Lice vs Dandruff –
7 Key Differences Between Lice Eggs and Dandruff


How can I tell the difference between lice and dandruff?

Answer from a Lice Expert:

There are 7 WAYS you can tell the difference between lice and dandruff. This article is loaded with side-by-side pictures and videos, so you'll be able to tell the difference very quickly.

Two side by side images of brunettes one with lice and one with dandruff.

Lice vs. Dandruff - The 7 Differences:

  • 1

    When in Doubt, Try to Pull it Out - Lice Eggs Stick, Dandruff Doesn’t

    Watch the side-by-side videos in this article comparing lice and dandruff and how they come out of the hair

  • 2

    Lice Egg think Leaf; Dandruff think Snow

    Where are nits (lice eggs) are shaped more like a leaf than dandruff. View the side-by-side pictures below.

  • 3

    Teardrop vs. Circular – Lice Eggs are Teardrop

    Compare the difference in the shape of lice eggs in the pictures below.

  • 4

    Lice Eggs are Golden, Dandruff is White

    Lice eggs or nits come in a wide variety of colors. Learn more about the difference in color between nits and lice eggs with side-by-side pictures below.

  • 5

    Lice Eggs are all the Same Size

    Check out the differences in size with the side-by-side pictures of nits and dandruff.

  • 6

    Lice Eggs Love Hot Spots

    Lice lay there eggs in certain places, called "hot spots." Check out the pictures to learn where they are.

  • 7

    Lice Glue Leaves a Tail

    Check out what a "tail" on a lice egg looks like in the pictures below.

Lice vs Dandruff Video

two pictures are shown side-by-side. One is of dandruff, the other is of lice eggs. Lice expert in the foreground

Let me introduce myself...

Lice nurse helping others

Hi there! I'm Theresa, I'm a lice expert, lice coach, and Registered Nurse. I help people with lice every day! You can get rid of lice in ONE DAY at home by using the same proven professional technique that I use in my lice center.

Just follow the step-by-step videos and be done with lice by the end of the day.

How to tell the difference between lice and dandruff

Dandruff is skin that comes off in flakes or chunks in the hair. Lice eggs (also called “nits”) are the first sign of a head lice infestation. Both lice and dandruff can leave your head itching, so how are you supposed to know which is which? This foolproof guide, loaded with side-by-side pictures, will show you exactly how to tell the difference between lice vs dandruff.

Looking for Lice Bugs

A translucent-golden lice bug hids in blond hair

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?

Lice bugs are usually the same color as your hair. For instance, this blond has lice that is almost transparent. Whereas those with darker hair often have darker lice bugs.

Looking for Lice Eggs or Nits

A single lice egg in hair found while checking for lice

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. To help out, this tutorial is full of pictures to show you exactly how to check for these lice eggs (nits).

A quick note to beginners: If you are new to lice, nits and lice eggs are the same thing. The two phrases will be used interchangeably throughout this article.

Lice vs Dandruff- Side-by-Side Pictures

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

#1 – When in Doubt, Try to Pull it Out - Lice Eggs Stick, Dandruff Doesn’t

A lice egg (nit) is shown on a hair strand. A woman tugs at the nit repeatedly, attempting to make it move.
Lice eggs are stuck on the hair strand.

When comparing nits to dandruff, trust the motto “When in doubt, try to pull it out.”

Nits stick on the hair strand with special glue. If you see something you suspect is a nit, try to remove it from the hair. Because of their glue, nits are challenging to remove from the hair strand. You’ll have to tug at them initially to loosen them enough to drag them the entire way down the hair strand.

Nits can’t be washed or brushed out of the hair, and you can’t flick or blow them off. Without a high-quality lice comb, the only way to remove a nit is to squeeze it between two fingers or fingernails and pull the nit down the entire hair strand.

A finger is scratching the scalp and hair. Dandruff is shown moving from hair strand to hair strand.
Dandruff moves easily.

Dandruff, however, can be moved easily: blown, flicked, or brushed aside.

On clean, dry hair, dandruff moves easily from strand to strand simply by blowing or jostling the hair. In greasy or dirty hair, dandruff can get stuck in the oils of the hair, but even so, it will not adhere to the hair strand quite like a nit. In our lice check tutorial, we recommend first having clean, dry hair, and then blowing and jostling the hair to more easily tell the difference between nits and dandruff.

#2 Lice Eggs are on the SIDE like a Leaf; Dandruff is on TOP like Snow

Side-by-side comparing lice egg and dandruff location on hair strand. Lice eggs appear as a golden leaf on side, dandruff appears as a snowflake on top.

Dandruff rests on top of the hair and can move to another hair strand.

Dandruff isn’t attached to the hair. Dandruff is more like snow on top of the hair.

Nits attach to the SIDE of a single hair strand.

A nit on a hair strand is like a flower with a long stem and a single leaf growing on the side. If the hair strand is the stem of the flower, then a nit is the leaf; it does not wrap around the hair strand.

DEC Plugs (Dandruff) wrap around a hair strand.

Instead of flaking off in hair, DEC Plugs come off around the hair strand. Sometimes they will appear to be on the side of the hair strand because they can be irregularly shaped or centered, but there will always be a part of them that goes all the way around the hair. DEC Plugs are like rings around the hair, easily moved up and down.

Two fingers move a form of dandruff (DEC Plug) easily up and down a hairstrand
Dandruff (DEC Plug) moves easily up and down.

DEC Plugs are a form of dandruff that wrap around the hair and “stick” on one strand, but unlike nits, these move smoothly up and down the hair strand.

DEC Plugs are commonly confused with lice eggs because they also seem to “stick” on the hair strand. The difference between DEC Plugs and nits, however, is that DEC Plugs easily move up and down the strand of hair, but lice eggs do not move smoothly on the hair strand.

#3 – Teardrop vs. Circular – Lice Eggs are Teardrop

Side-by-side lice egg vs dandruff shape. Tear-dropped lice egg is attached to a single hair strand. Irregularly shaped dandruff in the hair.

Nits are teardrop shaped.

In the hair, nits may appear circular, but when pulled out of the hair and examined (especially on a white paper towel), you can see that they are teardrop shaped, not circular.

Dandruff is irregular in shape.

These flakes usually have jagged, uneven edges. Some dandruff flakes are so small, it’s hard to determine a certain shape.

Get the Lice Checklist
It's FREE!
Your checklist is headed to your inbox!

#4 – Lice Eggs are Golden, Dandruff is White

Side-by-side of lice and dandruff color. Arrow points to golden lice egg (nit) on a white background. Arrow points to white dandruff on black background.

Nits have color to them.

The best way to compare lice vs dandruff is to view nits on a white backdrop, such as a paper towel. Although nits can appear to be white in the hair, especially dark hair, they are usually two-toned (typically golden with a dark brown center).

The color of nits varies from golden to deep brown depending on the maturity of the nit and how close it is to hatching. Hatched nits are translucent (with only the casing remaining), but you can see the tail and outline of the egg when placed on a white paper towel.

Dandruff is white.

Dandruff is seen best against a dark backdrop such as a black shirt.

DEC Plugs are white or yellowish.

They are best seen against a dark backdrop as well.

#5 – Lice Eggs are all the Same Size

Side-by-side of lice and dandruff size, arrow points to areas lice lay eggs that are all the same size, an arrow points to dandruff

Nits are all the same size.

The minimal difference of sizes among nits is undetectable to the naked eye, so nits mostly look the same size to us.

Dandruff and DEC Plugs vary in size.

While some flakes of dandruff can be fairly small, other flakes can be quite big. Unlike nits, dandruff varies greatly in size, and this can usually be seen at a glance.

#6 – Lice Eggs Love Hot Spots

Side-by-side of lice and dandruff areas, an arrow points to areas lice lay eggs, an arrow points to dandruff in the hair

Nits are most prominent in the “hot spots” of the head.

“Hot spots” are the places where lice prefer to lay the most eggs. The most significant hot spot areas are behind the ears and near the nape of the neck.

Dandruff is most prominent near the crown of the head.

Dandruff can be found anywhere on the scalp, but it's usually most concentrated in the regions that secrete the most oil.

#7 – Lice Glue Leaves a Tail

Lice egg (nit) with an arrow pointing to lice egg glue that looks like a tail and lice eggs on a white paper towel

Nit glue looks like a “tail.”

When lice lay eggs in the hair, they attach them to the hair with powerful glue. When you remove a lice egg, the glue is removed with it as well. When you place the egg on a WHITE paper towel that “nit glue” will look like a tail on the end of the egg. Dandruff and DEC Plugs don’t have this glue, so they don’t have any appearance of a tail.

And a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are two pictures, one of lice eggs in the hair and the other of dandruff.

brunettes' hair with significant dandruff

Why Is It So Hard to Get Rid of Lice?

Now that you know what you're looking for I want to talk briefly about your biggest worry (that your child actually has lice) and the question I get asked by parents around the world that have been battling lice….

picture of lice bug under a magnifying glass

Parents around the world are all asking me the same question…. "Why is it so much harder to get rid of lice now?"

Lice have become immune to everything that used to work in the past. Perhaps you remember your mom using a typical lice treatment or mayonnaise and that doing the trick. The new strain of head lice is no longer killed by those treatments, that’s why lice today are termed by people, “super lice,” because they are immune to those treatments. 

I’ve cured thousands of people of lice in my lice center and let me tell you, I don't do it with over-the-counter lice treatments. 

magnifying glass looking at lice eggs and nits in brown hair

Most people struggle with lice because they focus all of their attention on killing lice bugs and not enough attention on GETTING RID OF LICE!

If you want to get rid of lice you have to address all 3 of the problems of lice:

  1. Lice Bugs
  2. Lice Eggs
  3. Getting Lice Back

The best way to get rid of lice is to tackle all 3 of these problems at the same time, which is what I teach in my step-by-step video system.

So, if you discover your child HAS lice, don't panic. Just head over to the video system. Follow along with the videos and you'll be done with lice by the end of the day.

lice bug under a magnifying glass

Summing It Up...

Using these seven key differences as a guide, what do you think now? Lice or dandruff? If it’s only dandruff you’ve uncovered, then take a big sigh of relief and simply wash your hair with a dandruff shampoo such as Head and Shoulders or Selsun Blue. If you have dandruff and your head is very itchy I recommend T-gel Stubborn Itch Control Shampoo. BUT- If you’ve discovered lice eggs instead, then it’s time to go to war because you’re dealing with an infestation.

I understand how annoying these little bugs can be (for instance, did you know that 98% of lice are resistant to traditional treatments?), but fortunately, you can stop lice dead in their tracks today. The Step-by-Step Video System will walk you through exactly how to get rid of lice in ONE DAY, no retreatments, and no wasting weeks or months trying to figure it out. 

If you’re still scratching your head (pun intended) because you’re not quite sure if what you are looking at is lice eggs vs dandruff, you can check out our article here—What Lice Eggs and Nits Look Like: Pictures of Lice Eggs in Hair—to see more detailed photos of lice eggs in hair.

I also have an infographic at the bottom that will help.

All the best,

lice expert

Theresa is a Registered Nurse and lice expert with years of experience curing children of lice. She owns a lice treatment center in the US which is where she perfected the Step-by-Step Video System proven to get rid of lice. She also works with government agencies and schools helping those with the worst head lice cases in America.

Her greatest passion is empowering parents by teaching parents online how to do a professional lice treatment on their child at home. She is the Lice Coach for the My Lice Advice Step-by-Step Video System.

Get the Lice Checklist
It's FREE!
Your checklist is headed to your inbox!
an infographic with lice-specific questions to determine whether you have lice or dandruff