Lice: Do Head & Shoulders, Denorex, Selsun Blue or T-Gel Kill Lice?

dandruff shampoo

Discover the truth about lice and dandruff shampoos like Head & Shoulders, Denorex, Selsun Blue, and T-gel. Can they kill lice? 

If you have head lice, you want to get rid of it, and fast! 

You may have already tried several rounds of over the counter treatments that have failed. Or, you’re just looking for an easier and less expensive way to treat lice. 

Head lice today have grown immune to all of the old treatments that worked in the past, so millions of parents around the world are turning to other alternatives and home remedies. 

You’ve heard that dandruff shampoo can kill lice. Is it true?

This article answers the following questions (feel free to hyperlink to any topic):

Do These Shampoos Kill Lice? (Experiments)

Do Dandruff Shampoos Kill Lice Eggs?

Do Dandruff Shampoos Prevent Lice?

Super Lice

lice face

First, you should know that if you are struggling with head lice, it is not your fault. The current strain of head lice is immune to pesticides found in over the counter treatments and prescriptions. So most treatments won’t kill lice, no matter how long you leave them on.

Lice today are called “super lice” because they have genetic mutations that make them immune to most treatments. They are challenging to kill.

Multiple studies have proven that lice are immune to treatments that worked in the past. But, many parents will buy a big named product 5 or 6 times before finally giving up and trying something else. 

Are you better off using a home remedy like Head & Shoulders or Denorex?

Dandruff Shampoos vs. Lice: The Experiments

lice near the jar

Because being a “lice expert” is my full-time job I’ve tested just about every home remedy out there. After reading a few claiming “miracle cures” involving dandruff shampoos, I decided to test each of these shampoos on head lice.

Because I help people with lice every day, testing home remedies is easy for me to do.

jar of lice

I collected several live lice from a client of mine.
Then I applied products to the lice, waited 30 minutes, and then checked for signs of life.

T-gel

I tested the following products:

Head and Shoulders Shampoo

Coal Tar Shampoo (Denorex and T-gel)

Selsun Blue 

The Results

Not a single one of these dandruff shampoos killed lice. All lice were active within 15 minutes of rinsing and were still actively alive 8 hours later.

To go straight to the experiment section of this article, click here.

Why Do Some People Think Dandruff Shampoos Kill Lice?

#1 - Many people have dandruff, but believe they have head lice.

Side-by-side of lice and dandruff in the hair. Top image is lice, bottom image is dandruff

It’s not uncommon for dandruff and lice eggs to be confused with one another. If you are finding lots of white “lice eggs” that magically go away when you start using a dandruff shampoo, I can bet that you had dandruff all along, not lice.

But, to be honest, if you’re not a lice expert like myself, it can be very tricky to differentiate between the two.

Check out the article Lice vs. Dandruff to learn the 7 key differences between nits and dandruff so that you can spot nits like a pro.

#2- Lice temporarily go immobile in dandruff shampoo.

A lice quickly crawling through a woman's blond hair.

When you submerge lice in a liquid-like a dandruff shampoo, they close up their “breathing holes” so that nothing can penetrate them.

Lice submerged for long periods go into a “hibernation-state” to conserve energy. One study terms this as “playing dead.” 

When people use Denorex, Head and Shoulders, or Selsun Blue on the head for prolonged periods, they may see lice “playing dead” and assume that they are, in fact, dead.

But lice “resurrect” back to life after being rinsed. 

The studies show that lice can remain in this hibernation state for a very long time after being rinsed. But in the cases of Coal Tar (Denorex & T-gel), Selsun Blue and Head and Shoulders, it lasted no more than 15 minutes.

Lice were quickly back at full strength and capable of breeding just as they did before the treatment.

Better Treatments and Home Remedies

You’ve probably already tried several rounds of over the counter and prescription treatments for lice without success. Multiple studies have shown that lice are immune to those treatments, and yet they still sell them at the store.

But, some lice treatments kill lice, like dimethicone and other home remedies.

Dimethicone

cover hair (1)

Dimethicone is not a home remedy.

It’s not a prescription.

You usually can’t find dimethicone at your local drug store.

Dimethicone is an entirely safe, non-toxic oil that suffocates and kills all lice in about 15 minutes! It outperforms everything else in killing lice. In studies, dimethicone killed 100% of lice bugs with one treatment for most of the people tested.

Dimethicone does not kill lice eggs, so you’ll still need a good lice comb like the Nit Free Terminator.

For years, the only places you could get dimethicone were at a professional lice center, but a few lice centers have started selling their products online, and you can purchase them through Amazon. Here are the two best on the market:

 (A quick disclosure: these are affiliate links, and I earn a commission from qualifying purchases; however, I base all of my reviews on the quality of the products)

These are my top picks for something better than hair dye as a lice treatment.

Best Over All Kit

The Ladibugs Lice Elimination Kit comes with a serum that kills both lice and super lice. It also comes with an enzyme mousse that helps loosen lice eggs, making them much easier to remove. Ladibugs is a one-and-done kit, which means you have everything you need for one person in one kit. The enzyme mousse can be used multiple times over several days to remove lice eggs.

Easiest to Use Lice Killer

Lice Clinics Lice Remover Kit comes with an easy dispenser and is probably the easiest treatment to use. It kills all lice within 20 minutes. You’ll need to retreat in about 10 days.

Better home Remedies 

Dimethicone treatments kill head lice, which is why I recommend dimethicone treatments over home remedies. But, if you want to do a home remedy instead then here are the best ones:

Coconut Oil

coconut featured

If you’re dead set on using a home remedy, then Coconut Oil is your best choice, especially if you add tea tree oil to it. 

In studies, coconut oil alone killed 80% of head lice, but combined with essential oils, its success rate increased. Essential oils that may increase coconut oil success are tea tree oil, anise, and Ylang Ylang. 

Unfortunately, coconut oil has little to no effect on lice eggs. It neither kills lice eggs nor prevents them from hatching. 

Complete removal of lice eggs from the head or several repeated treatments are necessary for coconut oil to get rid of head lice effectively. Read the full article and tutorial at the article Coconut Oil For Head Lice Tutorial.

Tea Tree Oil

essential oils coconut

Tea tree shampoo at your local salon will not kill head lice. Tea tree must be used in high concentrations to kill lice, and the concentrations in tea tree shampoos are not adequate.

But, in one study of highly concentrated tea tree and lavender essential oils were compared to traditional pesticide treatments. Tea tree oil killed most lice, whereas the pesticide treatments only killed about 25% of lice.

Applying tea tree oil directly to the scalp can cause severe reactions. So, you should dilute tea tree with a carrier oil such as coconut oil, olive oil, argan oil, etc. I recommend coconut oil because coconut oil kills lice, but olive oil does not (read the article here). 

The major disadvantage of tea tree oil is that it has little to no effect on lice eggs. Lice eggs WILL hatch after a tea tree treatment unless you remove them from the head.

I outline exactly how to kill lice with tea tree oil in my article Tea Tree Oil For Lice: How to Kill and Prevent Lice Using Tea Tree Oil.

Do Head and Shoulders, Denorex, Selsun Blue, or T-gel Kill Nits?

A woman with brown hair. Multiple lice eggs cover the back of her head. The white eggs appear white. The words LICE EGGS in black lettering are in the bottom right corner of the image.

If you’re new to head lice: Lice eggs and nits are the same things. I use the words interchangeably.

Nits have a durable, impenetrable shell on them. This shell protects them from any chemicals or toxins. So, dandruff shampoo has zero effect on lice eggs. It does not kill them or prevent them from hatching.

Dandruff shampoos have no chance of penetrating these eggs.

The fastest, easiest, and most effective way to get rid of lice eggs is with a professional-level head lice comb.

I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve tried lice combs, and they don’t work.” That’s because you’re using a lousy comb. There are only a few good lice combs on the market today, and you can’t find any of them at the drugstore. The very best lice comb out there is the Nit-Free Terminator Comb.

If you ask any lice professional, they will almost certainly tell you this is the comb they use. The teeth of this comb are spaced tightly together, but the real secret is that these teeth have small spirals, creating a “barbed wire” effect on lice and nits, catching them and dragging them down the entire hair strand and out of your child’s hair.

Don’t Use Vinegar

apple cider vinegar

If you’re looking to get lice eggs out of your hair, don’t use vinegar to try to “loosen” them. It doesn’t work, and it can make head lice worse! I tested soaking lice eggs in vinegar for 12 hours, and the nits were no easier to remove than before. If you want to see the vinegar experiment on lice and lice eggs, click here.

Additionally, studies show that lice eggs immersed in vinegar are more likely to hatch than your average lice eggs, which means more lice, not less.

Do Dandruff Shampoos Prevent Lice?

crazy hair

The truth is that lice like all types of hair, dirty or clean, dandruff, or no dandruff. What they care about is having a place to lay their eggs and frequently feed on blood (that’s right, just like mosquitos or leeches, they feed on your blood!). Lice are not prejudiced. They are just as happy in damaged, nasty hair as they are in clean hair.

Lice are attracted to the smell of your blood. If they smell desirable blood, they don’t crawl; they hustle to that head.

How Do You Prevent Lice?

Instead of using a dandruff shampoo for lice prevention, I’d recommend using a lice prevention shampoo or spray infused with one or more of the essential oils lice hate.
Many use tea tree shampoo for this purpose, but in my experience, it requires a bit more than that. Some of the most effective lines of lice repellent shampoos and sprays are LiceLogic RepelHead Hunters LemonHeadsRosemary Repel, and Ladibugs.

Does Head and Shoulders Kill Lice? The Experiment

head and shoulders

The first product tested was Head and Shoulders shampoo. A few have touted the ingredient zinc pyrithione in Head and Shoulders as being a lice killer, is it true?

I collected several hairs with multiple lice and placed them in a jar.

Head and Shoulders was poured into the jar and completely saturated the hair and all lice.

Lice were covered with Head and Shoulders shampoo for 30 minutes and then rinsed.

The results…

Within 15 minutes of being rinsed, all lice were alive. I checked again at 8 hours, and all of the lice were still alive.

No. Head and Shoulders does not kill head lice.

Does Denorex Kill Lice? Does T-gel Kill Lice? The Experiment

T-gel

Next tested was coal tar against head lice. Coal tar is an ingredient found in both Denorex Extra Strength and T-gel. Some have claimed it is a lice killer, is it true?

I collected several hairs with multiple lice and placed them in a jar.

Coal tar shampoo was poured into the jar and completely saturated the hair and all lice.

Lice were covered with coal tar shampoo for 30 minutes and then rinsed.

The results…

Within 5 minutes of being rinsed, all lice were alive. The lice were rechecked 8 hours later and were still alive.

No, coal tar shampoos like Denorex Extra Strength and T-gel do not kill head lice.

Does Selsun Blue Kill Lice? The Experiment

selsun blue

The next test was Selsun blue. The active ingredient in Selsun Blue is selenium sulfide. Some have claimed it can kill lice, is it true?

I collected several hairs with multiple lice and placed them in a jar.

Selsun Blue was poured into the jar and completely saturated the hair and all lice.

Lice were covered with Selsun Blue for 30 minutes and then rinsed.

The results…

Within 15 minutes of being rinsed, all lice were alive. Lice were rechecked 8 hours later and were still alive.

No, Selsun Blue does not kill head lice.

Summing It Up…

Head and Shoulders, Denorex, Selsun Blue, and T-gel, do not kill head lice. If you use one of these shampoos for lice treatment and it “cures” your head lice, it is much more likely that you had dandruff all along, not lice.

A better treatment plan for head lice is to either use an effective treatment like dimethicone or a better home remedy like my coconut oil tutorial. Whatever treatment you decide to use, be sure to remove all lice eggs from the head with a high-quality comb like the Nit Free Terminator comb.

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