21 Proven Lice Prevention Strategies Every Parent Should Know
Discover 21 proven lice prevention strategies you can start implementing today to prevent head lice now and avoid lice for many years to come.
If you’ve struggled with head lice in the past or are terrified that your child will get head lice in the future, look no further. As a lice professional, I’ve seen all sorts of wild and crazy prevention methods used by creative parents. Most of these homemade techniques, though, don’t have much more backing to them than “I read it on the Internet.” Here I have put together a comprehensive list of everything proven to prevent head lice--and while you certainly don’t need to implement all of them simultaneously to ensure these pesky bugs don’t make it into your home, this is also an excellent list to check some of those wild and crazy methods against. If it’s not here, it likely won’t help you prevent head lice (even if your Aunt Susie swears it does).
1. Let’s Put Our Heads Together--Or… Not.
At least 90% of head lice spread directly from one head to another, NOT from inanimate objects. Lice move effortlessly through hair, but struggle on most other surfaces.
Lice don’t fly or jump like other insects, but they crawl very quickly in hair. They hang onto one hair strand and can quickly Tarzan swing to another.
When two people’s heads (and hair) touch, that’s when lice make their big move from one head to begin infesting another.
If what you want is to prevent lice, your main focus should be on head-to-head contact, not so much inanimate objects.
2. Keep Your Head To Yourself
Because the peak time for lice to transfer from one head to another is during head-to-head contact, the best way for your child to prevent getting head lice is by keeping her head to herself. You may be thinking… when does she have her head against someone else’s? You’d be surprised how often any of us makes direct contact with someone else’s head. Here’s a short list:
- Hugging when greeting people
- Snuggling together (I know you’re hoping your kid isn’t doing this, but…)
- Watching a movie together
- Looking at a tablet together
- Taking selfies together
- Sleeping in the same bed (YOU, not your kid.)
- Wrestling together
This is only a few of the many times and ways heads touch every day. If you don’t want you or your kids getting head lice, become more cognizant of how frequently you and your family members come in contact with other heads this way and make an effort to avoid it.
3. Institute the Side Hug or Fist Bump
If your child is giving full frontal, head to head, long embraces to her friends each time she greets them, watch out. This kind of exchange is the perfect swapping ground for head lice. Teach your child to use side hugs so heads do not touch and the embrace is shorter.
4. No Back to Back in PE
It’s not uncommon for kids to be required to buddy up in PE class. Many PE teachers tell kids to stand “back to back” after they have found their partner. Imagine, two little girls with long hair standing back to back with their hair touching… head lice heaven! Instead, a better way to buddy up is to link arms. Their heads won’t touch and they’ll still be easy to spot by their teacher.
5. Sleep Foot to Foot
One of the fun things about children’s sleepovers is staying up late into the night talking. However, when the talking has died down and it’s time to sleep, make sure these kids sleep foot to foot instead of head to head. Lice can’t spread from someone’s head to your feet, but you can bet lice spread like crazy if children are sleeping with their heads next to each other.
While this may not sound ideal to your kid, if you have a slumber party with multiple girls, they can create a star pattern with everyone’s feet in the middle to add a bit of fun.
6. Hair-up at School, Hair Down at Home
The less opportunities lice have to come into contact with your child’s hair, the better. Keeping hair up in buns, braids, or ponytails gives lice less space to grab on. This also decreases the chances of your kid’s hair accidentally brushing up against someone else's. Implement a “Hair-up at school and hair down at home” policy. There are even lice repellent hair bands for added protection.
(A quick disclosure: these are affiliate links, and I do earn a commission from qualifying purchases; however, all of my reviews are based on the quality of these products, and the decision to purchase through these links is completely up to you.)
7. Slick Hair Back with Hairspray
You can use lice repellent hairspray to slick hair back. The less flyaway hairs, the less likely lice will be able to grab onto any errant strands.
Yes, you can use regular gel or hairspray to do this, but you might as well benefit from the added protection of repellent hairspray. Here is my favorite lice repellent hair spray for flyaways:
8. Become Smelly to Head Lice
Lice have a keen sense of smell and they are attracted to human blood, just like sharks and mosquitoes. Also like sharks, they can smell when blood is near. I know it’s gross, but unfortunately true.
When lice smell new yummy blood, they instinctively want to get to it. When these instincts kick in, they don’t waste any time getting there. If your child’s head is near- batta bing, batta boom, head lice has spread to another unsuspecting victim.
You can use lice’s keen sense of smell against them. Your secret weapon is to get smelly--to lice, at least.
Head lice love the scent of human blood, but there are several fragrances that smell appalling to lice. If your head is covered with these scents, lice will instinctively run the opposite direction.
The awesome thing is that these scents that are so nasty to lice smell amazing to humans. Eucalyptus, citronella, lemongrass, rosemary, lavender, tea tree, geranium, and mint are among the top “lice repellent” scents.
While you can try to make your own concoction of these repellent scents for you or your child’s hair, I recommend buying a proven lice prevention spray and using it every day. Here are some of my favorites that smell amazing to humans but nasty to lice.
These are my top picks for lice prevention sprays, and if you want to see my full review of all lice prevention sprays, simply click here.
9. Washing Your Hair More Often Won’t Help, but Lice Prevention Shampoo Will
Despite a few common myths, lice are not deterred by clean hair, and regular shampoo has no effect on lice at all. I debunk this misconception entirely in this article, Do Lice Like Clean or Dirty Hair.
The only way to repel lice when bathing is by using a lice prevention shampoo every day. When you use a lice prevention shampoo and conditioner, it coats the hair strands with those lice repellent scents we talked about earlier for up to 24 hours.
Shampooing with a prevention product means you don’t have to add any extra steps to your morning routine (believe me, I know how hard it is to get those kids out the door). You wash your children’s hair anyway, so just swap out shampoos.
These are my top picks for lice prevention shampoos. (If you want my full review of all lice prevention shampoos, click here.)
10. If You’ve Had Lice Before, Be Obsessive!
If your child has had lice in the past, I have some bad news for you… your child is one of the people that lice find pretty tasty! If she has had lice in the past, she is much more likely to get lice again compared to her “never had lice before” friends.
It has absolutely nothing to do with cleanliness or housekeeping. The fact of the matter is that your child just smells yummy to lice.
If you’ve had lice before, be obsessive about lice prevention. Use a prevention shampoo, conditioner, and spray every day in your child’s hair, along with some of these other methods.
11. Don’t Swap Clothes, Hats, and Jackets
Sharing clothes is somewhat of a “norm” among teenage girls, but it can easily lead to the spread of head lice. The chances of getting lice from trying on clothes or hats at the store is extremely low, but swapping clothes and hats with someone who has head lice definitely increases the risk of getting it yourself.
Your teenagers might counter with something like, “But none of MY friends have lice!” You might ask them if they would tell their own friends if they had head lice, and they will quickly realize they would probably prefer to keep that fact to themselves. Most unsuspecting teens think like this until they accidentally end up with head lice from their best friend.
Remind your teen that it doesn’t matter how clean OR cool their BFF is; they can still get head lice.
12. Don’t Share Hair Stuff
This seems basic enough, but you’d be surprised how many kids use other kid’s brushes, clips, hair bands, etc. Ingrain it in your child to NEVER use someone else’s hair brush, scrunchie, hair band, etc.
One thing you can do to minimize the “temptation” is to make sure they always bring their own hair brush and hair accessories with them to sleepovers or anywhere else they’re likely to brush their hair. You can even give them a cute bag or pouch full of these types of items to store in their backpack or locker at school.
13. Label Your Brushes
If someone in the family does get head lice, you can control the spread of it to everyone else in the home if you’ve instituted a no-sharing policy when it comes to hair brushes, even within your family. The best way to prevent sharing hair brushes is to make sure that everyone has their own brush, clearly labeled either with their name or let each child pick out their own uniquely colored or designed brush.
14. Use Heat on the Hair
Blow drying and flat ironing are not effective ways to treat head lice, but using heat on the hair regularly can help prevent a head lice infestation. Lice die in high levels of heat, so blow drying and flat ironing frequently can make it difficult for lice to find a home in your hair.
This technique alone won’t prevent lice, however, as lice usually won’t “jump ship” because someone is blow-drying the hair. Pair this prevention method with some of the other ideas listed here for it to truly be effective.
15. Frequent Head Checks
Check your children weekly for lice. I know this may seem like overkill, but catching lice early is critical in preventing it from becoming a full infestation and spreading to anyone else in the house. It takes about a month for head lice to become a serious infestation, so if you can catch it within a week, it'll be much easier to take care of.
Within the first week of having lice, typically all you will find in your child’s hair is a few lice eggs (nits) and one or maybe two lice bug(s). The chances of lice spreading at this time is pretty small. In contrast, if you don’t check frequently for this beginning stage of lice, after a month you’ll be dealing with loads of lice and hundreds of nits.
How do you check for lice in the early stages? You’ll want to look for lice eggs that look like this:
16. Spray Items For Lice
You can add protection from lice for items like backpacks and jackets by using lice repellent spray specific to these types of things. I recommend Lice Clinics of America Pure Repel, which uses the scent of peppermint to make your backpack, jacket, etc smell icky to lice so they won’t want to crawl into or onto them.
17. Use Essential Oils to Ward Off Lice
If you are someone who’d like to make your own lice prevention shampoo or spray, by all means feel free. You can even check out my tutorial How to Make Your Own Lice Prevention Spray and Shampoo.
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 Barefut is not a MLM company!
18. Know Who Gets Lice
No group is immune to head lice. Lice is most prevalent from ages 3-11, but in my lice salon, roughly 50% of those with lice are elementary-aged, 25% are teens, and 25% are adults (usually parents that got lice from their child).
Lice don’t discriminate between boys’ and girls’ blood, but it is more common among girls because of hair length and the social climate among girls (more hugging, snuggling, etc).
Lice also prefer certain blood over others. Have you ever been camping with friends and one person seems to be getting eaten alive by mosquitos while others don’t get touched at all? Lice are similar; some blood just smells tastier than others. Some people's blood isn't appealing to lice, while other people's blood smells delicious. If you or your kid seems to keep getting head lice over and over, you’ll definitely want to be sure to use more of these prevention methods than you would otherwise need.
19. Don’t Keep It a Secret
If you ever get head lice the best thing you can do to prevent getting lice again is to make sure that everyone around you doesn’t have lice to give back to you. How do you do that? Get the word out!
Start by telling your child’s school. Unfortunately, most schools don’t do lice checks on children anymore. If you let the school know, however, they may send out an email or newsletter letting other people in the school know that someone in the school had lice and encourage other parents to check their children for it, too.
Second, if you are a part of a Facebook group or mom’s group, let them know. You don’t need to disclose that your child had lice if you don’t want to, but you could say something generic like, “Just a heads’ up to parents, head lice has been going around the school like crazy. You may want to check your kids.”
20. Be Gracious If You Get The Call
If a friend calls to let you know that their child has head lice, be kind and thank them. I know many parents' first reaction is to freak out or feel judgmental, but you’re really shooting yourself in the foot. The very BEST thing a parent can do to help you prevent a head lice infestation is to inform you when their child has lice for three reasons.
- You know that you need to step up your game for awhile on lice prevention. It’s pretty easy to start getting lax on this stuff, especially because lice doesn’t seem like much of a threat when you’re going about your everyday business. However, if you know that head lice is going around, you can (and should) be extra vigilant.
- A parent that calls you is a responsible parent. That means that parent is taking head lice seriously and is going to do the hard work it takes to get rid of it, instead of someone who may think lice is no big deal.
- You should check your child for lice more frequently for awhile. Remember, catching lice within the first week or so prevents a complete infestation and stops it from spreading to the rest of your family.
If your friend does call and say, “Hey, Sally has head lice,” you can respond…
“THANK YOU for letting me know, I really appreciate it. I will check my child as well.”
21. Coconut Oil Smother Once a Week
Hair completely smothered in coconut oil overnight can kill head lice. This isn’t my preferred treatment method if you already have lice because it does not have any effect on lice eggs (nits). However, slathering your hair in coconut oil once a week can kill adult lice and prevent them from laying eggs, thus warding off a potential infestation.
And, unlike other oils, coconut oil will easily wash out of your bed linens.
(I don’t recommend putting anything over your child’s head like plastic over night because there is a risk of suffocation. Instead just put their hair up in a bun overnight.
BONUS: For Those Truly Zealous About Lice Prevention
Enzyme Shampoo Once a Week
There are a few non-toxic lice treatments that use natural enzymes to treat lice, as opposed to pesticides.
As discussed earlier in this article, if you catch lice within a week, it will not progress to a full lice infestation. One tactic is to use a safe, non-toxic enzyme treatment shampoo on your child once a week (not recommended for kids under 2). Doing this, even if they were to pick up lice at school, you would kill lice before it had the opportunity to become an infestation.
LiceLogic has an enzyme shampoo that is safe to use once a week. The bottle is huge and should last you about three months.
You don’t have to implement all 21 of these lice prevention strategies to avoid head lice, but your best chance at avoiding lice is by doing multiple this list. If your child has had lice in the past I recommend you be especially vigilant, use a lice prevention shampoo and spray and teach your child to avoid head to head contact.
If you keep getting lice back over and over again I have written an article just for you.
Theresa is a Registered Nurse and lice expert. She owns a top lice treatment salon where she helps families battling lice every day. Disappointed by the false information about lice and lice treatment on the web, Theresa created MyLiceAdvice.com to empower families to get rid of lice on their own--and fast. Read more about Theresa and her lice journey at “From Cardiac Nurse to Lice Expert”.