.S. have already reported considerable cases of super-lice strains that aren’t bothered by products containing pyrethroids.  This means that the treatment is either going to be completely ineffectual, or it’s going to require multiple applications before the problem is finally solved.

The issue with multiple applications is that even chemicals considered safe may prove to be dangerous should you continue using them multiple times.  Most products suggest up to two treatments, and rarely a third – definitely no more than that. 

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Continued exposure to chemical based head lice products could lead to a variety of problems, especially in the case of children, as they tend to be more susceptible to such things while in the midst of their developmental stages.  After all, keep in mind that you’re, in effect, using a pesticide – no matter how mild – and applying it directly to your head.  Prolonged use could cause these toxins to begin to have a neurological effect on users.

Prescription treatments require even more caution when using them.  These head lice treatments use chemicals that are far stronger than anything you’re going to find over the counter, which makes sense, because prescription treatments are meant to be a second approach in the event that over the counter products don’t work. 

Now that we know that many over the counter products are no longer having an effect on head lice, more and more people are turning to prescription products to get the job done.  Multiple uses of such products is obviously potentially risky, but some products contain chemicals that are so distrusted that even one use may be too much.

Many other countries have banned the use of lindane, but the United States still manufacturers and distributes it, even after studies have suggested links to brain cell damage.  Products containing malathion are considered much less hazardous than those containing lindane, but malathion’s properties still work from a neurological basis.  While this is meant to target the lice that have invested your hair and scalp, prolonged use could lead to your own adverse effects.  Apart from its potential health risks due to prolonged exposure, malathion is also flammable.


Since we are talking about chemicals, here, it stands to reason that some people may have allergic reactions to various chemicals contained in head lice products.  Some brands test these chemicals to see if they have the possibility to act as irritants, but many others don’t.  This is precisely why it’s important to read all product information carefully before use, as well as reviews and testimonials.  Some brands, like OVIDE, place alerts on their products letting people know that they haven’t been tested for skin irritability/allergic reactions.

Your Best Course of Action:

The best thing that consumers can do when trying to get rid of lice is to turn to the safest products first.  Start with over the counter treatments, either those that don’t contain chemicals or those that contain chemicals considered to be harmless in small doses.  Prescription options should never be your first course of action unless you already know from past experience that they’re the only things that work. 

Look for brands that base their products on natural ingredients rather than chemicals, as many brands have found success with combining different plant-based oils for the effective treatment of head lice.  Whatever route you take, remember to follow product directions carefully and to not over-do it.  If your child or you show any negative reactions, seek medical attention/advice right away.

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