If you have kids, they’ve probably brought head lice home from school at least once. If not, you’re lucky! Conventional treatment options can be expensive and we, as parents, worry about the effects of medicated products on our youngster’s skin.
That’s why I was intrigued when I was searching online for an alternative home remedy for head lice and found Listerine mentioned. I often use it as a mouthwash but never heard of it being used for head lice. I looked into it a bit more to answer the question “can you use Listerine as lice treatment?”.
What is Listerine?
Listerine is a very popular antiseptic mouthwash made from four essential oils – eucalyptol, menthol, thymol and methyl salicylate. It was created in 1879. The essential oils function as follows:
- Eucalyptol come from the eucalyptus tree and acts as an antibacterial and antifungal agent.
- Menthol from the mint family of herbs kills germs and prevents growth of bacteria in the mouth
- Thymol comes from the herb ajowan – a type of caraway seed. It fights oral infection and decreases risk of gum disease and bad breath.
- Methyl Salicylate is derived from wintergreen and is used in Listerine as a flavouring agent for fresh breath.
It also contains 29.6% pure alcohol which serves to dissolve the oils. Listerine is used for preventing and treating plaque, gingivitis and bad breath. (source)
What Are Lice?
Head lice are tiny, wingless parasitic insects. They live among human hairs and feed on blood sucked from the scalp (ew, right?). They are harmless but highly contagious. They are especially common among kids who spread them easily through head-to-head contact in the school yard. (source)
How Do You Get Lice?
As I mentioned above, the main way that lice are spread is from person to person especially in group settings like schools, sports activities, and camps. Lice cannot fly or jump but can spread through a hug or sharing clothes, bedsheets, hats or brushes. (source)
Symptoms of Lice Infestation
When a lice infestation has progressed from the initial stages, you will most likely be able to see the eggs (“nits”) with the naked eye. The eggs look like yellow or brown dots near the hair shafts close to the scalp.
Itching will begin within a week of infestation. This is most likely due to a reaction to the saliva of the lice. The severity of itching depends on the person. You may notice red, inflamed skin from scratching. (source)
Why Use Listerine as Lice Treatment?
There are many reasons why people are attracted to using Listerine. For starters, it’s a lot cheaper than the products licensed for treating head lice. If you have a few kids and need to treat the family, it can easily run up to $100. Listerine comes in large bottles and should cost more than $10.
The essential oil aspect also appeals to many fans of natural remedies. Yes, Listerine contains 4 plant-derived oils, but it’s no less a big pharma product than the conventional lice treatments. Nowadays, Listerine is owned by McNeil Consumer Healthcare, one of the biggest names in over-the-counter medicines and health products.
All of the essential oils in Listerine have antimicrobial properties and it will produce a cooling sensation both due to the menthol and evaporation of alcohol from the skin. This will go a long way towards relieving the persistent itch associated with lice. So the science makes sense when it comes to using Listerine as a lice treatment.
The Dangers of Using Listerine as Lice Treatment
So, we have concluded that yes you can use Listerine as a lice treatment. But should you? Especially when it comes to your kids, you need to exercise reasonable caution. The official line is never to use Listerine to treat head lice. (source) Let’s consider why this is.
Listerine as a medical product is not licensed for use as a head lice treatment. For a product to be allowed on the market, it must go through clinical trials and safety tests to determine the safe doses, side effects and interactions. This information is available for using Listerine as a mouthwash, but we have no reliable data for use as a head lice treatment.
Secondly, if you apply something to your scalp – especially if you leave it on for a prolonged period – some of it will absorb through your skin into your bloodstream. Alcohol will also evaporate and you will inhale it.
This is probably not a big deal for adults but for children it is. Your children will be absorbing a high concentration of alcohol from this treatment. The bottle of Listerine itself says “WARNING: Do not administer to children under 12 years of age. Keep this and all drugs out of reach of children. Do not swallow. In case of accidental (oral) overdose, seek professional assistance or contact a poison control center immediately.”
The warning above is talking about Listerine as a mouth – swishing a cap full of liquid in the mouth and spitting it out. Hardly any alcohol will be absorbed this way but it’s still not recommended. Leaving it on the scalp is much more dangerous. There’s also the issue of kids accidentally drinking it, which is severely toxic.
Finally, the alcohol content of Listerine can irritate and dry the scalp, especially if there are any cuts or scratches there. (source) Overall, I would never use Listerine as a head lice treatment for my kids. There’s just too much that can go wrong. I’d love to save the money but trust me, if it was a safe and effective idea, big pharma would already have gotten the license and made money off it.
How to Use Listerine as Lice Treatment
If you must use Listerine as a head lice treatment, here are some of the common methods used. I recommend not leaving it on for too long to prevent too much alcohol absorption.
Traditional Listerine Lice Treatment (from Home Remedies That Really Work)
- Wet the hair and scalp generously with Listerine. Avoid the face and ears
- Cover the hair and scalp with a shower cap
- Let it sit for 2 hours (wash out immediately if it causes irritation)
- After 2 hours, wash the hair with water
- Use a nit removal comb to remove lice and lice eggs
- Repeat this treatment once a week
Listerine Lice Prevention Spray (from Home Remedies That Really Work)
If your children’s school has a lice infestation, a Listerine spray can help stop them catching it.
- Put some Listerine into a spray bottle
- Spritz over the hair (avoid eyes and face)
- Comb through
- Do this every morning before school
Vinegar and Listerine Lice Treatment (from Healthy and Natural World)
- Soak the head with Listerine until all hair is completely wet.
- Cover the hair with a shower cap
- Leave for an hour or more
- Rinse the hair to remove the Listerine
- Apply white vinegar to the head and massage
- Cover again with the shower cap
- Leave for another hour
- Shampoo as usual
- Comb out the dead lice and eggs with a nit comb
Make sure to boil or bleach wash all of the relevant bedding, clothes and soft toys. If they can’t be washed in that way, keep them in a garbage bag for two weeks and don’t touch them. The lice will die after 2 weeks and then you can wash as normal. (source)
I hope this article has provided enough information to help decide if using Listerine as a lice treatment is right for you. I really wouldn’t recommend it – it probably will kill the lice but it’s not safe. There are plenty of other natural options out there such as olive oil or tea tree oil which are much better.