19 Essential Oils Proven to Repel Head Lice

12 million kids will get head lice this year. How can you be sure that your child isn’t one of them? Repel lice with essential oils.

12 million is a staggering number; it’s almost 4% of the total population of the United States! With so many ways lice can get into your home, though, it’s a wonder this estimate isn’t much higher. Fortunately, there are many useful prevention strategies that can help your kid avoid becoming one of these 12 million, including a science-backed approach featuring your favorite essential oils.

Head lice are like sharks…

Lice have a keen sense of smell and they are attracted to human blood, just like sharks and mosquitoes. They can also smell when blood is near. 

When lice smell a new yummy head, they instinctively want to get there and begin their feast. This is why lice spreads to so many unsuspecting individuals. 

However, the good news is...

As it turns out, you can use lice’s keen sense of smell against them. Because lice are so sensitive to smell, they will instinctively run away from any scent they don’t like. Believe it or not, your secret weapon lies in essential oils--the same essential oils that smell amazing to you. If you have these scents in your hair or on your head, quick as lightning, lice will run the opposite direction to get away from you. 

Even though lice hate these scents, these essential oils smell wonderful to us humans. Essential oils like this are called lice repellents or lice deterrents

What Are Essential Oils?

Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts that may be used for a variety of reasons. Over time, essential oils have been used for dozens of different purposes, ranging from healing to repelling bugs, including lice.

Are They Safe?

Just because essential oils are natural and made from plants does not necessarily make them safe to use on children. Misusing essential oils can cause burns, skin irritation, or even poisoning. 

Some essential oils on this list, like cinnamon and peppermint, can irritate the skin, and others like Eucalyptus oil can cause respiratory or CNS problems on young children. You should also know which of these oils your child may be allergic to and avoid using them.

I have attempted to indicate which oils should not be used on young children, but when you create your own essential oil blends, you use them at your own risk. Every person reacts differently to essential oils, and children are especially susceptible to adverse reactions.

DIY vs Tested Lice Prevention Product

For those that do not own essential oils, jumping in may seem daunting, but it doesn't have to be. For the DIYer I recommend Barefut's Essential Oils. Barefut's essential oils are 100% pure, affordable, and GC/MS tested (quality and purity). As an added bonus Plant Therapy is  not a MLM company!

If you are not a DIYer, there are many lice prevention sprays and shampoos made from essential oils that are already on the market and have been tested for both safety for use on children and effectiveness against lice. You can learn the ones I recommend here.

(A quick disclosure: this page has affiliate links, and I earn a commission from qualifying purchases. The decision to purchase through these links, however, is entirely up to you.)

Essential Oils that Prevent Head Lice

Below is a comprehensive list of the essential oils that show evidence of being effective against head lice. They are listed in order of effectiveness, beginning with the most effective based on both studies and my professional opinion.

I recommend Barefut. Barefut's essential oils are 100% pure, affordable, and GC/MS tested. As an added bonus Plant Therapy is  not a MLM company!

Essential Oils for Lice Prevention

Single Essential Oils vs Blending Oils

Any single essential oil from the list can be used as a lice deterrent by putting 20 drops of essential oils in 6 oz of water with 1 oz (or 2 Tbls) of carrier oil. However, your BEST lice prevention technique comes from blending multiple lice prevention essential oils together. Here are 19 unique lice prevention blends (bonus: these scent combinations are absolutely heavenly):

19 Best Essential Oil Blends for Lice Prevention

Crazy About Lice: 5 drops Tea Tree + 5 drops Peppermint + 5 drop Eucalyptus + 5 drops Lemongrass + 5 drops Citronella + 5 drops Rosemary + 5 drops Lavender + 1 tsp *Neem oil

A Little Crazy (For Younger Children): 2 drops Tea Tree + 5 drops Citronella + 5 drops Lavender + 5 drops Geranium + 1 tsp *Neem oil

Nuts About Lice: 5 drops Peppermint + 5 drops Citronella + 5 drops Rosemary + 5 drops Lemongrass + 1 tsp *Neem oil

Lemon Drop: 5 drops Lemongrass, 5 drops Lemon Eucalyptus + 5 drops **Lemon

Fresh Bouquet: 5 drops Geranium + 8 drops Lavender + 5 drops Ylang Ylang

Fresh & Sweet: 5 drops Lavender + 5 drops Rosemary + 5 drops Lemon Eucalyptus

Minty Fresh: 5 drops Peppermint + 5 drops Eucalyptus

Cool Down: 5 drops Peppermint + 5 drops Lavender +5 drops Eucalyptus

Candy Cane: 4 drops Peppermint + 3 drops Ylang Ylang + 2 drops Cinnamon 

Spring Fresh: 4 drops Geranium + 5 drops Lavender + 2 drop Peppermint

Clean Blend: 5 drops Tea Tree + 5 drops Eucalyptus +1 drops Peppermint

Fresh & Clean: 5 drops Peppermint + 3 drop Tea Tree + 3 drops Lavender + 3 drops Eucalyptus

Rosemary Mint: 8 drops Rosemary + 3 drops Spearmint

Sweet & Spicy Black Licorice: 10 drops Anise + 2 drops Cinnamon + 1 drop Clove + 1 drop Clary Sage

Simple Lavender & Lemongrass: 10 drops Lavender + 10 drops Lemongrass

Simple Tea Tree & Peppermint: 10 drops Tea Tree + 10 drops Peppermint

Citrus Blend: 5 drops Lavender + 5 drops Ylang Ylang + 5 drops **Wild Orange

Bubble Gum: 4 drops Ylang Ylang + 2 drops Eucalyptus +8 drops **Grapefruit 

Tutti Fruiti: 6 drops Geranium + 6 drops Lemongrass + 6 drops **Grapefruit 

*Add 1 tsp of neem oil to any of these combinations to add extra protection from lice.

**Essential oil that is not a lice repellent.

Carrier oil: To decrease irritation to the skin and scalp, I recommend using a carrier oil with any mixture you plan to put in a spray. Carrier oils that are great for hair are fractionated coconut oil, sweet almond oil, argan oil, and jojoba oil. (In a pinch, you can also use olive oil.)

Neem oil: Neem is a vegetable oil that has serious lice fighting properties. Adding one teaspoon of neem oil to any blend will pack a major punch against lice. The trouble with neem oil is that is smells awful (yes, even to humans), but you can mask the scent by combining it with essential oils.

Fractionated Coconut Oil: There is one study that shows that coconut oil has some lice preventing qualities. Fractionated coconut oil has the same lice fighting properties as standard coconut oil; the difference is that it remains in a liquid state, even in cold temperatures. However, regular coconut oil is not ideal for putting in lice prevention products because it becomes solid at room temperature. If you want to put ordinary coconut oil in your lice spray, you’d need to warm it up every time you use it so the oil melts… No thanks.

How to Make Your Own Lice Spray for Hair

For a full tutorial on how to make your own lice spray, lice shampoo, hair spray, detangler, or lice prevention house spray, check out my article 11 DIY Lice Prevention Sprays & Shampoos that Repel Lice Naturally. Below, you will find a quick guide on making a basic lice prevention spray. 

Simple Lice Prevention Spray from Essential Oils

Ingredients:

8 oz spray bottle

6 oz of distilled or purified water (Or 5 oz of water/1 oz of Vodka if you’d like it to last longer)

2 Tablespoons of carrier oil such as fractionated coconut oil

Your favorite Lice Prevention Essential Oil Blend (list above) or 20 drops of a single essential oil

1 tsp of neem oil (optional, for added protection)

Directions: 

  1. Combine ingredients in an 8 oz spray bottle. 
  2. Shake vigorously. 
  3. Spray every day in hair for lice prevention, shaking vigorously before each use.
  4. Replace every 1-2 months (this is for bacterial reasons; you can replace less often if combining with vodka)
  5. Have fun trying different lice prevention essential oil blends!

Tea Tree Oil for Lice Prevention

Tea tree oil (Melaluca) does repel head lice. However, using tea tree oil alone as lice prevention is a mistake. I see hundreds of people in my salon who have been using tea tree shampoo for years, yet still wind up with head lice. Tea tree oil alone is better than not using any lice deterring scents, but it is not adequate for preventing lice on its own for most people. You are much better off using a variety of essential oils proven to ward off head lice.

Keep scrolling for the full low-down on each of the essential oils in this article. Below, you’ll find information about each essential oil and the studies it has had with lice.

Lice Repellent Essential Oil Studies, Scents, and Products

Neem oil

Neem oil isn’t actually an essential oil; it’s a vegetable oil from Asia, but since it is an excellent lice repellent, I’ve added it to the top of the list. Neem oil has proved extremely effective against lice.

The major downside of neem oil is that it smells awful.

I recommend adding neem oil as a lice repellent in small doses. Adding a teaspoon of neem oil to an 8 oz lice repellent spray with lots of other scents will add a lot of lice protection, and the unpleasant scent will be covered up by the other fragrances.

Scent: Unpleasant, garlic/nutty

Studies: A 2012 study showed Neem oil and Eucalyptus oil together was far more effective against lice than pesticide products.

Popular Prevention Product with Neem Oil: Ladibugs Lice Prevention Kit

Peppermint 

Scent: Think candy canes

Studies: In three separate studies, peppermint oil has proven to be among the top lice repellents, which is why many lice prevention lines use it as their main lice deterring ingredient. 

Blends well with: Eucalyptus, Geranium, Lavender, Rosemary, Tea Tree oil.

Caution: Peppermint oil should be used with caution with kids under 6 years old as it can in very rare occasions cause trouble breathing. Additionally, peppermint oil can irritate skin.

Popular prevention products with Peppermint: LiceLogic Repel, Nit Free Detangler, Lice Sisters, Hair Genies, SoCozy boo! 

Spearmint

Scent: Think mint gum

Studies: Spearmint has similar repelling properties to peppermint, but with less risk to younger children. 

Blends well with: Lavender, Peppermint and Rosemary.

Popular prevention product with Spearmint: Ladibugs Lice Prevention

Tea Tree aka Melaleuca

Scent: Distinct nostril-clearing menthol mint smell

Studies: In multiple studies, tea tree has been more effective than over-the-counter lice treatments for head lice, especially when combined with other essential oils like lavender.

Blends Well With: Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Lavender

Popular prevention products with Tea tree: Rosemary Repel, Lice Sisters Repel, SoCozy boo!

Citronella or Geraniol 

Scent: Think citronella candle.

Studies: While Tea Tree and Peppermint get the glory for best lice repellent, citronella is one of the longest lasting lice prevention essential oils. Although not as lice repelling, citronella outlasts tea tree, peppermint, and lavender in its length of effectiveness.

Blends well with: Eucalyptus, Geranium, Lavender, Peppermint, Rosemary, Tea Tree

Popular prevention products with Citronella or Geraniol: Head Hunters Lemon Heads Repellant, Rosemary Repel, Lice Shield

Eucalyptus 

Scent: Fresh, clean, menthol

Study: Eucalyptus was among the most effective against lice in a comparative study of 54 essential oils.

Blends well with: Lemongrass, Rosemary, Lavender, Tea Tree

Caution: Eucalyptus oil is not recommended for children under age 10 because it has been linked to respiratory and CNS issues in young children.

Lemon Eucalyptus

Scent: Sweeter, lemony, woodsy finish than regular Eucalyptus oil. 

Study: Studies have shown Lemon Eucalyptus is a powerful insect repellent. It is a good alternative because it does not have the same risks as regular Eucalyptus oil.

Blends well with Sage, Lavender, Peppermint, and Rosemary

Popular prevention product with Lemon Eucalyptus: Head Hunters Lemon Heads Repellant

Rosemary 

Scent: The spice in the kitchen. Similar to Lavender, but stronger and woody. 

Studies: Rosemary was among the most effective against lice in a comparative study of 54 essential oils. 

Blends well with: Geranium, Lemongrass, Cinnamon, Peppermint and Lavender.

Caution: Children under 6

Popular prevention products with Rosemary: Rosemary Repel, LiceLogic Rosemary Mint, Lice Sisters, SoCozy boo!, Lice Shield

Lemongrass

Scent: Fresh and light, smells a lot like lemons

Study: Studies have shown Lemongrass is a powerful insect repellent.

Blends well with: Eucalyptus, Tea Tree, Geranium, Lavender, Rosemary

Caution: Children under 2

Popular prevention products with Lemongrass: Head Hunters Lemon Heads Repellent, Rosemary Repel, Lice Sisters, Lice Shield

Ylang Ylang

Scent: Unique flower scent that smells a little fruity, a little spicy and has a hint of vanilla. 

Study: When combined with coconut oil and anise oil in a study, Ylang Ylang was effective at killing lice.

Blends Well With: Geranium and Lavender

Caution: Children under 2

Lavender

Scent: Earthy calming floral 

Studies: Two studies show lavender as a lice repellent, especially when combined with Tea Tree or Peppermint. In one study, Lavender also prevented head lice from feeding on skin.

Blends well with Geranium, Sage, and other floral scents.

Popular Prevention Product with Lavender: LiceLogic Repel Lavender

Geranium

Scent: Bold floral similar to roses

Studies: A study showed Geranium as effective against lice, but even more effective when combined with citronella.

Blends well with: Lavender, Rosemary, Ylang Ylang

Popular prevention product with Geranium: Rosemary Repel

Anise (Anniseed oil) (caution children under 6)

Scent: Very similar to black licorice (aka, you’ll love it or hate it)

Studies: A study showed anise effective against head lice when combined with coconut oil and Ylang Ylang.

Caution: Children under 6

Blends well with: Lavender, Clove, and Cinnamon

Popular prevention product with Anise: Rosemary Repel

Cinnamon

Scent: Sweet and spicy.

Studies: A study showed cinnamon leaf effective against lice when combined with other essential oils in an alcohol spray.

Blends well with: Tea Tree, Lavender, Geranium, Ylang Ylang

Caution: Cinnamon oil can irritate skin.

Popular prevention products with Cinnamon: Rosemary Repel

Clove

Scent: Warm, woody and sweet, like pumpkin pie spice.

Study: Shown effective against lice in a comparative study of 54 essential oils.

Blends well with: Anise, Cinnamon, Peppermint, Rosemary,

Caution: Children under 2.

Popular prevention products with Clove: Rosemary Repel

Sage

Scent: Rich grassy, herby, and earthy

Study: Shown effective against lice in a comparative study of 54 essential oils.

Blends well with: Rosemary, Lavender, Tea Tree, Geranium.

Caution: Children under 6.

Popular prevention products with Sage: Rosemary Repel

Rosewood

Scent: Sweet, woody, and floral

Study: Shown effective against lice in a comparative study of 54 essential oils.

Combines well with: Lavender and Geranium

Cardamom

Scent: Sweet, spicy, and woody

Study: Shown effective against lice in a comparative study of 54 essential oils.

Blends well with: Ylang Ylang, Clove, and Cinnamon

Caution: Children under 6

Nutmeg

Scent: Pungent, slightly sweet

Study: A study showed Nutmeg as effective against head lice when combined with peppermint.

Blends well with: Ylang Ylang, Sage, Eucalyptus

Caution: Children under 6

Myrtle

Scent: Herby mixed with menthol. (Same family as tea tree and eucalyptus)

Study: Shown effective against lice in a comparative study of 54 essential oils.

Combines well with: Sage, Clove, Lavender, Peppermint, Rosemary, Tea Tree

Caution: Children under 10

Marjoram & Pennyroyal

Part of the mint family, a study comparing 54 essential oils showed effective against lice, but I have not included them in this list due to toxicity.

Cade

Was shown effective against lice in a comparative study of 54 essential oils, but not included in this list because it is carcinogenic (linked to cancer).

Red Thyme

Was shown effective against lice in an alcohol solution, but not included in this list because of skin irritation and irritation to mucous membranes.

If you are going to buy a prevention product instead of making one these are the best lice prevention sprays:

#1- LiceLogic Repel Conditioning Hair Spray

Smells Like: Rosemary Mint or Lavender

Essential oils: Rosemary & Mint or Lavender (comes in two scents)

#2- Head Hunters Lemon Heads Repellent Spray

Smells Like: Lemon

Essential oils: Lemon Eucalyptus, Geranium, Rosemary

#3- Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel Conditioning Spray

Smells Like: Rosemary and Roses

Essential oils: Rosemary, Citronella, Cinnamon, Peppermint, Anise, Tea tree, Geranium, Sage

#4- Ladibugs Detangling Spray

Smells Like: Spearmint

Essential oils: Spearmint and Neem oil

I have full reviews of lice prevention products in my articles Best Lice Prevention Shampoos and Best Lice Prevention Sprays. If you’re looking to buy an already-made and proven lice prevention product, head to those articles.

Summary

19 Essential oils have been shown in studies to be effective against head lice. Essential oils are most effective at preventing head lice when combined with other essential oils. Be cautious in using them with small children. For tested lice prevention essential oils, consider purchasing a lice prevention product suggested in my Lice Prevention Sprays article.

Here are some other articles you may be interested in...

References

Barker S.C., Altman P.M. A randomised, assessor blind, parallel group comparative efficacy trial of three products for the treatment of head lice in children--melaleuca oil and lavender oil, pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide, and a "suffocation" product. BMC Dermatol. 2010;10:6. Published 2010 Aug 20. doi:10.1186/1471-5945-10-6

Canyon, D. V. and Speare, R. (2007), A comparison of botanical and synthetic substances commonly used to prevent head lice (Pediculus humanus var. capitis) infestation. International Journal of Dermatology, 46: 422-426. doi:10.1111/j.1365-4632.2007.03132.x

Gallardo, A.  Picollo, M. I.,  González-Audino, P.,  Mougabure-Cueto, G. Insecticidal Activity of Individual and Mixed Monoterpenoids of Geranium Essential Oil Against Pediculus humanus capitis (Phthiraptera: Pediculidae), Journal of Medical Entomology, Volume 49, Issue 2, 1 March 2012, Pages 332–335, https://doi.org/10.1603/ME11142

Han-Young Choi, Young-Cheol Yang, Si Hyeock Lee, J. Marshall Clark, Young-Joon Ahn, Efficacy of Spray Formulations Containing Binary Mixtures of Clove and Eucalyptus Oils Against Susceptible and Pyrethroid/Malathion-Resistant Head Lice (Anoplura: Pediculidae) , Journal of Medical Entomology, Volume 47, Issue 3, 1 May 2010, Pages 387–391, https://doi.org/10.1093/jmedent/47.3.387

Maia, M. F., & Moore, S. J. (2011). Plant-based insect repellents: a review of their efficacy, development and testing. Malaria journal, 10 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), S11. doi:10.1186/1475-2875-10-S1-S11

Mumcuoglu, K.Y., Miller, J., Zamir, C.S., Zentner, G., Helbin, V., & Ingber, A. (2002). The in vivo pediculicidal efficacy of a natural remedy. The Israel Medical Association journal : IMAJ, 4 10, 790-3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12389342

Thawornchaisit, P., Weerawan, A., Mahannop, P., Buddhirakkul, P., Pandii, W., Connellan, P., Thompson, D., Brushett, D.J., Morris, CA 2012, 'Combined Neem oil 6 per cent w/w and Eucalyptus oil 16 per cent w/w lotion for treating head lice: in vitro and in vivo efficacy studies', Journal of Pharmacy Practice and Research, vol. 42, no. 3, pp.1 89-192. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/j.2055-2335.2012.tb00167.x