Tea Tree Oil For Lice: How to Kill and Prevent Lice Using Tea Tree Oil

tea tree oil title photo

Looking for a natural and effective way to kill head lice? Tea tree oil is one of the best home remedies out there. Discover how to kill and prevent head lice naturally with tea tree oil in this tutorial.

The new strain of head lice is growing increasingly resistant to over the counter treatments. After using multiple rounds of over the counter treatments with no success, many parents are turning to home remedies.

When done correctly, tea tree oil can be an excellent home remedy. 

This article addresses the following:

Does Tea Tree Oil Kill Lice?

Disadvantages of Tea Tree Oil

How to Kill Lice With Tea Tree Oil (Tutorial)

Does Tea Tree Oil Shampoo Kill Lice?

Does Tea Tree Oil Prevent Head Lice?

Super Lice

Up close image of a super lice bug. Lice have six legs attached to their abdomen. The lice appears golden brown/translucent in color. Its dark stomach can be seen through its shell. The lice is attached to a blonde hairstrand.

If you’ve tried treatments and still have lice, you’re not alone. Most lice today are unphased by pesticide treatments.

Super lice are the newest strain of head lice. A recent study shows that about 98% of lice today have the super lice mutation, which makes them incredibly hard to kill.

The difficulty with super lice is that they have a genetic mutation that is unphased by pesticides, so over the counter and prescription treatments don’t kill these lice or their lice eggs no matter the strength or how long you leave them on.

Tea Tree Oil for Lice

tea tree leaves

Tea tree oil, also known as Melaleuca, is an oil derived from leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia tree found in Australia. People have used Tea tree oil for centuries for multiple ailments, including as a bug repellant.

Recent studies indicate that tea tree oil can be helpful for both treating and preventing head lice, both of which this article covers.

Does Tea Tree Oil Kill Lice?

lice half

Multiple studies have tested the efficacy of tea tree oil on head lice. A recent study comparing different essential oils found that tea tree oil in high concentrations was very effective at killing lice. After just 30 minutes of soaking in tea tree oil, all head lice were dead.

Another study combining tea tree oil and lavender oil showed a kill rate of 97%, whereas over-the-counter pesticide treatments only killed 25% of lice.

Disadvantages of Tea Tree Oil

Severe head lice infestation commons, no rights reserved

#1- Tea Tree Oil Does Not Kill Lice Eggs

Although tea tree oil has shown effectiveness against killing lice, it is not effective at killing lice eggs (also known as nits). So, if you use a tea tree oil treatment, you must remove every nit from the head to prevent them from hatching. 

Those that focus only on killing lice and not on removing nits from the head will find themselves in a never-ending cycle of head lice.

Here’s what that cycle looks like...

The Lice Egg Cycle: Lice hatch from eggs, lice grow and lay more eggs, you treat your hair, some lice eggs are missed, and then the cycle starts over and lice hatch from eggs again.

You kill all the lice. You think you’ve gotten rid of everything, but you leave a few lice eggs in the hair. Those lice eggs hatch within a few days, and, shortly, those lice begin laying eggs. Within a few weeks, you have a full infestation all over again. You go around and around in this circle of “getting lice back” from yourself.

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

The very best lice comb out there is the Nit-Free Terminator 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.

The Nit Free Terminator is the lice comb I use in my lice center every day.

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.

#2- Resistance

Some lice are likely becoming resistant to tea tree oil, just as they have with over the counter treatments. 

For centuries lice have mutated by “survival of the fittest.” The same concept is true for lice becoming immune to tea tree oil. Lice that are genetically unaffected by tea tree oil are more likely to thrive and thus pass on their genetic resistance as tea tree oil gains in popularity.

#3- High Doses Can Cause Scalp Irritation

The top of a woman's head with large chunks of dandruff

Tea tree oil in concentrations able to kill head lice may cause skin reactions, especially on young children. The best way to decrease skin reactions is to dilute tea tree in a carrier oil such as coconut oil, olive oil, or almond oil. I’ll talk about this in-depth in the Tutorial Section of this article.

#4- Toxic if Swallowed

ambulance

Tea tree is safe to use on the skin, but be careful that your little ones don’t ingest it. Tea tree oil is toxic if swallowed.

#5- The Quality of Essential Oil Matters

Not all essential oils are equal. In one study, multiple brands of tea tree oil were tested against lice and had differing levels of success.

So, be sure that the essential oil you are using is high quality and has undergone rigorous testing.

I recommend Barefut essential oils, because I know they are the highest quality, and sell at a fraction of the cost of other essential oils. (I also like the fact that I can buy them directly online for cheap instead of going through a salesperson).

More Effective Than Tea Tree Oil

Although tea tree oil has tested well in killing head lice, most people would prefer something closer to a 100% kill rate. If you’d like to go the tea tree route feel free to continue to the tutorial, but you should know that there are a few very safe super lice treatments out there that do not use pesticides. These select treatments are more effective at killing head lice and much easier to use than tea tree oil.

a better way

The active ingredient in these treatments is dimethicone. Dimethicone is a silicone-based oil that interrupts lice’s ability to breathe and excrete water, killing lice in 15 minutes.

Scientific tests of dimethicone against pesticides show that dimethicone is the far better treatment.

I use dimethicone every day in my lice center with a kill rate of 100%.

Dimethicone is the biggest kept secret of professional lice centers. But, fortunately, 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, all of my reviews are based on the quality of the products)

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. This 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.

Best All Natural

If you want to use an all-natural product that outperforms most home remedies, my top pick is Head Hunters WipeOut. To be clear, WipeOut is not a dimethicone product. Instead, it kills head lice with natural ingredients, staphysagria, and ledum palustre, which you can’t find in stores.
Be sure to get the kit that comes with the “Pro-Lice” Nit Free Terminator comb.

Does Tea Tree Shampoo Kill Lice?

tea tree shampoo

No, tea tree shampoo will not kill head lice. The concentrations in tea tree shampoo are not adequate to kill head lice, and they become even more diluted in wet hair.

Additionally, tea tree oil needs to be on the head for at least 30 minutes to be effective against head lice, and most people only leave the shampoo in for a few minutes when washing their hair.

Tea tree shampoo can be a helpful tool for preventing head lice, but tea tree shampoo alone won’t keep lice away. Read the Tea Tree Oil to Prevent Head Lice section of the article to learn more.

How to Kill Lice With Tea Tree Oil (Tutorial)

oil on spoon

Before You Begin- Choose a Carrier Oil

You need to treat tea tree oil with respect. Applying tea tree oil directly to the scalp can cause severe reactions. Children are especially susceptible to reactions to essential oils.

What Are Carrier Oils?

Diluting essential oils in a carrier oil decreases the likelihood of your child reacting to it. Because essential oils are oil-based, you should dilute it in something oil-based as opposed to water-based. 

Common carrier oils are coconut oil and olive oil. I prefer coconut oil because of its lice killing properties.

A dilution of 1 ounce of carrier oil to 10 drops of essential oil is a good rule of thumb.

Coconut Oil vs. Olive Oil

coconut featured

Coconut Oil Kills Lice

Studies have compared the effectiveness of different home remedies on head lice, including olive oil and coconut oil. Studies show that coconut oil has a significantly higher kill rate for lice and in shorter periods.

Coconut oil on the head for 4 hours had an 80% lice kill rate

Whereas olive oil on the head for 8 hours only had a 2% lice kill rate.

Coconut Oil Doesn’t Stain

Unlike other oils that stain clothing and furniture, coconut oil washes out of clothing and other items if washed in warm water. You don’t have to worry about your child staining her clothing or bedding.

Test A Small Area First

The scalp is one of the most absorbent areas of the body. Before slathering your child’s scalp with tea tree oil, test an area of her skin that is less sensitive, such as the arm, to ensure she has no reactions to tea tree oil.

Step 1- Prep Your Child

towel shoulders (1)
  • Begin with completely DRY hair, because when you lice expose lice to water, they close their “breathing holes” which makes them less susceptible to being killed by absorbing tea tree oil.
  • Place a towel around your child’s shoulders; this is a messy process.

Step 2- Mix Carrier Oil and Tea Tree Oil

coconut sign

Regular coconut oil is solid at room temperature, which makes it a little more challenging to apply.

  • Melt coconut oil in the microwave until it is at least partly liquid (start with 30 seconds and add more time as needed). 
  • The typical amount of coconut oil needed to cover the head is:

¼ cup for a crew cut

½ cup for short hair 

1 cup for long hair. 

Use more or less coconut oil depending on hair length and thickness.

  • Add 10 drops of tea tree oil per ounce of carrier oil and mix it.

¼ cup (2 oz) = 20 drops tea tree oil

½ cup (4 oz) = 40 drops tea tree oil

1 cup (8 oz) = 80 drops tea tree oil

Step 3- Focus on the Scalp

section hair

Section your child’s hair and slather tea tree oil mix directly to your child’s scalp. Focus most of your attention on the scalp and roots of the hair, because this is where lice usually reside.

Step 4- Comb through the Hair

comb through hair

After you apply the tea tree oil mix to the scalp, comb the oil through the rest of the hair. Apply the remaining oil to the rest of the hair until you have saturated the entire head of hair in the tea tree oil mix.

Step 5- Wait

wait

Tea tree oil has been shown effective after only 30 minutes on the scalp. For increased effectiveness, leave it on longer (4 hours) or overnight.

Step 6- Cover the Head...or Don’t

  • If you have a safe shower cap or another hat for your child, then feel free to put it on her. 
  • DO NOT put plastic on your child’s head and send her to bed. Plastic is dangerous and can kill your child, as it did with the parents in this news story.
  • You do not need to cover the head at all if you’re using coconut oil. Put your child’s hair in a bun and send her to bed. Coconut oil does not stain the same way other oils stain so that you can wash her bedding in warm water the next morning, and all of the oil will come out.

Step 7- Rinse or Don’t Rinse

rinse hair

You can rinse the oil mixture out, or you can leave the oil in the hair while completing the next step.

Remove Lice Eggs vs. Repeat Treatments

combing hair

Option #1- Remove Lice Eggs

Tea Tree Oil DOES NOT kill lice eggs!!

One of the biggest mistakes people make with any lice treatment, including tea tree oil, is not removing all of the lice eggs from their child’s hair. If you leave Nits in the hair, they WILL hatch and reinfest your child.

The fastest and most effective way to get rid of lice eggs is with a Nit Free Terminator Comb

Option #2- Repeat Treatments 

Instead of removing lice eggs from the hair, some people would instead just apply tea tree oil multiple times. Repeating treatment of tea tree oil every few days for the next 3 weeks will likely kill all lice, including those that hatch from eggs over the following weeks.

But I don’t recommend it for the following reasons.

lice for weeks

Reason #1- You’ll have lice for 3 weeks
I’m not a fan of any idea of living with lice for weeks on end, and that’s what you’ll be doing. Lice eggs will be hatching on your child’s head every day, which means she will have head lice crawling on her head until you do another treatment.

Reason #2- Eggs hatch at variable times
Eggs will not hatch all at once. Most lice eggs hatch in about 7-10 days, not 7-10 days after your tea tree treatment. But, some lice eggs take longer to hatch. One study shows lice eggs hatching 15 days later. So, you’ll need to do these treatments for 3 weeks to ensure they’re effective.

Egg of the head louse (Pediculus humanus capitis) on a hair. The picture was taken after an anti-lice treatment  (Oxyphthirine - a substance based on Triglycerid producing a kind of film at the surface of the eggs and lice that induce asphyxia).  This egg is therefore dead and its aspect can be slightly different from an alive egg. It seems to be slightly deshydrated.  Scale : egg length= 0.57 mm  Technical settings :  - focus stack of 42 images - microscope objective (Nikon achromatic 10x 160/0.25) on bellow (160 mm extension)

Reason #3- Lice eggs are your first sign of lice

Early in an infestation, you don’t usually see lice bugs; you see lice eggs. If you do not remove lice eggs from previous outbreaks you won’t figure out your child has lice until she’s had it for a very long time because you’ll assume the eggs in the hair are “old eggs.”

Reason #4- Having lice for weeks can spread it
The longer your child has lice, the more likely she is to spread it to others in the home. Let’s say a few lice hatch the day after the treatment. What’s to keep lice from spreading to her siblings and friends?

If you choose the “repeat treatments” method, your child will have lice for several weeks, because every day new baby lice will hatch from the eggs left in the hair.

To me, that’s not an acceptable option.

But, if you want to do the repeat treatment option, then you will need to repeat applying tea tree oil to the hair every 3 days for the next 3 weeks. Retreatment every three days should help prevent your child from spreading lice to others in the house.

To sum it up…

Leaving Lice Eggs/Repeat Treatments = Lice for Weeks
Removing Lice Eggs = No More Lice!!
To me, it’s a no-brainer.
Get a Nit Free Terminator Comb; it’s the smartest “lice” decision you will ever make.

Step 8 - Clean Your House

dryer

Don’t go insane with the house cleaning; this is the easiest step.

Clean your house using the following principles as a guide (or check out the article Lice Cleaning Checklist to Get Rid of Lice in Your Home):

Think 48 Hours
Focus your attention on cleaning items that have been in contact with the lice-infested individual within the last 48 hours. Lice cannot live longer than 48 hours on household items.

Do Not Use Lice Sprays, Vacuum Instead.
Lice sprays do not work on lice at all, and they are hazardous. Vacuuming surfaces such as couches and mattresses are more effective at killing lice than sprays.

Clean Your Brushes
Soak hairbrushes, combs, and hair accessories (such as hairbands, clips, and headbands) used by the person with lice in hot water (135° F or higher) for at least ten minutes. (I do not recommend boiling brushes and combs, however, because they will melt.)

Items in the Dryer
Put items in the dryer for 40 minutes on high heat.

Bag Items for 2 Days
Lice can’t live without blood for very long, so anything that could have lice on it will be safe to use again after 48 hours. If an item is something that you cannot run through the dryer, like a favorite stuffed toy or delicate clothing, you can seal it away in a bag for a couple of days.

Don’t Forget Carseats
Vacuum the car seats of the infested individuals.

Step 9 - Check Back

Checking with comb

Whether you’ve chosen to remove lice eggs or you’ve decided that you want to do the repeat treatment thing, I recommend checking your child’s hair frequently for a few weeks.

Combing through the hair every few days with a lice comb for two weeks to make sure you’re not finding any lice in the hair is the best way to check. After 2 weeks of finding no lice, you’re in the clear.

If you’re doing repeat treatments, you’ll want to keep checking for a full 4 weeks to make sure you’ve got everything.

Tea Tree Oil For Lice Prevention

tea tree oil title photo

Lice have a keen sense of smell, and they are attracted to human blood. Just like sharks, they can smell when your blood is near, and your head is within reach.

In studies, tea tree oil, along with several other essential oils, acts as lice repellents.
But, 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.

19 Essential Oils Repel Lice. Here are the most lice repelling essential oils:

Not all Essential Oils Are Equal

Be careful to use essential oils that are pure and undiluted. Many sell knock offs and “scented” oils that are not essential oils. To prevent lice, you need legitimate essential oils that are quality tested.

My top pick is Barefut Essential Oils because they are about half the price of other essential oils, and they are of high quality. And I like to buy stuff online without having to go through an essential oil rep or subscribe to anything.

Tea Tree Oil for Lice Prevention Spray Tutorial

You can add tea tree to your shampoo or conditioner, but better lice prevention comes from having the scent of tea tree in the hair. This is best done by spraying the scent in the hair and NOT washing it out.

Ingredients:

8 oz spray bottle

6 oz of distilled or purified water 

2 Tablespoons of carrier oil such as fractionated coconut oil or olive oil

20 drops of Tea Tree Oil (or use a blend in this article for better 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)

Tried and True Lice Prevention Sprays

There are some very effective lice prevention sprays already on the market. These sprays are a combination of all of the best prevention essential oils. Instead of making one yourself, you can buy one. I review all lice prevention sprays in this article.

Summing It Up…

tea tree and coconut oil

Tea Tree oil has been shown effective at both killing and preventing head lice. But, tea tree does not kill lice eggs or prevent them from hatching. 

Tea tree oil can be irritating to the scalp, so diluting it in a carrier oil is important, especially on children.

Dimethicone treatments have proven more effective and easier to use than tea tree oil and are what most professional lice centers use. The best dimethicone treatments are Ladibugs and Lice Clinics. An excellent natural option is Head Hunters WipeOut.

Tea tree oil is one of the many essential oils that deter lice. Combining tea tree with other essential oils and spraying it in the hair is the most effective at preventing head lice.

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