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Tea Tree Oil vs. Head Lice

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Tea Tree Oil vs. Head Lice

Head lice, the most common communicable childhood disease except for the common cold, infests over 10 million North Americans, most of them schoolchildren, each year.

Head lice, the most common communicable childhood disease except for the common cold, infests over 10 million North Americans, most of them schoolchildren, each year.

Head lice are wingless insects two to four millimetres in size. They spend their entire lives on human heads and cannot survive if they are removed from the head for over 50 hours.

These little insects resemble six-legged grains of rice, grayish-white or reddish-brown in color. The females lay 80 to 100 eggs (nits) within their lifetime. The nits are glued tightly to the hair, close to the scalp. Ninety percent hatch within seven to 11 days and mature eight to nine days later. New adults live 22 days, laying the next generation of eggs.

Lice cannot hop or jump, but are able to crawl onto clothing or nearby surfaces. Infestation is easily spread. Scratching spreads the lice to hands and under fingernails. Borrowing combs and brushes or sharing pillows, towels or other linens can spread lice, but lice are not transmitted from animals to humans.

The symptoms of lice infestation are excessive head scratching, usually at the back of the head and around the ears; scalp inflammation; black fecal specks on the back, shoulders and pillows; and a rash on the scalp.

Over-the-counter head lice shampoos contain chemical pesticides. The two most common are pyrethrin and permethrin. Pesticides can cause serious side effects such as asthma, respiratory failure, pneumonia, vomiting and muscle paralysis.

These over-the-counter and prescribed lice products are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), giving parents the false impression that they are safe to use and have no adverse side effects. But according to the World Resources Institute "exposure to many common pesticides damages the human immune system, weakening the body’s resistance to infectious diseases and certain cancers. Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of pesticides on their immune systems."

Children are more susceptible to having reactions to chemicals partly because their body organs are still developing and their body weight is lower. Chemicals are transmitted through their scalps and can then enter the blood system.

Another problem is that while these conventional treatments used to be very effective, lice are now building up a resistance to them. A recent US study concluded that permethrin did not affect head lice from chronically infested children who had previously been treated for head lice. The study also determined that lice that are resistant to permethrin at low doses are generally resistant to high doses as well.

There are natural alternatives. Tea tree oil, with over 100 known uses, is one of the best.

Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) belongs to the same family of plants as the eucalyptus tree. It contains a substance known as terpinen-4-ol, which has been identified as the healing property of the plant. Research shows it has a high solvent action that attacks mature lice and dislodges them from the scalp. The result is a high mortality rate after the first application. The Australian standard (a measure of quality) requires a terpinen-4-ol of more than 30 per cent, so check labels carefully.

Valued for its astonishing antiseptic and anti-fungal properties, tea tree oil is a powerful medicine that is gentle to your child’s scalp and skin. It has a complex chemical composition that makes it difficult for organisms (like head lice) to develop a resistance to it. It’s also a highly concentrated essential oil, so use only a little. It’s an essential ingredient in your home medicine chest.

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