Latest Medical Insanity: Insecticide for Your Head

head lice, lice, pediculosis, nix, insecticide, lindane, malathion, pyrethrins, permethrinsMorton Grove Pharmaceuticals, the makers of an insecticide-based treatment for head lice, have stopped promoting their product after a sharply worded warning from the FDA. The FDA’s warning follows years of controversy regarding shampoo and lotion treatments that contain the insecticide lindane. Lindane-based live treatments have been banned in California.

The FDA expressed concern advertising by the company which stated that treating head lice effectively requires two applications, several days apart. The FDA found that "extremely alarming given that retreatment with Lindane Shampoo can lead to increased exposure and possibly death."

More than 166,000 prescriptions for lindane treatments -- almost 10 percent of all prescriptions for head lice and scabies -- were written from January to November 2007.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

It’s unfortunate that so many people are convinced, through advertising, that the best answer to a commonplace problem is a radical and toxic solution as the first course of action. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, chemical lice treatments have resulted in accidental poisonings and even death, by well-intentioned parents who simply didn’t know any better.

Head lice, or pediculosis, affect an estimated 10 to 12 million children in the United States every year. The condition is characterized by an itchy scalp, and they spread easily from person to person, making them hard to eliminate. Allergic reactions to the lice, and bacterial infections brought on by excessive scratching can also occur.

Commonly, head lice is treated with lotions and shampoos made from malathion, pyrethrins, permethrins, lindane and other insecticides. Not only do some of these insecticides cause minor rashes and skin irritations in some, but many are also known to be toxic to your nervous system and immune system, such as lindane, which has already been banned in California.

Repeated use increases their toxicity, and head lice can also develop a resistance to the insecticides, rendering them useless to solve your problem, yet exposing you or your children to potent toxins. There are far better, non-chemical options you can consider before resorting to the drastic measures of putting an insecticide directly on your scalp!

Natural, Non-Toxic Treatment Options for Head Lice

One of your best treatment options is to use an old-fashioned “nit comb.” Lice attach their eggs (nits) to hair shafts near the scalp and lay five to six eggs a day. A careful combing for these eggs and live adults, once every three to four days, has been found to be just as effective as more dangerous chemical treatments, which also may need to be reapplied for full effectiveness, making them even more hazardous to your health.

Here are some other non-chemical alternatives you can consider:

Essential Oils: The oils of anise and ylang ylang, combined with coconut oil into a natural spray has been found to be highly effective, eliminating about 92 percent of head lice. Anise and ylang ylang contain essential oils, which are generally antibacterial, antifungal, and insecticidal. These oils have long been known to have such effects; one related study found that the essential oil of an African plant, Lippia multiflora, was more effective against head and body lice than the conventional treatment.

Olive Oil: Applying olive oil to the entire scalp for a minimum of two hours may be useful. You can also sleep with a shower cap on and use the olive oil over night. I would not advise any other oil as olive oil is the safest food oil to use. The oil coats the lice and may serve to suffocate them.

Heat: The hot dry air produced by standard hand-held hair dryers may suffice to kill lice and their eggs on your hair. Use great care if you try this method, as the heated air from these devices can also easily scald the hair and the scalp.

Similarly, a clothes dryer set a high heat or a hot pressing iron will kill any lice or their eggs on pillowcases, sheets, nightclothes, towels and similar items that might spread them to others. Combs, brushes, hats and other hair accessories in contact with an infested person should be washed in hot water each day to dislodge any lice or nits.

Freezing: Lice and their eggs on inanimate objects such as toys may be killed by freezing temperatures. Objects that cannot be heated in your clothes dryer can be placed in your freezer instead. This treatment may require several days to be effective, depending on the temperature and humidity.

Haircuts: Lice will find little to grasp on a bald or shaved head. Although competitive swimmers who shave their heads generally need not be concerned about head lice, many parents may find this old-fashioned method to be aesthetically unappealing. Short hair is more readily searched for lice and eggs, but does not make the child invulnerable to infestation.

Lice may also occasionally be found on eyelashes or other facial hair. These lice should be removed by hand with great care so as not to injure the eye; insecticides should NEVER be used on or around the eye. 

For more in-depth information on the biology and management options of head lice, I recommend visiting The Harvard School of Public Health's Head Lice Information Web Site. They even have photos of the little critters in various stages of development, so you know what to look for.

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