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June 22, 2009 at 10:34 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Head Lice Seemingly Resistant to Chemical Treatment Shampoos

By Katie from SLN More Blogs by This Author

How awful is it when you purchase a product that simply doesn't work? A head lice infestation (pediculosis) is annoying enough without the added stress of wasted time and money for a treatment that accomplishes absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, this is exactly the case for parents all over the world who are trying to rid their children's hair and scalps of the parasitic insects.

Reports have poured into the National Pediculosis Association (NPA) about failed lice-ridding products. Most calls follow the use of the most commercially popular treatments. Why are the lice not responding to the treatments? One idea is that they have built up a resistance to the chemicals that are in the treatment shampoos.

Studies at the University of Massachusetts and Harvard analyzed the activity of active (human infesting) lice, and found that between 50 and 98 percent of the lice were able to live through applications of commonly used treatment shampoos, and were especially resistant to a particular chemical in them called permethrin. The thought is that, over time, lice have built their chemical resistance through simple evolution. Because some lice appear to be genetically disposed to better withstand treatment, they are the ones that survive and reproduce. After the countless lice generations produced since the advent of chemical lice treatment, the bugs are amazingly resilient when it comes to these shampoos.

Further support for this theory was gathered by Harvard scientist Andrew Spielman. Wondering if more remote cultures' lice would display the same resistance, he traveled to Borneo, where head lice infestations are considered signs of an active social life. The Borneo lice had never been exposed to the chemical lice treatments, and quickly succumbed to the harshness of them.

It is quite difficult to conduct thorough studies of head lice, as they can only live for a couple of days without a human host. However, researchers in California have now developed a system that closely mimics a louse's favorite environment. The insects and some human hair are put into plastic tubes, which are immersed in containers of warmed human blood. The bugs can access the blood by biting through a specially designed membrane. Hopefully, the man-made habitat will allow scientists to gain a better understanding of lice habits and genetics.

Of course, this research can't help the frustrated parents that need help today. In desperation, many of them turn to questionable treatments like petroleum jelly, pet shampoos, mayonnaise, lindane, and kerosene. While all of these will be unpleasant, the last two are also very dangerous, and pose a risk that completely outweighs the irritation of a head lice infestation. Instead, try these natural remedies:

  • Comb out the lice and eggs (nits) with a fine toothed metal comb. This can take a long time, but is probably one of the best methods of removal.
  • Apply essential oils like olive, coconut, and tea tree to the scalp.
  • Treat bedding and furniture by washing in extreme temperatures and using natural enzyme dissolver sprays.
  • Wash infested hair with enzyme busting natural shampoos.
  • Educate your children about the risks of sharing hair products and hats, and take preventive measures like checking their heads and staying in contact with other parents.

Using natural methods to rid your home and family of a lice infestation is a safer and more progressive way of combating the insects. As head lice continue to build resistance, we have no choice but to find new ways to eradicate them.


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