Every blog should be useful at least once in a while, which is why—at least in part—I’ve decided to write this particular post. The other reason being that, barely a week in, we’ve already received our first “lice warning” from the elementary school, so the topic’s fresh and on my mind.
Now look, I’m not about to pretend I’m some sort of authority on this topic, because I’m not, but I will tell you that this household has not been upended by an invasion of those nasty little things since A was in the 1st grade—no matter how many schoolwide epidemics she’s been witness too. Being as that she’s now in the 10th grade, and K has never been afflicted, I’m going to call that a win, and assume I might have something worthwhile to say on the matter.
I know there are some households out there that do not consider lice to be a big deal—god knows, I’ve met plenty a moms who are pretty blasé about the whole thing—but around here, it is. You see, I have very long, very thick hair, and as if having to contend with the idea of digging squirmy little bugs out of it isn’t a big enough deterrent (which it is) I’ve also got a slew of past memories to keep me plenty hell bent on never allowing an invasion again.
I remember when I was in the second or third grade, my sister and I had the misfortune of picking up a case of head lice. I remember this quite well, because not only did I have to do the shame walk from my classroom to the office when I was found to be a carrier, but because my mom—after trying to battle the little buggers and failing—cut my hair boy-short. I remember being mortified by her decision to do so, and apparently that incident left its mark on me, because 20 some odd years later (back in 2007), lice were still one of my biggest fears.
By fear, I don’t mean to say that I’d run screaming like a mad woman from the room at the mention of them, but even the thought of them was more than enough to make my scalp crawl. As my eldest approached school age, I got more and more nervous about the day that I might have to step up and face that challenge myself.
That day presented itself on New Years Eve, 2007.
Imagine, sitting around with your family, preparing for a quiet night of watching movies, playing board games, and gorging on an embarrassment of highly fattening comfort foods, when you suddenly notice that your seven year old kid keeps scratching her head. Now imagine the same thing, but with a built in fear of lice already at play.
I whisked the poor girl up and into the bathroom so fast she didn’t even have time to ask what was happening, and then—with Z’s help, I started looking through her hair under the harsh light. I am not exaggerating when I say I wanted to throw up when I saw the first bug come into view.
Now, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here, as per usual, so before I go on with the tale of what happened next, let me share a situation that presented itself to my little sister and her family the previous spring, so that I can better draw attention to a few points that I do intend on eventually making here.
My beautiful sister, who’s hair has always been even longer and thicker than my own, also had that old fear of head lice. One day that spring, I got a call from her, and the first words out of her mouth were, in a teary voice, “I am not happy!!”
As it turned out, she and her two little ones had lice. (1,200 kilometers away, my skin began to crawl as I subconsciously began scratching at my own scalp). Her son barely had a thing in his short hair, but her daughter had more than enough of them to have my sister in full-blown panic, so she had her husband go chimpanzee on her own head. He found just a couple of eggs, and no living bugs, but it was enough to drive her halfway out of her mind.
She ran straight out and bought up every damn product you can imagine, all that stinky, expensive stuff found at your local drugstore. She spent hundreds of dollars on this crap—no joke. Back at home, she followed all the rules that you’d find on just about any website talking about head lice, and every piece of advice from any pharmacist willing to talk to her. What resulted was more than a month long battle before she was FINALLY confidant enough to say that the problem was dealt with, and move on.
However, her days of spending money on this issue were far from over.
The excessive chemicals had taken a very negative toll on her hair. In her own words, it was “fried”. Over the following couple of months, she spent—and believe what you will, but I am not embellishing here—thousands of dollars on expensive hair products to repair her hair, and was able to (eventually) return her hair to its previous luster.
That whole spring, summer and then fall, I was living in constant paranoia, regularly checking A’s hair on a daily basis just in case she’d—oh, I don’t know—somehow managed to catch a case of head lice over the phone?
Silliness I know, but irrational fear rarely presents in a rational way.
Skip back to New Years Eve, 2007…
So a couple of weeks earlier, right before Christmas break, my daughter brought home her first head lice outbreak warning. The minute we got through the door, I’d thoroughly checked her hair and found nothing. Huge sigh of relief. But then, there we were, about to usher in a new year, and there she was, scratching her head like crazy, and something deep in my gut told me, “Don’t look now! You’ll ruin the night” but as that I rarely listen to the more sensible side of my inner-self, I had to go and check. And ruin the night I did.
Now, I really don’t know what a doctor might consider an “infestation”, and I definitely don’t understand how only a few weeks after I’d checked her hair, there could suddenly be so many of those disgusting little critters. But they were, easy to see under the bright light, and mocking from the front lines of their assembling army.
Okay, it’s been a long time, and it probably wasn’t all that bad… but that’s how I remember feeling at the time.
At any rate, it was too late to get out to a pharmacy that night, so I couldn’t go pick up any of that expensive chemical stuff my sister had used. What I did have, was an extraordinarily cheap bottle of hair conditioner that had been shoved away under the sink after proving pretty much useless in my hair. Why I thought to do what I did next, I will never know… I guess I just felt like I had to do something and it was all I was capable of coming up with in the moment.
I got A in the bath, washed her hair, and then put in a ton of that cheap conditioner before clipping her hair up on the top of her head. Then I gave her all of her bath toys, and had her sit in there to play while I had Z start checking through my own hair. I was worried—very worried—because A had so often climbed into bed with us in the middle of the night back in those days. There was no way that she’d have lice and I didn’t. But…
But Z found absolutely nothing in my hair. Rather than the relief this probably should have been, I just found it kind of confusing.
I went back to A—still pruning away in the bathtub—and began combing through her hair (conditioner still in place) with a fine tooth comb. A handful of big, ugly bugs fell out on the first comb through. As I went on, more and more began dropping into the water. At one point I had her get out while I emptied the tub, rinsed it clean, and refilled it again with fresh water. I then put a fresh batch of conditioner in her hair, had her wait awhile (she was getting a little restless at this point, but she’s always been a trooper) and then started combing again. By the time I was done, nothing was coming out at all. I changed the water one more time, conditioned, combed, and still, not a thing.
I picked through her dry hair like a mamma ape, and still… not one damn egg. Relief hadn’t quite found me then, but imagine my puzzlement.
The following day, we ran out and purchased some spray meant for killing the little buggers on furniture and carpeting and whatnot, and then I spent a good twelve hour scouring our apartment, even though the place was tiny. I kept checking her hair throughout the day, certain I’d missed something (I’d also purchased a bottle of actual lice shampoo, just in case) but continued to find nothing. I had Z do another, far more thorough check on my hair, and again, he too came up with nadda.
And that’s when something began to occur to me…
I remembered hearing people say how lice weren’t drawn to dirty hair, as so many assumed, but preferred clean hair. This being due to the fact that they can’t cling to the oils in dirty hair. Well, being a bit of a conditioner junkie (it’s necessary with hair like mine) I started to wonder if it was possible for the conditioner (and leave-ins) that I used to be responsible for keeping the bugs out of my do. My daughter at that point had been mostly using a 2-in-1 kids shampoo, and only occasionally did I ever use any additional conditioner on her.
I scoured the internet, looking for any mention of conditioner being a deterrent for head lice, but the closest thing I came upon was a mention from one lady who’d used a ton of the stuff to get rid of a head lice problem with her own kids, and swore by it.
AHA! So I wasn’t the only one believing in the miracle cure, no matter how crazy it might have seemed.
I started thinking back on my sister’s encounter, and realized that she too, has always been a conditioner hound. Meanwhile, her kids had been using a 2-in-1, just like my daughter. Her husband had only ever been able to find a couple eggs in her hair—that’s it. But she’d continued to combat the “idea” more so then the reality, figuring that if her daughter had an ongoing problem with lice, she must too. They were using that stinky lice shampoo once a week, and combing through the dry hair with vinegar, I don’t know how often.
My daughter’s problem lasted less than six hours from the moment we became aware of it, to the last time we saw anything in her hair. I kept overdosing her head (and mine) in conditioner for several days, just to be safe, and there was a few more days where I was living in terror of them coming back; checking her hair constantly, and cleaning the house like a crazy person), but not one bug after that first night, and I don’t recall eggs showing up after that either.
As a pleasant side effect of all that conditioner, rather than damaging our hair as my sister had, it was healthier than ever.
I immediately tossed out K’s kid’s shampoo, and switched her over to a decent shampoo & conditioner combo, and I’ve never looked back since.
Now, let’s jump forward in time to the present….
A, as I’ve mentioned, has never had another run in with lice, and K doesn’t even really understand what they are. While it’s entirely possible that we’ve just been lucky, I honestly believe it’s the conditioner that both saved our hair back then, and has kept us from ever having another issue since. Despite having zero proof on the matter for a good long time, my fear eventually began to dissipate to the point where now, the idea still makes my scalp crawl, but I’m not really worried anymore. Childhood fear combated.
If you’re currently dealing with a case of the squiggly wigglies, before you rush out and spend a small fortune on products that will likely just destroy yours or your child’s hair, try this first:
- go buy the biggest bottle of cheap conditioner that you can find, stuff your little one(s) in the tub with great heaping gobs of that stuff in their hair—being sure to thoroughly saturate every last strand, and holding it up with a clip. Let them play to their hearts content for at least half an hour.
- Comb through with a fine-tooth.
- Change the water, and repeat.
- Repeat… until you’re satisfied that you’ve got them all.
- Make sure to thoroughly clean your house—carpets, furniture, soft fabric toys, jackets, everything!!—so you can have the peace of mind that comes with knowing there’s not eggs lurking around your domain somewhere, just waiting for a second chance at invasion.
- Continue on with the conditioner treatment at least once a day for a good week, and check through dry hair for any eggs you may have missed.
Better than treatment though, is always prevention:
- Use conditioner in your child’s hair, regularly.
- For extra peace of mind, always use a touch of leave-in conditioner before styling your child’s hair for school.
- For extra EXTRA peace of mind, never leave long hair down and loose when your child it due to be around other kids (poor K has never been in class without a pigtails, braids or clips), because a tight “helmet” of hair will prevent any jumpers from settling in and making your child’s scalp their new basecamp. Personally, I believe that this is overkill when paired with the excessive conditioner use, but better safe than sorry.
(FYI: A more recent internet sweep has turned up some pretty cool findings, so I know now that even if I am crazy, at least I’m not alone in my insanity.)