Do You Know Which Harmful Chemicals Are in Common Lice Treatments?

Lindane. Malathion. Permethrin. Any of these sound familiar? Would you put these chemicals on your child’s head without knowing what they do? Probably not, and you absolutely shouldn’t, no matter if products on the shelves of your local pharmacy claim they are “safe.”

Young children are prone to get head lice; it is an inalienable fact. Kids can catch these pests through close contact on the playground or in school. When a child does come home with a case of lice, most parents’ first reaction is to get rid of them immediately for the safety of their child and to protect their home. Often, people go out and buy an over-the-counter quick fix to start the pest killing process.


How many read the label, or just blindly trust that it is safe for their child?

Nix, a popular over-the-counter lice treatment contains permethrin, a pesticide that is also a neurotoxin and which is listed as a “restricted use” substance by the EPA. While it is relatively safe for mammals and humans, it is deadly to cats, reptiles, and fish. In high dosages, it can also be fatal to humans. Why on Earth would anyone use this on a child’s head, where a thin layer of skin protects a growing mind?

As far as pesticides go, permethrin is one of the milder chemicals, yet it is still a risk to put any kind of chemical on your child, for any reason. Permethrin is approved by the FDA and CDC for use on children two months or older. Having the approval from federally regulated agencies and contradictory information from other sources makes it very difficult for any responsible parent to discern what treatments are safe to use on their kids.

Unlike permethrin, lindane is by prescription only and comes with a whole host of warnings. Even the prescription label has warnings against overdosing. Adults should only use 1 ounce of the lotion on their entire body. It would be so easy for a parent to overdose their child with such a dangerous substance, especially if the time between treatments isn’t followed to the letter.

The Stockholm Convention, a global treaty focused on ridding the world of the deadliest toxins, has been working to phase out lindane since 2009. It is banned around the world … except in the U.S. While the EPA has regulations in place so this chemical cannot be used on cattle or crops, it is still used as a last defense against lice.

In 1999, a new product came out on the market to take the place of lindane, called Ovide. Used as a treatment for head lice, the active ingredient is malathion. While it is considered a safer organophosphate insecticide, it is easily absorbed into the skin. Because the treatment is placed on the scalp, where hundreds of blood vessels are close to the surface of the skin, this means the potential for absorption into the blood stream is very high.

Ovide gained popularity very quickly, because it kills lice within twenty minutes of contact. The instructions say to leave the treatment on the head for 8-12 hours. This seems a bit excessive, especially considering how malathion is absorbed into the blood stream.

What does this mean? If the chemicals are used incorrectly, or if the amount of pesticide absorbed is higher than recommended for any reason, there are very dangerous side effects. These pest killers can cause nausea, vomiting, seizures, and even lead to death. What appears to be an even scarier thought is these pests are gradually becoming resistant to the chemicals. This can lead to improper use by parents trying to get rid of lice, ending up accidentally poisoning their child by incorrectly following the directions.


So, why are they still on the shelves and prescribed by doctors?

Because there isn’t enough data to tie these outcomes directly to the use of their respective lice treatments, they are still available for use. There are alternatives, though, and much safer and more natural products that can be just as effective as the harsh pesticides.

Before there were pesticides, people had to treat head lice with something, or else people would have been crawling with the bugs up until the chemical poisons were created. So, what did they use instead? Essential oils, other botanicals, and plants have been used for hundreds of years to treat a wide variety of ailments, including head lice.

The makers of ClearLice understand that the use and combination of these natural ingredients are not only effective, but much safer than their chemical counterparts. There is a risk with any product; you should consult a physician before using any product, especially if you or your child is on medication. However, because the ingredients in ClearLice are natural, such as tea tree oil, peppermint oil and neem oil, you can trust that they will not poison your kids.

As with any treatment or medication, perform due diligence before using it. Meet with your doctor, read as much information as possible on the subject, and make an informed decision that is best for you and your family.

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