Here we are a month later and still no return of the yucky head lice or nits (eggs) so I thought it would be helpful to parents like me, who are virgins to this experience, to follow-up my first blog post on March 2nd https://tonitalove.com/2014/03/02/yes-black-girl-you-can-get-head-lice/ about how to eradicate head lice from African-American hair using natural products.
You definitely need to refer to my original blog post where I found out that one of the best ways to kill head lice is heat. After the Rid shampoo that they sell in the drugstores started to take my daughter’s natural hair out on the spot, I searched for an organic remedy. In a few words, the natural remedy is heat to kill them and heavy oil to help loosen the eggs that they leave behind. Both my daughter and I wear our African-American hair in its natural state, but I did invest in a flat-iron for the special occasions when she wants to wear her hair straight or in spiral curls. I never expected to use it for any other reason, but I’m even more thankful now that I have it.
Well, after the first wash and flat-iron, and the use of the Robi Comb that I mentioned in my earlier post, I had killed all of the lice (and yes I did see live lice….ewww!) I could see in her hair. The process was tedious because she has long, thick, wavy hair and you have to comb through it in sections about 1/4th of an inch thick in order to see and remove the lice. They love to hide in the crown of the head as well as the edges (near the ears, forehead and nape of the neck) and will move from one area to the other as you are working through the head. Contrary to popular belief lice are not white; the live adult lice are brown and the eggs (nits) are white. The adult lice are pretty easy to dislodge. It’s the eggs that glue themselves to the hair shaft, that are difficult to remove. I proceeded to get all visible lice and nits eliminated from her hair, then washed and flat ironed it again and sent her to school. It had been a two-day process and I was so proud of myself that I had zapped all of those scalp vultures and that I didn’t see one white speck of anything in her hair. Twenty minutes later I get a call from the nurse that she could not return to her classroom. The reason I didn’t see any white eggs was that the remaining eggs had started to hatch and had turned brown, making it almost impossible to see in a head of sandy brown hair! I was devastated and she was so disappointed that she would miss yet another day of school. The nurse asked if she could snip a strand or her hair with the brown nit on it so that I knew what I was looking for, and I realized this wouldn’t be an easy resolution.
Feeling defeated, I picked up the phone and called my local health food store, Martindale’s Natual Market http://www.martindalesnutrition.com/ to see if they carried a natural head lice removal kit. Hallelujah, they did, and it was surprisingly inexpensive at about $25 for the shampoo, lice oil and nit removal comb kit. It’s a lot less than taking your child to a lice removal salon and paying $100 or more for their services! I was so happy and so relieved, but here I was with a broken ankle, on crutches and didn’t know who I could get to pick it up for me. The staff at Martindale’s is extremely well-informed about holistic and organic foods, nutrition and care and are always so compassionate but it floored me when the woman on the phone said that she would bring it to me when she finished her shift. I almost cried and thanked her a million times when she showed up at my door less than two hours later. Since I had removed the lice I proceeded to use the Safe 4 People “De Bug Lice Oil” http://www.safe4people.com/html/ptotoday.htm which after treatment, makes the hair shaft so oily that the nits are much easier to remove and sometimes slide off by themselves. I’ve heard from other parents that mayonnaise or petroleum jelly work in the same fashion, but none were African-American and I didn’t want to risk taking the chance of it not working in my daughter’s hair. I followed the directions on the oil, once again sectioning the hair and applying this extremely thick castor oil-based solution to her dry hair. It took about an hour to apply, and two more hours of her sitting with a shower cap on her head. Two hours later (less time if you use their shampoo first; I chose not too since the shampoo is for removing that lice and I had done that already), I rinsed her hair in warm water once again went through the tedious process of removing the nits from her hair. Since her hair is so thick and curly, and it’s much easier to use the tiny nit comb on straight hair I had to blow dry and flat-iron her hair once again. I could see that a lot of the nits had washed off with the warm water, but I still needed to section her hair and comb through each section with the nit comb, this time using a flashlight to ensure I could see every little brown nit possible! Two more hours later ( suggest you start this early and not wait until after dinner like I did!) I put a little Jojoba oil in her hair, lightly touched her edges with a bottle of tea tree oil I also purchased from Martindales (I read that lice do not like tea tree oil), and sent her to bed on fresh linens and a brand new pillow. I was taking no chances!
The next morning I checked her hair and scalp again, feeling paranoid with each piece of white lint or dandruff flake I found, and sent her to school. We both prayed that it would be a successful day. About half an hour later it dawned on me that the phone hadn’t rung and it was well past the time that she should be in her classroom. I didn’t want to assume, so I called the school nurse myself. She said “well done, her hair and scalp look great”; I exhaled. “How did you do it without using the drugstore solution?” she asked. I proceeded to give her the short version. She said that she shared my experience with the nurse from the other elementary school because she who was unaware that children of color could even get head lice. She also said she would share it with other parents and I let her know that I’m happy to share my story with any other African-American parents at the school who need this information.
So, yes I am now the head lice removal expert (hahaha) and I am happy to pass on my knowledge to other parents. She will be wearing her hair up and braided if necessary at least during school hours and will not be sharing dress-up wigs or hats with her friends for quite some time. I truly hope I will never have to rely on this information myself ever again, but at least if I have to go through this again, I will grab the Safe4people kit, my Robi Comb and my flat-iron and get to work!
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.