How to Check Your Child’s Head for Lice: Simple Steps with Pictures
Many people mistakenly believe that if their child has lice, they will see bugs crawling around in the kid’s hair. In most cases, though, this is simply not true. Lice are actually tiny experts at blending in with hair.
For instance, can you spot the lice bug in this picture?
Looking for Lice Eggs
Because lice are so good at hiding and moving quickly, it is pretty rare to see lice bugs early on in an infestation. Instead of looking for fully grown lice bugs, you should focus on finding lice eggs (also called “nits”) in the hair. Unlike adult lice bugs, nits do not move around or hide. These eggs are glued onto the hair strand so they will not fall off. This makes finding lice eggs much easier than finding grown lice. Because nits in your child’s hair is the first sign of a lice infestation, finding them at this stage can help you eliminate lice when there are only a few adult lice bugs. To help out, this tutorial is full of pictures to show you exactly how to check for these lice eggs.
A quick note: If you are new to lice, nits and lice eggs are the same thing. The two phrases will be used interchangeably throughout this article.
Before we get into where to check on your child’s head, let’s briefly talk about how to determine whether what you find is a nit or something else entirely.
How To Examine “Nits in Question”
To begin, lice eggs are stuck on the hair strand. It is impossible to brush, flick, or blow them out of the hair. The only way to remove a nit (without using a high-quality lice comb) is to squeeze it between two fingers or fingernails and then slide it down the entire hair strand, finally pulling it off the end. They are also are usually golden to dark brown or translucent in color, not white. This is sometimes tricky because they can appear white in dark hair. Lice eggs are about the size of a poppyseed and teardrop-shaped, not circular.
If you see something that seems suspicious, hold firmly to the section of hair you are examining and follow these steps to confidently determine if it is a nit.
Blow, Flick or Jostle.
If it “blows” away, then it is dandruff or some other debris. If it moves in any way at all, it is not a nit.
When in Doubt, Try to Pull it Out.
If the “nit in question” does not blow or flick away, then attempt to remove it from the hair strand. To do this, use your thumb and index finger to pull it down the hair strand. If it is a nit, it will be stuck on the hair strand and will require you to “tug” it down in this manner.
If you had difficulty removing the item from the hair, it felt stuck on the hair strand, and you had to pull it all the way down the hair strand to remove it, then unfortunately it is likely a nit. Examine it on your finger and then place it on a WHITE paper towel. Here is a picture of what nits look like against this background.
For more information about precisely what nits look like, check out our article, What Lice Eggs and Nits Look Like: Pictures of Lice Eggs in Hair.
If you find a nit, then your search is over. YES, your child has lice or at least had lice at one time. The only way to have nits in your hair is to have had an actual lice bug in your hair laying these eggs at one point in time. Gross, we know, but now you can start to get rid of these pesky things.
Tutorial - How to Check Your Child's Hair for Lice
Tools You Will Need
-Good lighting (read below)
-Fine toothed comb (I prefer a rat-tailed comb like the one pictured here.)
-White paper towels
-Hair clips or hair ties
Step #1: Start with Good Lighting and Dry Hair
A good lice check starts with clean, dry hair and good lighting.
Bright lighting is essential when checking for lice eggs. The very best light to see nits in is natural daylight. If it is a clear, sunshiny day outside, then go out or next to a large window for your lice check.
If daylight isn’t available, then find the room that has the best artificial lighting. A bright lamp set up close to the head you’re examining will also work.
It's best to check for lice on clean dry hair. Debris and dandruff tends to get stuck on wet or oily hair making it harder to tell the difference between nits or something else in the hair.
A Quick Note on Hot Spots
Focus your attention on the hair close to the scalp in the “hot spots”.
While lice lay nits throughout the entire head, there are a few places lice most love to lay eggs. These places, termed “hot spots,” are the ideal places to check for nits. These hot spots are behind the ears, the nape of the neck, and the crown of the head.
Step #2: Bangs (Hairline Near Forehead)
Begin checking for lice in the bang area.
Even though the bang area isn’t necessarily a “hot spot”, I like to begin lice checks here because it is the easiest area to check and those with very short hair (like boys) typically have the most hair in this area.
Comb all hair back from away from the face and check the baby hairs near the forehead for lice eggs as described above in the How To Examine Any “Nits in Question” section. For those with very short hair, you may need to clip the hair back like in this picture.
Beginning with the hair immediately at the hairline, separate a single thin layer section of the hair horizontally.
Use one hand to pull and hold the hair straight down and separate it from the rest. Hold the hair tightly between your index and ring fingers. Place your other hand behind the sectioned-off hair to give yourself an easier backdrop to check against.
Examine the section of hair for anything that looks unusual. Nits blend in well with hair, so using your hand as a contrasting background will help you to see them better.
After you have examined a section of hair, let it drop down and then separate another small section of hair. Work your way towards the center of the head, until you have examined about ten thin sections of hair.
Step #3: Behind the Ears
Now it’s time for the first hot spot check: behind the ears.
For this area, it is easiest to check with the child’s head resting on a pillow.
With your fine-toothed comb, comb the hair away from the ear you are checking.
Beginning with the hair immediately behind the ear, separate a single thin layer section of the hair horizontally, in the same fashion as you did when examining the hairline. If necessary, clip hair so it stays out of the way.
As before, use one hand to pull the hair straight down and separate it from the other hair.
Place either your hand or a finger behind the section of the hair as seen below to ensure you have a contrasting background and don’t risk missing any nits that may be hiding in the hair.
Working your way towards the center of the head, examine at least ten thin sections of hair. Once you have reviewed all the sections behind one ear, have your child turn over on the pillow, head facing the opposite way, and examine behind the other ear using the same technique.
Step #4: Nape of the Neck
After you check for lice eggs behind the ears, it’s time for the next hot spot: the nape of the neck.
Have your child look down at their feet. Comb all of the hair away from the neck, up in a “high pony” or topknot fashion. If necessary, clip or wrap the hair in a ponytail holder so it stays out of the way.
Similar to the wisps at the forehead’s hairline, first check the baby hairs at the neck.Again take very thin sections of the hair and examine them as you did in the previous steps. Remember, use your hand as a backdrop so you don’t miss any nits blending in with the hair.
After examining at least ten sections behind the nape of the neck, you are ready to check the last hot spot--the very top of the head.
Step #5: Crown of the Head
Lastly, check the crown of the head for lice eggs.
To check the crown of the head, comb the hair into two pigtails, with the part straight down the middle of your child’s head. Either clip or hair tie the right side of the hair so it is out of the way.
Check the hair in vertical sections, beginning on the left side of the part. Gather a thin section of hair, as you’ve done with the previous areas, and examine it.
After examining a section of hair, move it to the other side of the part and clip it out of the way if needed. The part in the hair will shift slightly with each section you examine, helping you see how much you have already checked.
Examine at least five more vertical sections in this manner.
After you’ve examined the hair on the left side of the part, then switch to the right side. Put the left side into a ponytail holder and examine at least five vertical sections on the right side of the part in the same manner.
Take the Next Step
If you have checked all of the hot spots and found no nits or lice, then breathe a sigh of relief because you can confidently feel that your child does not have lice.
If you did find nits or full-grown lice during your lice check, then you are unfortunately dealing with an infestation. Don’t freak out, though! We are here to help you find the information you need to quickly and efficiently kill these little buggers.
Your first step in dealing with a lice breakout should be to find a high-quality product to kill the bugs. 98% of lice are resistant to traditional treatments, but we have put together this article, Best Lice Treatment Shampoos for Head Lice and Super Lice, to help you confidently purchase one that will work for you or your child.
It’s also essential to remove every nit from the hair to prevent lice from making a reappearance. Most lice combs don’t remove lice eggs effectively, which is why we wrote a review of the best lice combs to help you in your decision making: Best Lice Combs to Get Rid of Lice Eggs and Nits.
These five steps of how to check for lice are the same steps I use everyday as a lice professional. If you’re checking for lice, but you’re not quite sure if what you’re seeing are actually lice eggs or merely dandruff, please hop on over to our article What Lice Eggs and Nits Look Like: Pictures of Lice Eggs in Hair or 7 Key Differences Between Lice Eggs and Dandruff to read and see more pictures of lice eggs in hair.
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