Few actions strike as much fear into the hearts of parents as the first telltale sign of a lice infestation: the head scratch. Perhaps subtle at first, and then growing in frequency, it is a signal that the next several weeks are likely to be fraught with scalp inspections, hair washing, and seemingly endless loads of laundry.
In the western world, lice present no threat to the immune system or spread illness, as they did in centuries past. They are, however, highly contagious and present a threat to the peace of mind for any parent or caregiver who sees them enter the home. Although there are treatments available for purchase, the advent of superlice at the start of the 21st century quickly revealed that many of these treatments were no longer effective.
However, in early 2004 a new treatment that claimed to be more effective and less dangerous than its predecessors was tested. The Nuvo Method was deemed a promising alternative to many commercially popular treatments, and it can be done with readily available materials. Here we share its origins, odds for success, and how you can use it at home as part of your fight against lice infestations.
Origins of Nuvo Treatment
Dr. Dale Pearlman, a San Francisco-based dermatologist, has concentrated much of his research on lice and their removal since the start of his practice in 1976. In 2004, he published a paper in Pediatrics Journal presenting an argument for a new form of treatment that presented over 90% lice removal success in two stages of testing. Drug-resistant lice had started to emerge at that time, and they still persist in their hatching and spreading over a decade later. His goal was to create a method that could effectively kill these lice, without heightening the amount of chemicals required to do so.
Challenges of Traditional Lice Treat
According to Pearlman, the reasons traditional lice treatments tend to fail are multiple and often combined:
Investigators have found lice resistant to many of the commonly used pediculicides. The recommended household cleaning and nit removal procedures are viewed as a heavy burden, and compliance may be incomplete. Some parents, school nurses, and health care advocates are concerned about the safety and efficacy of neurotoxin-based pediculicides and await the development of safer alternative agents. Finally, experts suggest that “there is strong need for the Food and Drug Administration to approve alternative agents.”
All of these reasons have been cited by parents and other caregivers, as well as Pearlman, as challenges to comprehensive lice removal techniques. While the Nuvo Method addresses some of these concerns head-on (toxicity of treatment, drug resistance), there are other elements of the process―namely, the length of time to assure comprehensive removal―that ultimately remain unchanged. In either case, the Nuvo Method presents a marked shift in nit removal strategy.
Procedure for Nuvo Treatment
There are three main steps for each stage of the Nuvo Method:
1. Apply the lotion. Cetaphil brand soap-free cleanser is the most common lotion used for this method throughout the scalp, doing so in sections and ensuring full coverage.
2. Comb out as much excess lotion as possible to prevent buildup. If applied carefully enough, children can go to school with the lotion still in their hair without much disturbance. This combing should take place a few times, with the tines of combs used getting closer together each time. That is to say, a wide toothed comb should be followed by a narrow-toothed comb, finishing with a nit-picking comb to provide some manual nit removal assistance. Many schools require parents or caretakers to nit-comb the infested student’s hair before a return to school, so this last step may be a compliance measure you’re forced to take, regardless.
3. Use a blow dryer to dry your child’s scalp. In the same way that shrink wrap is used to “seal” decorative packages, the blow drying of Cetaphil creates a stifling seal for lice. After eight hours of being under the “sealed” scalp, your child’s hair can be washed as normal.
Full treatment requires three rounds (or stages) of this procedure, each completed one week from the one before it. In total, the Nuvo Method should span six weeks to clear an active infestation. Repeated administrations of the treatment will allow any errant eggs that escaped comb removal and hatched through prior procedures to be removed.
It was by following this procedure that the extraordinarily high treatment numbers reported in the study were reached. A successful round of treatment was declared when two conditions were met: a wet combing test of the hair (also used at the start of the study to determine eligibility) came back lice-free, and the child no longer complained of an itchy scalp or was seen scratching excessively.
In addition to the treatment of hair on the head and scalp, Pearlman recommends these supplemental actions to ensure that any stray lice don’t continue an infestation, or spread it to other family members:
- After each stage of the Nuvo treatment, launder the clothing you and your child wore during the process.
- Sterilize all the combs and brushes in the home. To do this, you can either soak them in isopropyl alcohol for ten minutes, or you can run them through a full hot cleaning cycle in the dishwasher.
- Send any bedding that has been used between Nuvo treatments through the laundry. When washing them, do so on hot and follow with a tumble in the dryer on high. Alternatively, you could throw them in the dryer on high for 10 minutes without washing them; the heat will disable any remaining lice, and they’ll fall away through the agitation.
Why This Method?
The power of most commercially available lice removal treatments lies in the presence of powerful neurotoxins like pyrethrins (a chrysanthemum-derived lice deterrent) or malathion. These chemicals are troublesome
for two reasons.
First, particularly in the case of the former, increasing numbers of lice are proving immune to these toxins, meaning your child’s head is being exposed to a load of potentially harmful chemicals for no reason.
Secondly, particularly in the case of the latter, the substance is a neurotoxin for lice and humans. Put another way, what is being marketed as a lice treatment is actually a topical pesticide―and a decision to use such a chemical on a child’s head should not be taken lightly.
Comparatively, while Cetaphil isn’t fully chemical-free, it was developed explicitly to be safe for those with sensitive skin. Rather than serving as an exterminator, it inhibits their breathing. Other home treatments like coating the scalp with coconut oil or mayonnaise operate under similar assumptions, but the length of the application isn’t enough to truly suffocate them. The heal seal created by blow drying, combined with the length of time the product stays on the scalp, outlasts their natural ability to shut down their respiration.
The Nuvo Method as an alternative form of treatment is important in the discussion of the oft-mentioned epidemic of superlice, because these lice by their very definition will outlast traditional over-the-counter remedies. Over hundreds of years, they’ve developed an immunity to pyrethrins, which is why stronger pesticides like malathion even came into use for lice, and even these remedies are now proving ineffective. The risk that more dangerous remedies will present is precisely the risk that these lice have evolved to outlast, but all lice can eventually be asphyxiated, making extermination by the Nuvo Method a more likely scenario.
Advantages of Nuvo Treatment
In addition to a heightened likelihood of eradication reduced toxin load, some of the advantages of the Nuvo method include:
During the time the scalp is sealed, lice have a far greater task ahead of moving from one head to another once the Cetaphil has been applied. Because Cetaphil dries clear, the “seal” can be worn out of the house, allowing your child to leave the house for school, play, or other activities. (A caveat: activities that will compromise the quality of the seal, such as athletics where the scalp will sweat, reduce the integrity of the seal and can allow for contagion.) With that said, the same rules for reducing the spread of lice apply: no sharing of brushes, combs, or hats; laundering commonly carried or worn soft surfaces like blankets, coats and jackets, and stuffed animals; and, believe it or not, watching out for “selfies” (the close proximity of heads is a prime way to spread adult lice).
Accessibility of treatment:
While lice treatment kits may not always be available to those hoping to treat lice, Cetaphil is generally fairly easy to find. Further, most homes already have a blow dryer, making this stage of the treatment accessible as well. However, it’s recommended that you acquire a nit-removal comb: a long-tined, narrowly spaced comb that can help remove lice and their eggs manually. Participants who used these combs as part of their lice removal strategy fared best in Pearlman’s study.
Cetaphil is a safety risk in the same way that many other skin care items are; it acts as an irritant when accidentally washed into the eyes, and should be flushed out if large amounts are ingested. These relatively minor irritations seem preferable when compared to the potential damage that could come from topical pesticides. With dangers such as nausea or vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and potential nervous system effects reported from pesticide exposure, it seems responsible to explore less toxic alternatives to these ubiquitous options.
Disadvantages of Nuvo Treatment
Despite its many advantages, even the Nuvo treatment is not without its challenges or downsides. A few of these drawbacks include:
While the typical chemical lice removal kit costs $10-$30, one bottle of Cetaphil (the required amount for one stage of treatment) typically costs around $15. Put another way, a complete course of treatment could cost more than four times what one chemical kit does.
Duration of treatment:
Some may balk at a course of treatment that takes three weeks. What’s more, the treatment itself must be applied meticulously, ensuring that the full scalp is covered and that no pockets escape untreated. Without proper attention to detail, an airtight seal cannot be achieved, and treatment success could be compromised. A fully successful course of this treatment requires patience and diligence; in the absence of both, an infestation could persist for weeks or even months.
Sensitive to human error:
Closely related to the last item, the process is highly subject to human error. If the procedure isn’t completed with enough product in the hair, isn’t allowed to dry completely, or isn’t repeated enough to ensure complete removal, the odds of success will necessarily lessen. The high odds for treatment are based upon complete compliance with given instructions; in the absence of this compliance, full removal may take longer and be harder to achieve.
Only targets living lice:
just as with the majority of other commercially available lice treatments, the Nuvo Method can only effectively kill adult lice. Nymphs (another word for “baby” lice) and eggs are generally unharmed by both chemical means and the Nuvo Method, which is why the treatment must persist for so long. Repeated treatments are targeting those eggs that have since matured into adult specimens. There are a handful of products on the market that dissolve the waxy exoskeleton of eggs and nymphs, allowing for their extermination; use of these products alongside The Nuvo Method could heighten chances for a mercifully short infestation.
The Nuvo Method is an attractive treatment to anyone who seeks a more functional cure for the aggressive scourge of lice, and it can be of particular interest to those seeking to reduce their exposure to chemicals and toxins. If you or your child has been struggling to beat a case of head lice, this form of treatment may be worth your time and energy to try.