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Facts and Myths about Head Lice


By Kristin Sorensen

Head lice are disgusting. These bugs take residency in your hair and lay eggs. Ew! No one is dreaming about the day they catch head lice.

Misconceptions are rampant about lice because their crawly nature causes over-the-top reactions. Of course, parents still have reason to be worried—head lice is not enjoyable—but before you purchase five containers of mayonnaise, throw out all of your living room furniture and get into fights about the “no-nit” initiative, take a look at these facts before your kids head back to school.

About the Bug

A louse is a wingless insect with six legs. A mother louse can lay five to 10 eggs a day. These eggs are known as nits, and a mother will lay them right next to the hair shaft so they will stay nice and toasty. She excretes a saliva to hold her eggs to the scalp and hair shafts. After a week of sitting, these nits will hatch into nymphs that will be full grown lice—that can hatch their own eggs—in 10 days.

These bugs can cause symptoms beyond just an itchy head. Lice can cause sleeplessness, the feeling of something moving on the top of the head (talk about driving someone crazy) and sores on the scalp.

Sounds like fun, right? D=

How They Travel

Can Head Lice Fly?

Many myths claim these wingless bugs can fly or that they have super strong legs that allow them to jump from head to head. That myth is false. All these bugs can do is crawl, so unless direct head contact is made between two people, head lice is not easily transmitted.

If your child has head lice, watch them as they interact with other kids. Here are some instances where direct head contact can be made:
• Sleepovers where children are sleeping next to each other and sharing the same pillow while sleeping.
• Rough-housing or wrestling.
• Group pictures where people are pressed close together.

Can Head Lice Be Spread Through Swimming Pools?

Another myth about head lice is that it can be spread through swimming pools. Lice can survive underwater for several hours and chlorine won’t kill the little pests, but according to Lice Lessons, head lice holds on tightly to the head underwater, so it is unlikely that lice will be spread in a swimming pool.

Can Pets Get Head Lice?

Believe it or not, your furry friends cannot catch head lice. Head lice is a human specific bug. Fido cannot give humans head lice, and humans cannot give head lice to Fido.

Hygiene and Cleaning the Home

Can Head Lice Carry Diseases?

Head lice don’t carry diseases. That’s right, another myth! A body louse, which is a close relative of the head louse, can carry diseases. Considering that they are in the same family, that explains how this rumor began, but remember, head lice do NOT carry diseases.

Can People with Clean Hair Get Head Lice?

This will probably shock you so sit down if you’re not already sitting. People with clean, healthy hair can catch head lice. One of the most popular myths spread about head lice is that “only dirty people get head lice.” Untangling the Myths about Head Lice by Christina Ianzito states that head lice “doesn’t have discriminating tastes: It wants warmth for its eggs and a regular ‘blood meal.’ It doesn’t matter if the dish is dirty or clean.” If you consider yourself a clean individual, be aware that you can indeed catch head lice.

Can People with Short Hair Get Head Lice?

Likewise, people with long and short hair can catch lice as well. The length of hair has nothing to do with whether or not lice will inhabit a person's head. Everyone has an equal chance of catching lice.

Is My Furniture Infested with Head Lice?

There is also this idea that lice grow and take up residency in furniture. People fear that once lice are on their couches, they will be there forever. Well, we’re here to say, don’t throw out your furniture! A louse can only survive for 24 to 36 hours off of a human head. After that, these creatures will die. Chances are, lice won’t be transmitted to your furniture just from resting your head on the recliner.

At most, you should clean your couch, but not because there are live, active louse climbing in it. Clean your couch because there are dead louse carcasses and excrements sitting on it—that’s if there have even been lice on it in the first place.

If there are any household items you should toss, it’s items like helmets, hairbrushes and pillowcases. These objects are more likely to be hosting lice than furniture. Even then, it’s rare to catch lice from these items, but it doesn’t hurt to be better safe than sorry.

Wash clothing in hot water and dry on the hot air cycle. If there are any live louse on the clothing, the hot water will kill them.

Don’t Waist Time on these Home Remedies for Head Lice

These home remedies don’t work. They just don’t. None of these have any sort of scientific evidence for the removal of prevention of lice, nit or nymphs. The best way to get rid of lice is to use approved treatments. Don’t get caught trying to use one of these methods:
• Mayonnaise
• Petroleum Jelly wrapped in cellophane and topped with a shower cap
• Vaseline
• Olive Oil
• Vacuuming the lice away with a Shop-Vac
• Hair Gel

Lice in School

Schools have a lot of views and stances on head lice. Some are enforcing “no-nit” policies, meaning that if a student has been diagnosed with lice or even nits they are required to not return to school until their heads are completely rid of the bugs. In order to prevent further spreading of the bug, screenings are given to all students when one case of lice has been reported.

Another view is more laissez faire about the issue. Typically, lice are not detected right away. They’re usually found a month after they’ve been sitting on the child’s head. By that point, every student has been “exposed.” Therefore, what’s the point of removing them from school now? If the lice have been removed by treatment, and even if the nits are not gone, the student should be able to return back to school as long as they are discouraged from close contact with other students.  

There are flaws with both stances. The “no-nit” policies are removing kids from schools for extended periods of time when the dangers may not be as strong. Those who do not support “no-nit” are opening the potential for lice to be spread regardless of whether or not proper treatment has taken place. Is there really a correct way to deal with head lice?

The truth is, transmissions in schools are rare. While the outbreaks can be large scale and affect lots of students at once, they are not common. Parents, hopefully that brings you comfort!

Despite where you stand on the politics behind lice in schools, take comfort knowing that catching lice at school is a rare occurrence. According to the North Dakota Department of Health, “it is more common to get head lice from family members, overnight guests and playmates who spend a lot of time together.” Have you ever noticed that “outbreaks” typically occur after Christmas break? That is due to the increase of contact with family members and friends.  


Want to do more research on head lice? Check out these resources and discover the truth about lice for yourself.

Lice are annoying. Take care of your kids hair during and after lice with Glop & Glam products.

Kristin Sorensen covers stories for Paramount Beauty.