Hopefully you’ve spent the last of your summer relaxing by the pool, vacationing and sipping mojitos. You know, trying to avoid all the back-to-school stress. But by this time, most of us have sent our little ones back to class. And besides germs, homework and grades, there’s one other schoolhouse issue that keeps parents up at night: head lice.
According to KidsHealth, these tiny insects can be contracted anytime but tend to be more prevalent during the school year — especially with kids ages 3 to 12. Fortunately, there are easy ways to prevent your child from bringing those little buggers home from school.
The first step in prevention is to use lice-deterring hair products like Babo Botanicals Rosemary Tea Tree Lice Repel Shampoo and Conditioning Spray ($18 each). These chemical-free treatments can be used year-round and are clinically proven to be 95 percent effective at repelling lice. Mandy Ottesen, owner of Fresh Heads Lice Treatment Center in Jacksonville, Fla., says Babo Botanicals is an integral part of her business. “We use the products every single day in our house and recommend them to every family we help,” Ottesen says.
Lice checks in schools are common, so if your child has lice, you will likely get that dreaded call from the school nurse. But what should you be looking for at home? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, head lice generally congregate in the hair behind the ears and at the base of the head. If your children complain about itchiness or a crawling feeling on their scalp — especially at night — you should check these areas for the nits (eggs) and the baby and adult bugs, which can grow as large as 3 millimeters. Head lice are often misdiagnosed, as the eggs can be confused with dandruff, so if you suspect lice, it’s always good to have a specialist or school nurse check for you.
If you receive an affirmative diagnosis, you can have the lice taken care of by a professional like those at Fresh Heads or you can treat them at home. To locate a lice professional near you, ask your school nurse for a referral. Schools take lice very seriously, so the nurse will be a good resource. We had a lice issue in our town a couple of years ago, and those who contracted lice were referred to the “Lice Lady,” a professional nitpicker.
That said, treating at home is less expensive, and both chemical and homeopathic treatments can be found in your local drugstore (health food stores generally offer only the homeopathic options). The chemical treatments are generally stronger, but if you are pregnant and/or treating a baby for lice, you may want to try the homeopathic route first, using a treatment like the Wild Child Quit Nits Complete Lice Kit ($19.99) at Walgreens. It contains a cream, which is left on dry hair for four hours and then rinsed out — no combing required! The kit also comes with a preventive spray. Both formulations are plant-based and do not contain harsh pesticides.
If your child contracts lice, be sure to check your other children as well. As mom Janie Samuels of Connecticut told me, it is advised to treat anyone in the family who could have lice and to also wash items that have come in contact with their hair. “One of my sons contracted lice this summer. My pediatrician recommended that I treat him once and then a second time about a week later, while combing his hair daily to check for recurrence. I also washed his bedding, towels, clothing, car seat covers — a pain to remove but so important to clean — threw pillow covers and anything else I could easily clean in the sanitary cycle of my washing machine.”