Almost everyone has, at one time or another, experienced an infestation of lice whether it was from sharing things at school or catching it from your child who brought the little beasties home. In any case, having lice is a rather unpleasant experience since no one likes the idea of creepy crawly things living on their head.
It is estimated that up to 12 million lice infestations happen every year with the majority of instances occurring in preschool and elementary school students and their families. The sharing of toys, hats, clothes, or simply being in close proximity during class and playtime makes the spread of lice all too easy.
Once the lice have been discovered, often through the telltale signs of incessant scratching of the scalp, most parents reach for the typical chemical-laden lice shampoo to help nix the nits.
But, is there a more natural way to get rid of lice?
Tea Tree Oil for Lice Prevention and Treatment – Will tea tree oil kill head lice?
Tea tree essential oil, aka Melaleuca alternifolia, is distilled from Australian Tea Tree. It contains two major insecticidal constituents that are known to kill head lice: 1,8-cineole and terpinen-4-ol.
This makes tea tree an excellent oil to use for both preventing and killing lice. Not only that, using it on the scalp when properly diluted helps relieve the itch and is very soothing for the scalp – not like the tingling and burning sensation lice shampoo can have.
Adding a drop of tea tree essential oil to a brush before combing the hair can act as a good deterrent when you know there’s an outbreak of lice at school.
However, tea tree oil used neat (undiluted) is not enough to eradicate an infestation. The lice themselves need to be suffocated while also being subjected to an insecticide in order to kill all life stages of lice.
In fact, an Italian study conducted over a six-month period on 69 adult head lice and 187 eggs found tea tree oil alone to be more effective than a combination of tea tree and nerolidol. The study concluded that tea tree essential oil had a 100 percent mortality rate after just 30 minutes of exposure.
When used at a higher concentration, the tea tree oil was found to prevent up to 50 percent of lice eggs to hatch. Alternatively, the combination of tea tree and nerolidol at a 1:2 ratio resulted in the complete eradication of adult head lice and eggs after just five days of treatment.
A study from 2010 found that a topical lotion containing 10 percent tea tree oil and one percent lavender essential oil proved to be 97.6 percent effective in eliminating lice after the final day of treatment while only 25 percent of those who used conventional treatment experienced relief.
Other essential oils found to be effective for getting rid of lice include:
- Anise – A German study confirmed that the combination of coconut oil and anise essential oil was found to be more effective than permethrin lotion (source)
- Ylang ylang
A combination of anise, ylang ylang, and coconut oil was found to be 92.3 percent effective in killing lice when applied three times daily. (source)
How to Kill Lice Using Tea Tree Essential Oil
Head lice like to lay their eggs at the base of the hair shaft. These eggs are most noticeable at the nape of the neck, the hairline, and near the back of the ears. They can take up to nine days to hatch.
A single female louse will lay four to five eggs twice per day. Once those eggs hatch, it only takes 7-10 days before they reach adulthood and can lay eggs of their own.
So, as you can see, it’s important to start treatment as soon as you notice lice on your child’s hair.
The telltale signs of a lice infestation include:
- A tickly feeling when the hair moves
- Difficulty sleeping due to an itchy scalp (lice are most active at night)
- Finding lice eggs on the hair shaft
- Intense itching
- Seeing actual lice on the scalp, hair, clothing, hair care tools, etc.
- Small red itchy bumps on the scalp, neck, and shoulders
- Sores on the scalp caused by excessive scratching
Tea tree essential oil can be used in the following recipe to help kill all life stages of lice over the course of five days. This is because it is almost impossible to kill all the eggs in a single treatment, so it’s advised to continue treatment for five consecutive days in order to ensure complete eradication.
Tea Tree Oil Recipe for Killing Lice
- 1 oz (approximately 2 TB) coconut oil
- 6 drops of tea tree oil (use 3 drops for children 6 months – 2 years old) Adults can use 12 drops per ounce of coconut oil (can sub with almond oil or olive oil)
Mix the tea tree essential oil into the coconut oil and saturate the hair and scalp completely.
You may need to double or triple the recipe depending on how much hair you have. The key is to completely saturate the hair so that the lice and their eggs are “drowning” in tea tree infused coconut oil.
Once the hair and scalp are saturated, cover the head with a disposable shower cap and allow the mixture to sit for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Use a Lice specific fine-tooth comb to comb through every hair to remove dead lice and eggs from the scalp and hair. You may need to line the shoulders with an old towel or t-shirt to catch excess coconut oil as you do this.
Once you have meticulously combed the hair from scalp to ends, shampoo the hair twice in a row then condition as usual.
Toss any clothing and towels you were wearing or used into the wash afterward to prevent any re-infestation. This also includes bedding and disinfecting hair care tools, etc. Anything your child has been wearing or uses in close proximity to their head needs to be washed thoroughly including all at-risk items. This can even include stuffed toys, throw pillows, coats, blankets, etc.
Anything that can’t be washed can be sealed in an airtight container or plastic bag for two weeks to kill any remaining lice and their eggs since they can’t live longer than 24 hours without human blood.
It’s also a good idea to vacuum the house daily and empty its contents outside in the trash bin to help suck up any stragglers that may be on carpets, rugs, or upholstery.
Repeat the tea tree treatment for five consecutive days then repeat every three to four days for two weeks after you no longer see lice or nits in the hair.
Tea Tree Oil Lice Prevention Recipe
For this recipe, you will need:
- One 1 ounce spray bottle
- 6 drops tea tree essential oil
- 3 drops lavender essential oil
- 1 ounce of water
Add the essential oils to the spray bottle and top them off with water.
Shake thoroughly and spritz the hair evenly before sending your child off to school. You can also spray the brush and then brush the hair.
I also find that mixing 1 drop of tea tree with a few drops of hair oil (like argan oil) works well for deterring lice and has a more lasting effect.
Alternatively, you can add a drop or two of tea tree essential oil to styling product to help deter lice.
So, if you’re still wondering if tea tree oil kills lice, the resounding answer is yes, it does!
Where to Find High-Quality Tea Tree Essential Oil
To get the most out of your tea tree oil, you’ll want to source it from reputable producers.
Some of my favorite essential oil companies also make fantastic tea tree oil.
- Aura Cacia tea tree essential oil
- doTerra tea tree essential oil
- Edens garden tea tree essential oil
- Plant Therapy tea tree essential oil
- Simplers Botanicals tea tree essential oil
- Young living tea tree essential oil
What have been your tried and true methods for killing lice? Please share in the comments below!
You may also enjoy reading:
Higley, Connie. Reference guide for essential oils. Abundant Health, 1998.
Worwood, Valerie Ann. The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, Revised and Expanded: Over 800 Natural, Nontoxic, and Fragrant Recipes to Create Health, Beauty, and Safe Home and Work Environments. New World Library, 2016.
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