Nits But No Lice & Lice But No Nits

Lice and nits, they go hand in hand, right? At least that’s what you’ve always heard. But, now you’re looking through your child’s head, and you are only finding one or the other.

How can this be? Can someone have nits, but not have lice? What about the opposite- Can you find lice in your hair, but not have any lice eggs? Discover the answers to these questions:

Nits But No Lice

Lice But No Lice Eggs

If you are new to lice, lice eggs and nits are the same thing. This article uses these two words will interchangeably.

Nits, But No Lice

Can you have nits, but never have lice? Well, it goes back to that time-old question: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

In the case of head lice, LICE bugs always come first. Lice eggs cannot just “fall” into hair, because they are glued to the hair strand by female lice when they lay them. The only way to have lice eggs in the hair is for a lice bug to have been in your hair at one time.

However, it is possible to have nits and not have lice bugs in the hair at this time.

4 Reasons Why...

Nits vs. Pseudonits

I know most people don’t want to hear this, but the most common reason to find nits in the hair and no lice is that what you are seeing are not lice eggs. It is EXTREMELY common, and it’s because there are a few very normal scalp conditions that look almost identical to nits in the hair. These scalp conditions are often called “pseudonits.” The word “pseudo” means “false” or “pretend.” So, the term “pseudonits” basically means “pretend nits.”

The most common of these conditions that are confused with lice eggs is DEC Plugs/Hair Casts.

DEC Plugs

Image of DEC Plugs which are a form of dandruff on a woman's head

DEC Plugs are a form of dandruff that wraps 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 quickly move up and down the strand of hair, but lice eggs do not move smoothly on the hair strand. Here’s a video of a DEC plug moving up and down the hair strand smoothly.

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

Hair casts are very similar, except they are longer and cylindrical and wrap around the hair shaft.

They’re Tiny and Invisible

A translucent/blond lice bug camouflaging in blond hair

Although adult head lice are about the size of a sesame seed, baby lice (nymphs) are teeny tiny, about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. These newly hatch lice are almost invisible to the naked eye, even if you have excellent vision.

To make matters worse, when lice are first born, they are translucent and blend in with the hair. If you just do a look through the hair, the chances of you seeing one are extremely rare. Can you spot the bug in this picture?

Lice are experts at blending in, so you usually don’t find them until after you’ve killed them if you’ve used a lice treatment (be sure you’re using a super lice treatment, because most lice today don’t die with a regular lice treatment).

Came and Left

It is possible that a female louse came onto the head, laid a few eggs, and then left. Or, that she came, put a few eggs, and later died. This scenario isn’t typical, but it can happen.

Unfertilized Eggs

Female lice lay somewhere between 6-10 lice eggs a day when they are old enough. They will lay these eggs regardless of if they get fertilized or not. Female lice only need to be fertilized by a male once to be fertile, but if a female bug ended up on your head without a male and never fertilized, then she can lay lots of lice eggs that’ll never hatch. This scenario is also rare but possible. 

Unfortunately, there isn’t a way to tell which eggs will hatch and which ones won’t just by looking at them. The only way to know for sure is to wait and see if they hatch. I don’t know about you, but the “wait and see” option doesn’t sound like a good one to me.

Do Nits Always Hatch?

An up close image of a hatched lice egg (nit) attached to the side of a blond hairstrand. The lice egg (nit) appears to be white/transparent in color.

No, nits do not always hatch. Unfertilized eggs and others may have genetic or environmental reasons not to hatch. One study examined the question carefully and tested children that had only nits and no lice to see how likely it was that the nits would hatch. The study showed that about 20% of the kids with just nits converted into having full-blown lice. While 20% seems relatively low, I am not willing to take the risk on it. For me, finding nits in the hair means lice, and the chance of those nits hatching is too high to not do anything about it.

Nits, But No Lice, Treatment Plan

The likelihood of their being lice in the hair that you’re just missing it relatively high. This scenario is especially likely if you have not used a super lice treatment. Most lice treatments at the store do not work on today’s super lice, because they have become immune to it. There are only a few lice treatments on the market that kill both lice and super lice, and you can’t buy them in stores. These are the best I’ve used,  LadibugsLice ClinicsHead Hunters or Fairy Tales. (These are affiliate links, and I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases, but I only recommend products I believe in).

If you’re positive that there are no lice in the hair and just lice eggs, then you can just remove the eggs from the hair without using a lice treatment.

Nit-picking is an option, but it is incredibly time-consuming and tedious. Sadly, most parents that spend 6-12 hours “nit-picking” and believe they have removed every nit inevitably miss some, and just two nits mean staying trapped in this lice cycle again and again.

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

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.

Lice, But No Lice Eggs

How about finding lice bugs without finding any nits, is that possible? Yes, there are 3 reasons you may discover lice, but no lice eggs.

Lice Eggs are Tiny

A lice egg (nit) is attached to a hair strand. A finger in behind the nit and a white arrow points at the nit.

Female lice lay 6-10 lice eggs a day, so it’s pretty uncommon for there to not be any lice eggs in the hair. More common is that people just don’t see them. Lice eggs are tiny, the size of a poppyseed. Although people usually think that they are white, they typically blend in well with hair. They can be golden, dark brown, or translucent, depending on how close they are to hatching. 

side-by-side images of blond girl's hair. Three circles identify the hot spots that lice usually lay lice eggs (nits)

The best places to search for lice eggs are behind the ears, the nape of the neck, and the crown of the head. These places are called “hot spots” and are the places that lice like to lay their eggs the most.

Good Catch

A lice bug held by tweezers

It is possible to find only one or two lice in your child’s hair if she just caught it, and the bugs haven’t had enough time to lay their eggs. The chances of that being the case are pretty small because most people don’t have any symptoms like itching until they’ve had lice for at least a month. But, if you were lucky enough to catch lice that early, then count your blessings.

Male Lice

Only female lice lay eggs, not male lice. If the only bugs in the hair were male and not female, then that would explain not finding any lice eggs

Lice, But No Lice Eggs, Treatment Plan

If you’re finding lice, but no lice eggs, then just make sure you use an effective lice treatment that works on both lice and super lice. I’d assume that you’ll only find a few lice and not a full lice infestation-if you do not see any eggs. I recommend getting a super lice treatment that includes a comb and still running the lice comb through the hair to be sure you haven’t missed any lice eggs. You’d hate to miss something and end up with a bigger problem in the future. These are the best I’ve used,  LadibugsLice ClinicsHead Hunters or Fairy Tales:

Summing it Up…

It is possible to find nits and no lice or lice and no nits in the hair for a variety of reasons. While there is a chance that some lice eggs won’t hatch, if you want to play it safe, I recommend using a lice treatment that works on both lice and super lice and combing through the hair to make sure you’ve gotten all of the eggs out.

Best of luck on your lice journey! (1)

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