- General Information
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Head lice are insects that live in your hair. They are a brownish grey colour, measure just a few millimetres long and have six legs with claws to hold onto hairs. Head lice feed on blood from your scalp and are often most noticeable behind the ears and at the nape of the neck.
Lice cannot fly or jump, but they can ‘trapeze’ or crawl from person to person when there is close contact between heads (and possibly through sharing hairbrushes or combs).
Female lice lay eggs called nits, which appear as tiny white specks on hairs, close to the scalp. The eggs hatch after seven to 10 days. The empty egg cases can also be seen in the hair and are found slightly further away from the scalp. It is important to check behind the ears and at the nape of the neck when looking for a lice infestation.
Head lice are most common in children (who are more likely to share hats, brushes and combs and have long hair) but they can spread to adults.
Often there are no obvious signs of infestation. There may be blood spots, a rash or scratch marks around the hairline and neck from itching. Sometimes there is no itch at all. These symptoms appear only after several weeks of infestation, when the body develops an allergic reaction to the saliva of the lice.
Head lice are not a sign of dirty hair or poor hygiene. They are just as likely to be found in clean hair.
See Your Pharmacist or Medical Professional
- if you have broken skin or sores on your scalp
- if you are unsure of the problem (skin conditions such as dandruff and psoriasis can be confused with head lice)
- if the person with head lice is a child under six months old
- if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or have eczema or asthma
- if you still have head lice after treatment; check you have repeated the treatment according to the product directions
- some products need reapplying to kill further lice that hatch from nits missed by the first treatment. See individual products for directions
- check for and treat all affected family members at the same time
- avoid getting the products in your eye
- some products may affect permed, coloured or bleached hair
- wash all hairbrushes and combs in hot water (60 degrees C)
- head lice do not survive long once away from the body
- washing clothing, bedding and towels is often recommended as part of treatment. Wash pillow cases on a hot cycle.
- use a fine-tooth nit comb to remove dead lice and nits
- tell your child’s school or preschool
Advice for preventing head lice
- avoid sharing hairbrushes, combs and hats
- avoid touching heads together
- keep long hair tied back or cut hair shorter
- check your child’s scalp and hair each week
- preventative use of head lice products is not recommended because it can make head lice resistant to treatment
- check for head lice by applying hair conditioner to dry hair and using a fine-tooth comb to look for lice or eggs. Repeat this combing, wiping the conditioner onto tissue to check for infestation
- until a live louse is seen, an active infestation cannot be confirmed. The presence of nits (eggs) does not necessarily indicate an active infestation. To minimise resistance, do not use treatments until a live infestation has been confirmed.
Anti-lice (anti-parasite) products
e.g. maldison (KP24 Medicated Lotion and KP24 Medicated Foam)
- kills head lice and nits
- apply the lotion and foam as directed: use a fine-tooth comb afterwards to remove dead lice
- don’t use a hair dryer after applying the lotion; allow to dry naturally
- avoid contact with eyes, mouth and inside the nose
- re-treat after 7 days
e.g. permethrin (Quellada Head Lice Treatment)
- treatment may require two applications 7-10 days apart
- apply Quellada to damp, dry hair, leave on for 10 minutes, wash out then comb through
- avoid contact with eyes, mouth and inside the nose
e.g. dimethicone (Hedrin Lotion and Spray, NitWits, NYDA Express)
- kills lice by blocking the pores they breathe through, and by blocking their water excretion
- apply Hedrin to dry hair, leave for 15 minutes, repeat in 7-10 days. NitWits Solution should be applied to dry hair, and left for 20 minutes.
e.g. pyrethrins + piperonyl butoxide (Banlice Mousse, Paralice, Pyrenel Foam)
- repeat treatment after 7 to 10 days to kill any new lice
- avoid contact with eyes, mouth and the inside of the nose
- apply the mousse or foam to dry hair, massage in until wet, leave for 10 minutes, wash with regular shampoo and remove lice with a fine-tooth comb
- apply the spray to the whole scalp (do not cover), leave for 30 minutes then rinse with warm water. Use a fine-tooth comb to remove lice
Products containing natural ingredients
e.g. herbs and/or essential oils, acetic acid, benzyl alcohol (Lice Breaker Naturals Head Lice Solution with Conditioner, Lysout 1 Gel, Lysout 2 Spray, Moov Head Lice range, NeutraLice range, QuitNits, Thursday Plantation Tea Tree Headlice kit, Euky Bear Blitz Nitz)
- Moov preparations contain a mixture of essential oils, including eucalyptus oil, which kills head lice and eggs
- Moov preparations should be applied as directed and the treatment repeated after 7 and 14 days
- Lice Breaker should be left on hair for at least 20 minutes, and repeated in 7-14 days
- Lysout Gel and the Neutralice range should be applied to towel-dried hair, left for 10-15 minutes, and repeated in 7 days
- Lysout Spray is to be sprayed onto the head in the morning before combing through thoroughly
- Thursday Plantation should be applied to dry hair, left for 20 minutes and repeated in 7 days
e.g. Lice Blaster Comb, Moov Head Lice Combing Conditioner With Comb, Neutralice Nit Comb, NitWits Headlice Comb, Surgipack Nit Comb
- use to remove dead lice and nits after treatment
- use for wet combing to remove live lice and eggs
- use with a conditioner to aid combing
Availability of medicines
- GENERAL SALE available through pharmacies and possibly other retail outlets.
- PHARMACY ONLY available for sale through pharmacies only.
- PHARMACIST ONLY may only be sold by a pharmacist.
Last Reviewed: 23/09/2019
1. Australian Medicines Handbook. 2019. Head lice. https://amhonline.amh.net.au/chapters/dermatological-drugs/scabicides-pediculicides/head-lice
Head lice (nits)
Head lice (or nits), which live and breed in hair or on the scalp, can be treated by wet combing with a conditioner or with various shampoos and lotions.
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Video: How to treat head lice
Head lice (or nits) are small insects that breed and feed on the human scalp. Find out the best way to remove and treat head lice infestations.
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