I am writing this to inform not just parents of African-American children, but also School nurses and all those who have spread the myth that it is impossible for African-American hair to become infested with head lice or that black girls cannot get head lice from their non-black friends. I know first hand that it is not true. I found three live lice in my daughter’s hair just a few days ago, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I recalled years ago when there was a case at my son’s Pre-school and his teacher told me that he didn’t need to be checked because head lice do not gravitate towards, nor attach themselves to hair shafts that are not completely straight and that the only lice that would “take” to our hair are African lice. Naively, I believed her and felt relieved that I wouldn’t have to be concerned about that nasty parasite unless maybe in the future when we embarked on a voyage to Africa.
Every time there was an incident of head lice at either of my children’s schools, I would exhale a sigh of relief quietly boasting and feeling sorry for those “others” who had to deal with those horrible parasites. Well, as I pulled out the two nymphs (baby lice) fighting to escape my comb and put them on a napkin, I became one of those “others”. I immediately screamed for my son, the resident insect expert; “Frankie!!! Is this an ant or head lice??” He is fascinated by and has an innate knowledge of anything relating to science and earth and affirmed what I feared. As if he thought I didn’t believe him, he Googled lice, and quickly printed out a picture that matched my specimen exactly. I was shocked. I thought, how could this happen? Is it because her hair is not as tight and kinky as mine?? My daughter has always worn her hair natural (meaning braided, afro puffs, two strand twists or an all out natural afro) and only three times in her six years have I ever straightened it.
After I shook the shock from my face, I called a friend to purchase the recommended shampoo because I didn’t want to these little critters to multiply. While waiting, and doing the necessary stripping of beds, and cleaning of pillows, stuffed animals, coats etc. I did some research that I wanted to share with anyone looking for accurate information about head lice in African-Americans as well as the most natural, painless and effective process I found in removing them. Keep in mind, my daughter’s hair is not chemically processed so I have not researched the best method for anything other than black hair in its natural state.
Most of the sites that I reviewed stated that African-Americans are less likely to attract lice and have had fewer occurrences of head lice because prior to the return of natural (meaning not chemically processed) hair styles in the past decade or so, the majority would chemically process the hair to straighten it or subject it to extreme amounts of heat by blow drying and straightening the hair. If your normal routine involved either of these things, you can be sure that the lice (singular, louse) would not survive. I never remember anyone during my school years contracting lice, but we were always applying heat to straighten our hair and suffocating our scalps with petroleum jelly and other thick hair pomade in order to keep the sheen and texture and from everything I’ve read, if we did have lice, it would not have survived.
This article from the natural hair blog blackgirllonghair.com http://blackgirllonghair.com/2013/06/4-reasons-natural-hair-is-more-susceptible-to-lice/ was extremely helpful and confirmed the information I found from the Centers for Disease Control which never stated that African-Americans could not get head lice, just that they were less likely. Once I calmed down and accepted that we had to deal with this infestation, I applied the recommended drug store lice shampoo. Never again! My daughter’s hair started coming out in small clumps on my finger tips as I applied it and once again I asked my son to google a natural remedy for removing head lice in African-American hair. Thank God for technology! There were suggestions from other sites such as using a heavy substance like mayonnaise, petroleum jelly or tea tree oil to suffocate the lice on the scalp which all seemed like it would take too long. He eventually found a You Tube video produced by http://www.elimilice.com, a salon in Atlanta that specializes in the natural removal of head lice. In this particular video they demonstrate the process they utilize to remove lice from African-American girls that wear their natural hair. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEPj0vrwygw. Hallelujah! I had purchased a flat-iron last summer and I knew that it exceeded 200 degrees, which would be more than enough heat to kill the lice. I was so thrilled that I didn’t have to put more of that toxic “lice removal” shampoo in her hair over and over again and could most likely exterminate all of them by heat. I throughly washed out the shampoo, sectioned her hair, and as she watched a movie on her Kindle Fire, I went through the process of blow drying, flat ironing and using a fine-tooth comb to rid each section of hair of any eggs I could see. It was a long process but it killed the lice and she was thrilled to have a new hair style.
The next day I spoke to the school nurse and she told me that she uses a “Robi” lice removal comb (picture below) http://www.robicomb.com/ that she would need to use on my daughter before she is able to return to her classroom. It’s an electronic comb that zaps (kills) any lice it comes into contact with, and is a safe and painless way to get rid of the lice and check the hair at any time after the initial infestation to make sure you eliminated all of the parasites. It’s about $30 at the local drugstore but I think it’s well worth the cost since I will be using it often to follow-up the initial treatment and from time to time to confirm their removal. It’s also FSA approved, so it’s a deductible medical expense or can be reimbursed through your HSA or MSA (medical savings account). I did use it the day after I did the flat-iron process and the Robi comb did find and kill one louse right there on the spot. What a life-saver! I’ve checked her hair several times since and have not seen any lice or eggs in her hair.
In addition to the hair, anything that may have been near or come in contact with their head must be bagged up tightly for about four or more days so the lice can suffocate. Or if you have a sanitize cycle on your washer like myself which allows the temperature to reach 180 degrees, you can wash everything. Bed sheets, pillows, stuffed animals, pajamas, clothing, coats, hats, towels, couch pillows and even your clothing and your bed sheets if your child crawled into bed with you recently.
All I can say is thank goodness, my son wears his hair extremely close to his head or I would have had two heads to process! My daughter’s hair is thick and curly and half way down her back when it is wet, so it is not something I ever want to do again. But the reality is that she does have a few more years of elementary school, and being the huggy, touch-feely lovable kid that she is, I wouldn’t be shocked if it happened again one day. I will however, be much more informed and prepared. I hope this post helps another parent to have that confidence too.