Do Lice Shampoos Work? Here’s What Science Says

by Cat Bowen

I hate bugs. I am hugely entomophobic — to the point wherein I have hallucinations of spiders on the walls and ceilings any time I have to take pain meds. Needless to say, now that my kids are in elementary school, I need to know something really important about bugs — do lice shampoos really work? If not, I'm thinking about shaving their heads, or at least, making them wear swim caps to school. That can't look weird, right?

About twice a year, a giant yellow firework detonates in my children's backpack. It's the most visually arresting, harrowing, nauseating sonic boom to be placed in their folder. It will send cold shivers down my spine and make me glad that someone learned how to ferment grapes into wine. That yellow canvas of doom is a single sheet of paper reading but one thing: A child in your son/daughter's class has been diagnosed with head lice.

What? Someone, get me a paper bag to blow into — the room is closing in. Get me latex gloves, a fine tooth comb, my kids' heads, and possibly shaving cream and a razor. (You think I'm kidding. Nope. My anxiety gives me a full-blown panic attack every time this happens. The last time, both kids got one on the same day, and I had to take a klonapin.)

So, do lice shampoos really work? According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), yes, there are several shampoos and over-the-counter remedies for lice. Lice is insidious and horrible and hard to get rid of, but they can be dealt with before you shave your child's head and cover it in Vaseline. There are also many professional lice removal services that will do it for you for a fee. Strangely enough, my pediatrician told me that many insurances reimburse you the fee to remove the lice.

I'd be going with that option. Just as soon as I wrap their scalps in plastic wrap and cover my car in a tarp.

According to the website for Dr. Sears, there are both medicated and non-medicated, prescription and over-the-counter remedies. These include: medicated shampoos like permethrin 1% (brand name: NIX), pyrethrin or pyrethrum (brand names: RID, A-200, Clear, Pronto, R & C), and malathion (brand name: Ovide) — this is a pesticide, like DDT for nits, and everything else should be exhausted before it comes to this.

You can also attempt smothering your child's hair in vaseline or Pantene conditioner, waiting, and then combing the ever-loving hell out of it (I'm paraphrasing), or a Nit comb and conditioner.

According to LadyBugs Hair Care, professional nit removers, you also need to deep clean anything that's come in contact with your child's head. Apparently, you don't need to burn your house down like I thought previously. This includes vacuuming every thing everywhere — I may start with just vacuuming my children — and doing all the laundry again by throwing everything in a hot dryer. (The hottest dryer that I can find. I don't care if it's antique silk, only the strong survive. If Satan has a coin-operated laundry in hell, I'll find it.)

You also need to do this over and over and over again. You have to freeze your pillows or suffocate those little suckers by sealing them in an airtight bag for a week to make sure they don't come back. Lice are like cats at the Pet Sematary — they come back, and they come back fighting.

Thankfully, lice die after 48 hours without a host, so maybe just wrap your entire home in a sheet of plastic and sleep in the backyard in a tent for a week. Just make sure that tent is water tight and off the ground so that no bugs get you in there. Maybe you could invent a hammock tent. You could make millions from people like me. Go for it.