If you have children or remember your own school days, you will know all about head lice. You may even have tried some of the formulas to get rid of them – but what you may not be aware of is what the products themselves contain.
What Are Head Lice?
Head lice, or to give them their scientific name, ‘Pediculus Capitis’ are insects which live on the human head. They use the heat from the body to stay warm and survive by drinking blood as their food. They then lay eggs – called nits – along the length of individual hairs, cemented on with a kind of bonding glue. The nits quickly hatch, mature, and lay their own eggs, resulting in an infestation.
Contrary to what most people believe, head lice cannot jump. Nor can they fly (they are wingless) or hop.
They spread instead through close contact from one head to another, which is why children are commonly affected.
The chemical products available to help get rid of lice are called ‘pediculicides’ and are basically pesticides. They work by killing the adult lice and eggs using toxins which are very dangerous also to humans.
The Control Agency for the Dept. of Health has licensed four pesticide active ingredients for use against head lice and these are:
- Phenothrin – a possible endocrine disrupter
- Permethrin – linked to leukaemia and lymphoid cancer
- Carbaryl – a possible human carcinogen, endocrine disrupter, and restricted to prescription only
- Malathion – an organophosphate insecticide, disrupts the immune system, mutagen
The sale of these chemicals for this purpose represents a staggering £30 million industry and yet applying hair lice products is not only harmful but has been proven not to be necessarily the most effective method of lice removal since the lice quickly build up a resistance to the chemicals used.
Health Dangers Of Hair Lice Products
There are many harmful effects of hair lice products and children’s health is particularly at risk since young bodies are more vulnerable, and more sensitive to toxins.
Ingestion does not have to take place for the pesticides to have harmful effects because the scalp is soft and permeable and hair lice solution is able to penetrate the skin. In addition, a single treatment may not be enough and if it’s re-applied or used more than once within a short space of time, then the effects could be accumulative and exceed ‘safe’ limits.
Adverse symptoms of using these chemicals can include, dizziness, burning, rashes, skin irritation, confusion, headaches, tiredness, irritability, hyperactivity and sickness as well as any long-term health problems from repeated or prolonged exposure.
Some of the potential health hazards of these chemicals are deemed so great, as to limit their use. For instance, carbaryl, a carbamate insecticide used for 40 years as a head lice solution for children, was labelled in 1995 by the UK Government Committee on Carcinogenicity as a possible human carcinogen and restricted its use to prescription only.
Alternative Methods Of Removal
There is no reason to use pesticides to get rid of lice and nits when manual methods are just as good.
In fact fine combing the hair whilst wet is probably the best way of removing lice, and if done properly it’s more effective than any of the chemical products you can get. One study showed it got rid of 57% of lice compared to 13% with one application of a lotion.
It is also now possible to buy battery operated ‘nit’ combs which can detect and ‘stun’ lice which are also said to work well.
Other people report good deterrent results using natural remedies such as Tee Tree oil and Aloe Vera as well as other essential oils.