Low-salicylate treatments for head lice and nits

Every year millions of children are infested with head lice in a condition known as pediculosis.

Pesticides are not a good solution because exposure to pesticides - including those in headlice shampoos - has been shown to increase the risk of acute leukemia in children. [Menegaux F and others, Household exposure to pesticides and risk of childhood acute leukaemia.Occup Environ Med. 2006 ;63(2):131-4.].

As well, head lice resistance to commonly used pesticides is increasing.

Herbal treatments are popular but are not suitable for children who are sensitive to salicylates, see parents' reaction reports below.

[712] Reactions to head lice treatments (December 2008)

  • My son is on the elimination diet and last week he had a MAJOR reaction to [a natural treatment] which I'd left on overnight. I was really stupid and thought I'd done the right thing by avoiding a traditional chemical headlice treatment - instead opted for this natural treatment (1% lavender, >10% teatree oil, benzyl alcohol 0.5% ethanol 20%) - obviously he won't do well when I challenge salicylates! - failsafe mother by email
  • I got a call from the principal at 10 o'clock saying he'd have to be taken home to have his hair debugged - my fault. I had suspected the bugs but I didn't want to put anything on his hair while we were doing the diet. I had no choice. I picked him up at 1pm and washed his hair with [a natural treatment not the same as above] - containing 10mg/g melaleuca alternifolia - or teatree - oil. I returned him to school at 2pm. When I picked him up at 3.30pm, he seemed fine, but certainly not calm. At storytime/bedtime he was acting really silly and I asked him twice to stop before I gave up and left the room. He then had a tantrum with tears. - failsafe father, NSW
  • I had to delay the challenge as they got nits a couple weeks back and had to be treated ... well ... didn't those chemicals send my kids haywire! It took 4 days for the meltdowns to stop, extreme ODD for around 72 hours! - failsafe mother, by email

Some non-chemical low salicylate head lice treatments

  • The oil method: I smear their heads in Vaseline, cover with a shower cap and leave for about a half hour, the lice are suffocated, the nits or eggs too (I think). I then comb it all out with a nit comb. Its very messy and they have "gel" in their hair for a few days, but it works very well and is a lot cheaper then all that rubbish at the supermarket (which doesn't really work properly anyway) - failsafe mother, by email - Others have suggested the same method using failsafe oils such as canola.
  • The Robi Comb: we have been through the head lice thing a couple of times, not recently, touch wood! I found the best treatment was with an electronic lice comb called a Robi Comb (available from most chemists at about $60, battery powered). It can only be used on completely dry hair so I would comb their hair with it every morning and with an ordinary lice comb (has extra fine teeth) on wet hair every night. The first time I used it, it zapped about 20 of them - YUK! Anyway by doing it daily for a week - 10 days I got rid of them without having to use the nasty pesticide treatments and now I just use it weekly to keep a constant check. I highly recommend it. - failsafe mother, NZ [see Robi Comb at for $Aus 49.95]
  • The Lousebuster - a non-chemical method requiring only one 30 minute application using a combination comb/hairdryer with more air and less heat sounds promising but doesn't appear to be available commercially yet -
  • Drown-the-pests + soap: this method worked for us when my kids were little. It combines the drown-the-pests principle with the known toxicity of soap plus mechanical removal by combing. Shampoo with your regular shampoo, rinse, shampoo again and leave with a towel around your child's head for twenty minutes, then rinse. Apply your regular conditioner and comb well with a white nit comb so you can see what you catch. Swim or wet hair in the shower, condition and comb nearly every day for two weeks or until you stop catching anything. Wash bedding and towels in hot water or dry in dryer.


Introduction to food intolerance

The information given is not intended as medical advice. Always consult with your doctor for underlying illness. Before beginning dietary investigation, consult a dietician with an interest in food intolerance. You can see our list of experienced and supportive dietitians 

© Sue Dengate update December 2008