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Alternative Treatments for Head Lice

Using head lice shampoo is the best choice for treating head lice. If you choose not to use head lice shampoo there are alternative treatment options. 

If you choose to use one of the alternative treatment options it is important that you are aware:

  • There is no reliable research available that supports that the alternative methods work as well as head lice shampoo.
  • The alternative treatments do not kill the live lice or the nits. You will need to pick the nits out of the hair and clean everything you have used (like combs and towels) after each treatment. You should also wash hats, sheets and pillowcases and vacuum carpets and rugs

Food-Grade Oil:

The idea behind using this method is that the food-grade oil will smother the live lice if left on the hair for a long period of time.  You may want to choose mineral oil because it has fewer odours than the food oils. Baby oil is not recommended because it is too light.

You will need:

  • mineral oil or a food-grade oil (e.g. olive oil)
  • fine-tooth or lice comb—to comb out the lice slowed down by the conditioner
  •  plastic wrap, shower or bathing cap
  • dish detergent and shampoo—to help to get the oil out of the hair


    1. Start with dry hair and apply lots of oil to hair and scalp.
    2. Make sure to protect the eyes from the solution.
    3. Wrap hair in plastic wrap, shower or bathing cap for at least 2 hours
    4. Supervise your child closely to avoid risks of suffocation or aspiration of pieces of plastic. Do not allow the child to wear this while sleeping.
    5. After 2 hours, wash the hair with a small amount of dish detergent and shampoo without conditioner.
    6. Wash hair again with just shampoo.
    7. Pick all the nits while hair is wet. (see instructions below)
    8. Repeat every 2 to 3 days for 2 weeks and until all live lice and nits are gone.

    Wet Combing:

    Web combing works to remove the adult lice as soon as they hatch and before they can lay more eggs or move to someone else’s hair. You will need to wet comb twice a week until no live lice are found on the head.  Always leave 4 days between the treatments (day 1, 5, 9 and 13 over a two-week period).

    If you find any adult lice on any day after day 1 of the treatment, these are new lice, You will need to treat hair for another 2 weeks.

    You will need:

    • conditioner—white conditioner will help make the lice and nits easier to see
    • fine tooth or lice comb—to comb out the lice slowed down by the conditioner
    • normal comb to detangle— a white one will help make the lice and eggs are easier to see
    • paper towel, tissue or towel—white  is best to make the lice and eggs are easier to see


      1. Shampoo the hair and leave the hair dripping wet.
      2. Apply lots of hair conditioner and gently massage it through the wet hair.
      3. Use the normal comb to work the conditioner into the hair and to get rid of tangles.
      4. Using the fine tooth or lice comb, put the comb into a section of hair with the teeth flat against the scalp. Keep the teeth lightly touching the scalp for as long as possible and move the comb down to the end of the hair.
      5. Check the comb between each stroke and remove any lice captured by wiping onto a paper towel, tissue or towel.
      6. Work your way over the whole head, section by section, combing and cleaning until the fine-toothed comb comes through ‘louse free.’
      7. If treating long hair, lean over the sink. Be sure to wash away any lice falling into the sink to prevent them being picked up again by the hair ends.
      8. Rinse the conditioner off.  Continue to comb while rinsing.  The hair should be extremely slippery, and the lice thoroughly wet, making it easier to remove them with the comb.
      9. Leave the hair dripping wet and wrap in a towel.
      10. Comb out any tangles with a normal comb and then repeat the section-by-section combing with the fine-toothed comb until it comes out ‘louse free.
      11. Pick all the nits while hair is wet. (see instructions below)
      12. Dry hair as usual.

      Picking the nits:

      1. Remember that young children can’t sit still for long periods.  Take lots of breaks and give them a favourite book or video to keep them busy while nit picking.
      2. Check the heads of other family and household members.
      3. Removing nits should be done to help stop lice from coming back.  It is best to check for and remove all lice and nits in the morning and at night for 7-10 days.
      4. Use bright, natural light to help you see. You can also use a magnifying glass.
      5. A plastic or metal, fine-tooth comb can be used to help you find the nits. But removing them with your fingers usually works best.
      6. The hair should be clean and well combed or brushed to remove tangles in the hair.
      7. Part the hair into sections and use a clip to hold each section. Take hold of a small amount of hair. Using your thumbnail against your first finger, slide the nits from the hair roots right out to the ends of the hair and off.  If the nits are very hard to remove, dip your comb in vinegar.  This may help them to slide off the hair strand.  Be sure to clean the comb frequently during combing to remove all the nits that have been caught.
      8. Place the nits in a bag.
      9. Pin back that lock of hair and continue until all the nits are out of the hair. Look closely for tiny nits laid right next to the scalp.
      10. Discard the bag with nits.
      11. Check and recheck daily after the treatment to make sure that you get all nits.

      Be sure to tell anyone who may have been in close contact with the person who had lice so that they can be checked too.  This might include your child’s school, sports team, playmates, etc.

      There are fee-for-service, nit-picking agencies in many communities. Check with your local community information center for contact information.

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