It is common knowledge that head lice do not prefer dirty hair, but we still can not help but associate them with poor hygiene. They spread easily from one person to another, are difficult to see and have become resistant to many of the chemicals that have been used to treat them - no wonder then that they're the bane of every parents life.
A head louse feeds on the blood of its host and an itchy scalp is the body's reaction to its saliva. Itchiness does not always occur though, so the only way of being sure that your child is not infested is by meticulous inspection, paying particular attention to the area at the neck and behind the ears. The adult females can lay up to 150 eggs (nits) in their month-long life span and these eggs firmly attach themselves to strands of hair. They are difficult to remove because they are so tiny that even a fine toothed comb won't pick them up - it is not until three days after hatching that the lice are big enough to comb out.
Unpleasant as they are, head lice do not present a serious health hazard. According to the American Medical Association, lice have "never been established as a primary vector for any disease." The biggest problem therefore is the embarrassment resulting from the social stigma attached to being infested.
All conventional treatments for head lice contain insecticides, which are inherently toxic. A number of UK health authorities advise against such lotions, except as a last resort. Manchester Health Authority have stated that "these lotions contain insecticides that can be harmful. They are also ineffective if not used properly and can poison the environment."
Although insecticide based products can be effective in eliminating the lice themselves, the biggest difficulty lies in getting rid of the eggs. Most treatments have to be repeated a number of times to destroy the next generation of lice, and each application means the tedious task of thoroughly combing the hair afterwards and even if just one child appears to have head lice, it is always advisable to treat the whole household at the same time.
Most parents would prefer to use natural products on their children's skin but, as manufacturers of these are not permitted to make any medical claims about them, it is difficult to know what to use. Aromatherapy books will suggest home-made remedies, generally any combination of the following oils mixed with a carrier oil: bergamot, cedarwood, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, rosemary, and teatree. Again though, such treatments do not kill the eggs and will therefore have to be repeated after a week or so. Once the infestation has been dealt with, adding a few drops of tea tree oil to your normal shampoo is suggested as a simple, ongoing preventative measure.
There is one 100% natural product on the market that is reputed to destroy the eggs as well as the lice. Delacet was developed by the Polish National Health Service over forty years ago when the country had a lice epidemic. The herbal formula cleared the epidemic and Delacet has been a licensed medical product in Europe ever since. Another advantage of Delacet is that prolonged combing is not required, which makes it particularly useful for anyone with Afro hair or dreadlocks.
The active ingredient in Delacet is tincture of larkspur, and there are numerous testimonies that it does indeed get rid of the nits as well as the lice. One West London teacher had been plagued by headlice for five years before discovering Delacet, which, to her immense relief and delight, cleared the problem.
By Lesley Cutts
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