Here’s what you need to know — and what you can do to treat them.
If you thought nothing could be worse than your kid coming home from school with an itchy head of hair, then we’ve got some bad news. Thanks to evolution, the pesky parasites known as lice have become resistant to most over-the-counter treatments. And these super-strains have made their way through 25 states across the country.
According to research from the American Chemical Society’s national meeting, out of 109 lice samples collected over 30 states, 104 had high levels of gene mutations. And these same mutations essentially make them immune to pyrethroids, the active ingredients in most over-the-counter (OTC) formulas.
It doesn’t mean they cannot be killed by those treatments, explained study author Kyong Yoon, but you will need a higher dose or a different prescription-based product if that doesn’t work.
“If you use a chemical over and over, these little creatures will eventually develop resistance,” Yoon added. “So we have to think before we use a treatment. The good news is head lice don’t carry disease. They’re more a nuisance than anything else.”
His research of said “nuisances” is still ongoing, but in the meantime, you can see if your state is included in one of the affected pink areas below. And read on for how to deal if your household gets infected.
How to Treat the New Super Lice
To beat resistance or to avoid chemicals, parents may resort to home remedies that are ineffective at best, risky at worst: In January, a Massachusetts child suffocated in her sleep after her mother coated her hair with mayo and covered it with a plastic bag. Here are some steps for a much safer fix.
1. Call Your Pediatrician
“Not all communities have resistance, and your doc will know if it’s an issue,” says Cynthia Devore, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). If there’s no resistance, she may suggest an OTC product with permethrin or pyrethrin — still a safe way to kill lice. If there is resistance, she may prescribe a stronger drug (but avoid Lindane, which the AAP no longer recommends — it’s been linked to seizures) or an OTC alternative.
The GHI Lab says: New Rx’s Natroba, Sklice and Ulesfia appear to be safer than Lindane. Also ask about OTC Vamousse Lice Treatment, a non-pesticide product with a form of sodium chloride (the same thing as table salt) that claims to kill lice. (There’s no solid evidence that natural “fixes” like mayo work, says Dr. Devore.)
2. Use an At-Home Kit
Whatever treatment you use, you must comb out the eggs (a.k.a. nits) with a grooved metal nit comb (left), even if the product claims to kill eggs (few do); otherwise, they’ll hatch in about 10 days and the cycle will continue. As for products that coat hair for easier combing or to loosen nits, check with your doc first. “Some ingredients, even in regular conditioners, can deactivate treatment chemicals meant to stay on the shaft,” says Dr. Devore.
The GHI Lab says: If your doc OK’s it, or you aren’t using a chemical treatment, try LiceMD Pesticide-Free ($12 for 4-ounce bottle, Amazon.com) or Licenders Natural Combing Solution ($85, Amazon.com).