Itching to discover the best head lice treatment? CHOICE reviews the options

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

While the idea of head lice might have you scratching your head, so too can the range of options available to treat the persistent little critters.

Consumer advocacy group CHOICE has taken one for the team and gone through the treatments with a fine tooth comb - and the most effective one might surprise you.

The more chemicals the better, right? Wrong. The reality is, to get rid of nits your best weapon is actually a regular bottle of conditioner (and that comb of course!)

Although conditioner doesn't kill lice, what it does do is leave them "stunned" for up to 20 minutes. At this point, you can remove them with a comb.But to make sure the nits don't come back, you'll have to repeat the process every few days for 10 days.

When it comes to combs, not all options are created equal. Let's take a closer took:

Metal comb with cylindrical teeth

Pros: 

  • Gentle on scalp and hair. 
  • Removes most lice and most eggs when used with conditioner
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Cons:

  • More expensive (but lasts longer)

Combs with plastic teeth

Pros:

  • Gentle on scalp and hair
  • When used with conditioner, removes most lice and some eggs

Cons:

  • Don't last as long

Combs with flat metal teeth

Pros:

  • When used with conditioner, removes some lice and few eggs.

Cons:

  • Can damage hair shaft

Electronic combs

Pros:

  • Removes most lice

Cons:

  • Can only be used on dry hair
  • Doesn't remove any eggs
  • Can't be used on babies
  • Shouldn't be used by those with epilepsy, heart disease or a pacemaker.

Insecticide treatments:

If your comb and conditioner combo isn't working, it might be time to switch to a stronger option. According to CHOICE, you should check if your kid's head is "alive" before reaching for an insecticidal option. Live nits will pop if squeezed. (Have kids, they said. It will be fun, they said.) 

Insecticidal treatments are registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and must not claim to be 100 per cent effective.

Should you add herbs?

Herbal head lice treatments generally haven't been clinically tested or assessed for their efficacy or safety. As such, CHOICE notes that if you've got a bad infestation you probably should go with an insecticide product first.  If you're STILL having no luck then a herbal based treatment is probably "worth a try".

How do you stop them from coming back?

Managed to get rid of the little critters? Hurrah! But is there a way to prevent them coming back? Ignore products that promise to "repel" nits or prevent them completely, CHOICE advises. Sadly, that formula has yet to be cracked.

And while you might think ripping off the bed sheets and throwing all your kids' hats into the washing machine is another way to treat the problem, research shows it's not an effective treatment strategy. "Nits and lice only live on the human head," says NSW Health. "They quickly dehydrate and die if removed from the head."

In the meantime, you can help by tying kids' hair back and checking for signs of life on a regular basis. And just like other parenting milestones,like witching hour and toilet training, you can also console yourself with the soothing mantra that "nits too shall pass." 

One day.