Coconut Oil for Head Lice: Does It Work?

Head lice are not known to spread diseases. But they are still incredibly annoying. They are itchy, and that itching can lead to problems like sores, infections, and even sleep deprivation. One of the natural remedies people use for head lice is coconut oil. But does coconut oil work?

Why coconut oil is effective for head lice

  • Coconut oil is backed by numerous studies. There are some promising studies from around the world that show the effectiveness of coconut oil for head lice. In Brazil, researchers found that coconut oil is actually more effective than other ingredients found in traditional medications. In the UK, researchers concluded that coconut and anise sprays are more effective than some permethrin-based medications.
  • Coconut oil has properties that prevent head lice from thriving. Head lice can only survive for a few hours or days outside of a host. This is why they cling as hard as they can whenever they are in a host. But coconut oil has properties that give head lice a more difficult time. Coconut oil has a high viscosity, preventing the parasites from spreading on other people and furniture. Coconut oil also contains acids, making your hair slippery and making head lice easier to comb out.
  • Head lice are starting to gain immunity against traditional medications. Permethrin and pyrethrin are some of the most common ingredients you will find in traditional head lice medications. They are indeed effective. But there’s a problem — some head lice are starting to gain immunity against these ingredients. These tough head lice are called super lice. It may be worth it to try natural solutions like coconut oil because they don’t contain the common ingredients you usually find in traditional medications.

How to use coconut oil for head lice

1. Use coconut oil alone or with other ingredients

You can use coconut oil by itself. But you can also mix it with other natural ingredients to boost the effectiveness of your natural solution. Apple cider vinegar and tea tree oil are common choices.

To use coconut oil and apple cider vinegar, simply mix the two ingredients in an equal ratio. To use coconut oil and tea tree oil, mix two tablespoons of coconut oil and five drops of tea tree oil. Adjust the recipe to make enough for your entire hair and scalp.

2. Apply a generous amount on your hair and scalp

Massage the solution to your hair and scalp. Don’t be stingy. Apply a generous amount to ensure its effectiveness. Also, make sure that the solution is actually slightly above room temperature and in liquid form. This way, it will be easier to spread across your hair and scalp.

3. Cover your head to suffocate the head lice

You have to leave the solution on your head and scalp to let it work its magic. To maximize its effectiveness, cover your head with a shower cap or a towel. This will help suffocate the head lice plaguing your head.

Leave the solution and the cover on your head for a few hours or a few minutes, depending on what kind of solution you have used. If you have used coconut oil alone, you can let it sit on your head for eight hours or more. But if you have used coconut oil with other ingredients, you may want to avoid letting it sit for too long to avoid irritation.

4. Comb out the head lice and their eggs

After letting the solution sit for a while, remove the cover on your head and comb your hair as thoroughly as you can. This action will comb out head lice and their eggs. To maximize its effectiveness, use a lice comb. This is a comb with thin teeth that only have small gaps between them. It is designed to catch head lice and their eggs.

5. Repeat the process three to four times

It takes about 2-3 weeks to completely get rid of head lice. Keep this in mind when you are using coconut oil for your head lice. Don’t panic if you don’t see immediate results. Repeat the entire process a few more times to completely get rid of your head lice problem.

If you still don’t see results after repeating the process multiple times, drop the natural solution and try traditional medications instead.

Get rid of head lice and their eggs with coconut oil.
Head lice egg. Photograph by GillesSM, distributed under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Why traditional medications may be better

  • Coconut oil is not an entirely proven natural solution. Even though there are promising studies regarding the use of coconut oil for head lice, the product is still not entirely proven. More research is needed before it can be considered a truly effective alternative to traditional medications. With that said, it’s also not bad to try it. The great thing about coconut oil is that it has little to no side effects, especially if you don’t have a coconut allergy.
  • Traditional medications have stronger ingredients. There are other strong ingredients aside from permethrin and pyrethrin. Benzyl alcohol, ivermectin, malathion, and spinosad come to mind. These latter ingredients are often found in prescription medications only. They are a lot more reliable than natural solutions or home remedies that are not completely proven. However, the strength of these ingredients are not always a positive. They can have side effects, such as the drying of the scalp.
  • Doctors can personalize your treatment according to your specific case. It’s still better to get help from medical professionals. This way, they can properly diagnose the problem and recommend the most appropriate solution. If you try to DIY your way out of your head lice problem, the treatment may not even work. But if you are working with a medical professional, at least they can guide you to ensure the effectiveness and safety of the treatment.

You can try coconut oil for head lice

There is nothing wrong with trying coconut oil for head lice. After all, there are numerous studies that support its effectiveness. And it’s also a product that has little to no side effects — unless you are allergic.

But don’t be stubborn if you don’t see results. Try over-the-counter medications, or even better, consult with a medical professional. They will be able to give you medications that are strong, effective, and relatively safe.

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