Let’s Bust the Bug!

Head Lice

This information will set out to help you understand the life cycle of this famous bug and in so doing – understand the steps which must be taken from prevention through to treatment and ongoing vigilance.

What do they look like?

The white eggs, which the female lays on the hair shaft takes 7-10 days to hatch, there are then 3 nymphal stages which takes a further 6-7 days, the fully grown louse is then ready to move to another host through physical contact and start a whole new cycle. The adult louse is 2-3mm long (about the size of a sesame seed), greyish brown in colour and lives very close to the scalp. It is by interrupting this 3-4 week life cycle that we can ‘BUST THAT BUG’.

So how do we get started?


  1. Once a week apply conditioner to the hair and use a very fine tooth comb to comb through the hair. Do not use a dust comb (which is normally available in treatment packs) instead use a metal, wooden or strong plastic comb such as the ‘bug buster kit’ (this consists of 5 combs from a detangler to a nit comb).

  2. The Wet Combing Technique (WCT) is as follows: Leave the conditioner in the hair, untangle and straighten using a wide tooth comb. Section the hair and using a fine comb move from the roots, touching the scalp gently, through to the tips of the hair. Check the foam for lice and eggs between each stroke by wiping both sides of the comb on kitchen paper.


If lice are not detected the adventure stops here except for once weekly combing. However, if one is lucky enough to spot our friendly bug, the adventure is only beginning!!


Option 1 - Chemical Intervention

As head lice are becoming more resistant to pesticides be aware of product rotation.

Method: Apply to dry hair. Part the hair near the top of the head and apply some of the liquid and rub in. Repeat moving further down the scalp until it is completely wet. Allow to dry naturally and leave for 12 hours or overnight. Then wash and rinse the hair, apply conditioner and use the combing technique as described earlier in order to successfully remove dead lice and eggs.

Now for the secret – repeat the treatment after 8 days and continue to condition and comb at weekly intervals (this ensures the removal of late hatching lice not killed by the chemical treatment).

For children with asthma or associated sensitivities one should not use an alcoholic base therefore, a product like ‘Full Marks Mousse’ is recommended.

Option 2 - Non Chemical Intervention:

Choice No. 1: Wet Combing Technique (WCT) – as described earlier this technique of conditioning and combing the length of the hair can successfully eradicate head lice. a) Apply the conditioner and work over the head methodically combing each section several times. When lice appear in the foam, clean by wiping or rinsing under tap between each stroke (the conditioner prevents the lice from moving for up to 20 minutes).
b) Comb this section again until louse free. If necessary spray the hair regularly with warm water to keep it wet.
c) Systematic combing breaks the life cycle of the head louse, so the routine is as follows;
Day 1 – Wet Comb Technique (lice hatching from eggs after the first session are combed off before they can spread or reproduce). Follow by 3 clear days. Day 5 – Wet Comb Technique. Follow by 3 clear days. Day 9 – Wet Comb Technique. Follow by 3 clear days. Day 13 – Wet Comb Technique (the last lice hatching on day 10 will be combed off on this day) Day 17 – Check again and you should be lice free.

Nits, which are the empty egg shells can take some time to comb free. Using vinegar directly on the hair helps to dissolve the substance which adheres the shell to the hair shaft. An extremely fine comb known as a nit buster is very effective in the removal of the shells.

Note: eggs are only alive if they POP when pressed between the thumbnails.

Choice No. 2: Treatment with Essential Oils – The most effective method of application is to use a high concentration of the oil in alcohol (alcohol makes the insect’s skin and egg casings more permeable to the insecticide properties of the oil).

Recipe; i. 15 drops of tea tree oil in 50mls of alcohol ii. Application – rub into the hair and leave overnight under a shower cap iii. Wash off with shampoo, condition, then comb as described above iv. Repeat after 8 days combing on day 5 as mentioned.

Recipe for children with asthma or associated sensitivities; i. 15 drops of tea tree oil in 50mls of almond oil. Follow the application instructions as above. This treatment should be repeated every 3 days as the oil does not kill the eggs so continue with the WCT as described above. There are various other essential oil recipes available.

Finally remember to:

Use the Wet Comb Technique weekly. If you find the bug get in touch with everyone who has been in close contact. This is a community problem and there is no shame. The famous bug loves the cleanest heads.

We must all take responsibility in order to ‘Bust the Bug’.

  • Treat only if you detect the bug as outlined above, otherwise resistance will be a major problem. All infected contacts must be treated at the same time – communicate!
  • Bugs caught on combs and brushes can re-establish if brushed back on within 24 hours, so clean thoroughly. Head lice that wander onto clothing are dying.
  • This is a manageable problem.
  • If you have any other queries contact your health professional.