Coconut Oil and Head Lice

Coconut Oil and Head Lice:

With school back in session, the issue of lice is a hot ticket item right now! Head lice infestation (pediculosis), one of the most common contagious childhood diseases, is caused by barely visible insects found almost exclusively on the human scalp.

Contrary to popular belief, head lice infestation has little to do with personal hygiene. In fact, head lice are totally non-discriminating and can infest people of any lifestyle, age, race, or socio-economic status. However, it is a serious public health problem because some lice can carry organisms that cause other diseases, including relapsing fever.

Quick disclaimer – I am required to clearly state that I am not a licensed medical professional nor do I pretend to be one on this site. Take what I write as a launching off point to do your own research. My advice, experience, and suggestions are not to be considered medical advice.

Since forever, parents have run out to the nearest pharmacy to pick up the chemical laden lice shampoos to rid their precious children of those unwanted invaders. What these well-intentioned parents failed to realize is that the blood veins under their child’s scalp are very close to the surface of the skin and the scalp is extremely permeable to anything placed on it, absorbing up to 80%. Lice shampoos offer up a heavy dose of toxic chemicals all of which are known for causing some very serious side-effects.

Check out the most common chemicals used for head lice treatment and their possible side effects.

  • Pyrethrums And Pyrethroids: Pyrethrum comes from the chrysanthemum flower. Though naturally derived, pyrethrins are still pesticides which have recently been banned from agricultural use in food production. The concern is that pyrethrins can cause pneumonia, muscle paralysis, death due to respiratory failure, vomiting, and asthma. (But it is still a major component in head lice treatments such as NixTM). Pyrethroids are synthetic chemical counterparts (as contained in RIDTM) that have similar side effects.
  •  Permethrin: Permethrin is a broad-spectrum synthetic pyrethroid insecticide. As above, it also can cause vomiting, asthma and pneumonia, muscle paralysis and possible death due to respiratory failure.
  • Carbaryl: Carbaryl is a pesticide that is often found in head lice treatments, the formulations of which vary widely in toxicity to the nervous and respiratory systems resulting in nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and excessive salivation. Other symptoms at high doses include blurring of vision, affects coordination, causes excessive sweating, and possible convulsions.

Now get this. Recent studies have shown that lice are actually becoming more and more resistant to the chemicals in traditional lice shampoos. They are turning into superbugs essentially. This is not an unusual phenomenon. More and more bacteria are mutating and becoming resistant to antibiotics due to overuse. Why wouldn’t lice do the same?

What is a parent to do? Coconut Oil of course!

A 2009 clinical trial showed the superiority of a coconut oil as a natural alternative to the conventional treatment from head lice and their eggs. The clinical trial, which was published in the European Journal of Paediatrics involved 100 participants and  found that coconut-oil based spray was more effective than permethrin. Other studies have produced similar findings.

These studies indicated that coconut oil is likely to have a treatment success rate of around 90 per cent, which would make it a fantastic alternative to conventional insecticides like permethrin.

What makes coconut oil so effective in combating lice? The fatty content of the coconut oil, which persists on the hair and lice subsequent to washing, essentially suffocates the lice and makes it harder for them to maintain their grip on the hair. Score!

So just how do you use coconut oil to combat head lice?

  1. To get rid of lice start by removing as many lice as you can by combing the hair. To do this, massage a little coconut oil into the scalp and hair.  Use just enough to barely coat the hair, not to make it very oily. 
  2. Using a louse detection comb (which has finer teeth than an ordinary comb) pull the comb from the scalp to the ends of the hair.  Rinse off any lice in the comb and continue.  Comb through the hair at least twice. 
  3. After combing shampoo the hair thoroughly using a toxin free shampoo taking care to massage thoroughly behind the ears and the back of the neck as this is where lice are most often found.  Dry the hair. 
  4. Apply a liberal amount of coconut oil and massage it deep into the hair.  Keep the oil in the hair for as long as possible – at least 12 hours. Apply more oil as necessary to keep scalp moist.  If applying at night use a shower cap and/or cover your pillow with a thick towel to protect it. 
  5. Comb through the hair again and remove any lice you find.  Most should be dead or gone by now. 
  6. Repeat once or twice a week.

Want to know where I get my coconut oil? Visit my Products I Love page!

Have you ever battled lice? Ever try coconut oil for it?

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  1. says

    You are absolutely right. Everyone goes through this problem at one time or other, at least in a mild way in school. We always dealt with it, with coconut oil. In fact, we regularly applied coconut oil in our hair (usually long, and almost knee length, or at least hip length on average). :-) For intense cases of lice or dandruff, we ground the coconut and mixed it with pepper powder and applied it in the hair to get rid of any problems.

    I totally vote for your post, Jennifer. I feel so lucky I grew up with natural remedies for almost everything.

    Thanks! Great read!

    • VIVIAN says

      Please help me as my daughters have gotten lice from the school. Last two years we were able to stay free of it but it finally caught up to us. I have use the shampoo from over-the-counter that my daughters are still itching. Want to try the coconut oil but with that remove the eggs as well. My hair is processed and I have extensions and I feel like I am itching now should I use the treatment for me. Please advise desperately need to do your help.

  2. Katie M. says

    My daughter had this 2 yrs ago and our school nurse suggested the standard shampoo and when it didn’t work I did some online research and came up with the coconut oil. We did as you stated only let the oil sit on her head for 4 hours with it all wrapped up in plastic wrap and a towel to prevent drips. Worked like a charm! And smells much better than that nasty shampoo anyways.

  3. says

    I read the title to your post and my head started itching. This is one subject I hope to never have to deal with again. When my daughter had it we had to treat her four or five times with those toxic chemicals. She had extremely thick long hair and those little critters just did not want to give up. I was almost ready to cut her hair short to deal with the issue. It would not be pretty if my son ever got it. His hair is not as long as my daughter’s but it is even thicker. And he would not tolerate cutting it.


  4. says

    Wow. I had no idea you could use coconut oil. I’ve used a bottle of cheap conditioner and tea tree oil, as my altenrative to the nasty chemical stuff.
    Do you mind if I share this on my FB and Twitter? I have so many friends asking me for headlice advice (I’m a ped nurse) that it would be good to share!

  5. says

    This has been the worst year for head lice at our school. We have had lice 5 times in our house since November. I get sick to my stomach, thinking of all the chemicals I put on our girls’ skin. I will be ising this method if the need arises again, but I hope and pray it doesn’t!

    • says

      @ Kristi – five time since November sounds like you aren’t catching it but keeping it – like maybe missing just one lice or egg and having it reinfest. It’s harder to get rid of than to contract that many times in three months. Hope coconut oil helps!

    • says

      I have heard that it can deter fleas from laying eggs but you pretty much would have to slather your dog or cat in it and I doubt that they would enjoy that!

      • Araceli says

        I just made coconut oil at home then I mixed in a CAPful of eucalyptus oil and tea tree oil. I’m using it too massage my pug & chihuahua to repel fleas and they both love it. Also they both smell awesome afterwards. Can also be use on the kids’hair to repel lice.

        • says

          Don’t use tea tree on dogs our cats – it’s toxic to both. I have a Chinese Shar-pei who is (sadly) prone to flare-ups of Familial Shar-pei Fever, a genetic disease specific to the breed. It starts with hot spots and ends in renal failure and death if not treated quickly. When the hot spots come up, I use a homemade mix of liquid castile soap, coconut oil, honey, lavender essential oil and powdered oatmeal to condition her fur and skin, provide external relief and prevent infection. Internally, the coconut oil helps reduce the build-up of amyloid proteins that cause the FSF issue in the first place.

          I have never had a problem with her getting fleas. Even when we had another dog move in who had them bad, my Pei never had that problem. The secret: a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in her water daily. Once we got the other dog accustomed to it, they left him, too. Ticks don’t like it either.

          If you do find a tick on your pet, dousing it with liquid coconut oil may help persuade it to un-burrow itself (an empty nail polish container and brush is handy for this). Lavender or lemon oil (one single drop of either, mixed into the coconut oil) will add an incentive for it to get out (both are safe for cats as well as dogs, dogs can also handle eucalyptus or peppermint). Never pull a tick that is still embedded: if you don’t get the whole thing and the head stays in, it can cause a nasty infection.

  6. renee says

    I just want to know exactly what brand of coconut oil I should be using to get rid of nits?
    If someone could help me that would be lovely.


  7. Hillary Autumn Graham says

    i will try this on my 5 kids and my self. i have organic virgin coconut oil i buy at sams club. i already use it to make bath stuff and to cook with. never thought to use in our hair. thanks for the advise. what about using any essential oils besides tea tree oil it burns the crap outta of my head and leaves it sore.

    • says

      You could try using Thieves essential oil or Oregano essential oil in place of the Tea Tree. Or simply use only one drop of the tea tree. And yes, it does burn!

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