PEOPLE’S PHARMACY: Natural remedies for head lice

Q. I teach elementary school, and lice are an ongoing, frustrating problem. Many low-income families struggle with the high cost of treatments, which often are not effective. I have two suggestions that are natural and quite effective (given to me by my students’ families).

1. Coat the affected head entirely with mayonnaise and cover with a shower cap. Leave on head for at least one hour. (Watch a movie or read a story.) Rinse and shampoo as usual. I am told this drowns the lice.

2. When the affected head is dry, put the child in the bathtub and pour salt on the scalp, taking care to keep it out of the eyes. Rub in with fingers for several minutes. This is supposed to loosen the nits. Rinse and then wash hair as usual.

When my own daughter got head lice at age 6, I was appalled at how her tender scalp turned red and irritated at the commercial treatments. We used these two inexpensive, natural suggestions a few times during a two-week period and were lice-free. I suggest them to anyone I know who has to deal with head lice.

A: Desperate parents have used mayonnaise to coat the hair and suffocate lice. Others have used olive oil. One review of home remedies found that only petroleum jelly was effective at killing lice (Journal of Pediatric Nursing, December 2004). Readers have testified that getting Vaseline out of hair is a major problem, though!

One other approach we have heard is to soak the hair with Cetaphil (a nonsoap cleanser), use a blow-dryer to harden it and leave it on overnight (Pediatrics, September 2004). Shampoo the hair in the morning.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist and Teresa Graedon is an expert in medical anthropology and nutrition. They can be reached at

6 comments Add your comment


September 30th, 2009
12:36 pm

all these lice stories make me itchy, i just used what the CDC Center for Disease Control recommended in a way. they say heat kills the lice and eggs just as you mentioned by using a blow dryer, but you can not get with 6 mm of the scalp it burns! so i found this company called head lice heros they use this lice safe wand that does that. it gets 6 mm of the scalp without burning you only destroying the lice and the eggs/ nits. it’s pretty wild when i had my daughter treated. found them on good luck, Julie


September 30th, 2009
10:40 pm

The secret of mayo is that the oil smothers the lice, while the vinegar loosens the nits. Vinegar is an old method to dissolve nit glue, but plain vinegar is runny, irritating, and doesn’t “soak” the hair as well as the vinegar in thick mayo.

Never heard of using salt but the easiest way to wash out the mayo is to use hand dishwashing soap (like Dawn). It’s surprisingly gentle on the skin (remember “you’re soaking in it”)?

Lice Free Client

October 3rd, 2009
1:57 pm

I know of this company I used call “Family Lice Removal” whom has done such a wonderful job in removing lice and nits from my kids head. 2 treatments needed and your done. I am so glad I found this company in Atlanta they are the best!

They use an all natural product which is awesome… I recommend this company to anyone who really want to get rid of head lice…


October 8th, 2009
5:07 pm

Julie, same thing here, getting all itchy just THINKING about the creepy crawlers. My daughter got it a few years ago too, and I tell you we tore apart the stores looking for something to work. I never heard of the Family Lice Removal…thats interesting. We used and it did the trick.
But I like all the places popping up that actually get right in there and nitpick them out for you. I forget their name, but thats QUITE the service, right?


Bye Bye Lice

November 21st, 2009
8:38 pm

I’m here to let everyone know about this company in Atlanta, GA they are very professional and knows exactly what there doing. My child was treated immediately upon a call for help. Natural Lice Removal is the best. Thank you Natural Lice Removal for your help, we could not have done this without you.

Bye Bye Lice

November 21st, 2009
8:40 pm

I forgot to give you all there website