Is Tea Tree Oil Really a Miracle Treatment for Lice?

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Ugh, lice. What a nightmare: First little Johnny is sharing his new baseball cap with Ricky, next thing you know the entire family is scratching and shampooing with serious chemicals. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a natural alternative to eliminating these disgusting pests? There just might be: Tea tree oil with lavender has a fairly remarkable track record in ridding hair of lice.

First of all, know your enemy: The louse is a parasite that attaches itself to human hair and feeds on human blood. Head lice are the most prevalent kind of lice, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating that up to 12 million lice infestations occur every year in the United States.

Head lice infestation in the United States is most common among preschool children attending child care, elementary school children, and the household members of infested children, typically between 3 and 11 years of age.

Head lice can be spread by contact with clothing, such as hats and jackets, and personal items like brushes and towels. Though there the stigma persists that head lice look for unhygenic people, the reality is hygiene and cleanliness has no impact on who gets the parasites.

Now you got ’em—how do you get rid of ’em, and fast? There are both over-the-counter medicines and prescription products to treat head lice—typically shampoos, rinses, or lotions which you leave on for a period of time, and then rinse off. But there are various home remedies available too, including tea tree oil.

Also known as melaleuca oil, tea tree oil is an essential oil obtained from the distillation of the leaves from the Australian tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia). There are various products containing tea tree oil, such as drops, sprays, and shampoos, that are promoted as preventing and treating lice infestations. (Though it should be noted that these have yet to be cleared by the American Academy of Pediatrics.)

Tea tree oil contains two major constituents with insecticidal activity: 1,8-cineole and terpinen-4-ol. Research has found that a 1 percent tea tree oil solution is capable of killing 100 percent head lice within 30 minutes. Other research suggests a tea tree oil plus lavender mixture can work as well or better than chemical preparations.

Essential oils have gained quite a lot of attention as of late for their ability to promote health and cure various ailments. Though tea tree oil has been found effective, especially when used along with combing, it is important to take precautions. Before you begin using an essential oil, try a small drop on the back of the patient’s hand to rule out potential allergic reactions. No rash or itchy reactions? You’re in good shape.

Because lice reproduce and mature very quickly, it is almost impossible to get rid of them in with a single treatment. Your best bet is to practice patience and persistence. After performing a patch test, apply few drops of tea tree oil on the patient’s scalp, and let it sit overnight. The following morning, the hair can be combed through to remove the dead lice. You can follow this procedure by washing the hair with a shampoo and conditioner containing tea tree oil. The entire process should be repeated two to three times a week, depending on the severity of the infestation, until the lice are completely gone.

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