Exactly What to Do If You Think Your Child Has Lice

Think you saw lice in your child's hair? Here's exactly what you should do. 

checking child for lice

1. Head to the drugstore and look for an over-the-counter lice treatment that contains pyrethrin or permethrin, both of which act as insecticides. They're safe if you don't overuse them, experts say. But if you're concerned, you can try a more natural treatment first—just know that it might not be as effective.

2. At home, follow the directions on the product's label. Usually you shampoo it into dry hair and leave on for a few minutes. Don't use it in the shower; you don't want it touching other parts of your child's (or your) skin. Apply it over a sink, where you can rinse with a spray hose.

3. Comb through the hair, either with a fine-tooth comb or a special lice comb. Lift a small section of hair and push the teeth of the comb as close to the scalp as possible to get all the nits and drag them to the end of the hair. Wipe the comb frequently; soak it afterward in hot water (at least 130°F).

4. Wait 24 to 48 hours before washing hair again, so the medication has time to work, but use the lice comb every day for at least two weeks. When you do wash, blow-dry hair at high heat, which can help kill off nits and lice.

5. Keep checking. Once you've applied the treatment, your child should be able to return to school or camp. But if 8 to 12 hours later, you don't see any dead lice and the lice seem to be active, the treatment might not be working. Call your pediatrician to ask whether you should reapply or try another remedy.

6. Check other family members in the house (including yourself!) at least once a day for the next two weeks to make sure they aren't infested.