Natural Ways to Fight Drug-Resistant Head Lice

Katie Wells Avatar

Reading Time: 7 minutes

This post contains affiliate links.

Read my affiliate policy.

Natural Ways to Fight Drug Resistant Head Lice
Wellness Mama » Blog » Natural Remedies » Natural Ways to Fight Drug-Resistant Head Lice

We all know head lice is no fun, and quite possibly a terrifying prospect for any parent to deal with. As more drug-resistant strains emerge, it takes a bit of research to know what natural methods to deal with lice actually work.

Especially when preparing for the start of school, a refresher can help! Here are some effective natural or less-harsh methods that actually work, based on research from medical journals and experience from the parenting trenches. I also include some proactive steps to hopefully avoid getting lice in the first place.

Drug-Resistant Head Lice?

Just as certain strains of bacteria have mutated to be able to survive treatment with common antibiotics, these head lice have developed mutations that allow them to survive the common treatments. Not only do insecticidal treatments douse our children in potentially dangerous endocrine disruptors and brain-affecting chemicals, but many also aren’t even effective anymore!

A 2014 study found that over 99% of lice that were tested had a mutation that let them survive treatments with insecticides permethrin and pyrethrin, the most common treatments used.

It’s almost saturated with (these genes), which means that people using permethrin and pyrethrin based products will probably have a very hard time controlling the lice,” said Kyong Sup Yoon, associate professor of biological sciences and environmental sciences at Southern Illinois University, who led the research for the current study and the 2014 study. (source)

Newer treatments use stronger strains of insecticides that lice are not yet resistant to, but can cost over $100 and often need a prescription.

It’s also good to be aware that these insecticides may contain neurotoxins and endocrine disruptors that may have a long-lasting negative effect on children, especially when used more than once over time.

What Should a Parent Do?

As a parent, the mere idea of head lice sends chills down my spine. With six kids, lice could spread very quickly at our house and be very difficult to get rid of.

We actually faced this problem a couple of years ago, and after some research, I wasn’t comfortable using the conventional treatments with insecticides, especially since our children are still so little.

I tried several of the natural remedies and suffocation methods recommended online, but none seemed to truly stop the problem, especially for one daughter who had hair too thick to comb through completely and which was perfect for hiding lice.

Within a week, we had completely eradicated the lice from our children and also discovered a lot of natural remedies for head lice that didn’t work (and a few that worked brilliantly.)

The beauty of these treatments is that they act on the lice in a physical way through dehydration or other methods and don’t rely on the insecticides that many lice are resistant to anyway.

I’ve also included a list of the things we’ve used to avoid any more outbreaks since our initial one, even in times when I know that my children were exposed to children with lice.

Natural Ways to Fight Drug-Resistant Head Lice

The study found that drug-resistant lice were resistant to insecticides. I wasn’t comfortable with using insecticides anyway, so the methods I found and tested on our children didn’t rely on them in the first place. I read the full text of the study and confirmed that these natural remedies (which worked through dehydration and physical means) would still work on mutated forms of lice.

The other advantage of these natural remedies is that I didn’t have to comb through my kids’ hair at all because the treatment doesn’t rely on removing any lice and nits.

For our boys, we shaved their heads since it was warm weather anyway, but our three girls presented a big challenge: three heads of thick, wavy hair ranging from just over shoulder length to almost waist length.

Our girls are also the most tender-headed children I’ve ever met, so nit-picking was going to be a difficult or impossible option for us, though it has been found to be effective at removing lice when used consistently. I also found in researching, that lice don’t lay eggs for at least ten days after they hatch, so as long as some form of effective natural lice remedy is used every 6-7 days for a few life cycles, nitpicking hair is not necessary.

These are the methods that worked for us, in order of effectiveness:

Saline-Based Lice Spray

The most effective remedy we used that didn’t require any chemicals or the use of a lice comb was a saline-based lice spray. The salt-based spray dehydrates and kills lice and nits on contact but isn’t harmful to a child. Though it does contain an added fragrance I would normally avoid, this option is still much, much more natural than other options and removed so much headache from the lice removal process that I was willing to use it even with the fragrance.

This spray was so simple to use too. I just sprayed on hair before bed, let stay on overnight, and shampooed their hair in the morning. It didn’t sting, it didn’t have a horrible smell like insecticide-based remedies and it (surprisingly) also left a lot of body in their hair for about a week (probably due to the salt, which I use in my own beach waves spray for volume).

This spray also comes with a lice comb, which I used as much as I could one time on each child’s hair, but even without consistent combing, our lice were gone within a week without the need for any insecticides.

The other advantage to this spray is that it can be used after exposure to other children with lice, so if I know my children have been exposed, I spray their hair at night and let them sleep with the spray in to avoid an outbreak.

Neem Shampoo

A 2012 study found that neem oil was also effective for killing lice when used externally in a shampoo. Since the saline-based lice spray needed to be washed out each morning, I used a neem-based shampoo to make sure that no lice had survived the treatment. (I used this brand and really liked it)

This shampoo is drying, so I followed up with a natural conditioner on the girls so their hair wouldn’t be too dry or tangled to brush. I found that I could also use the lice comb on their hair while it was wet and had conditioner on it, so this was the closest we came to combing their hair completely.

We continued using this shampoo until we knew that the places they had been exposed to lice had completely eliminated the problem, and I now add a few drops of neem oil to their regular shampoo to help avoid any future outbreaks.

Important note: Neem oil should never be used internally, especially on women, children, or anyone without express doctor oversight. It can have negative effects if used internally but is generally considered safe for external use. Check with a doctor before using this, or any product, if pregnant or on children.

Diatomaceous Earth

I also alternated these treatments with the use of diatomaceous earth (DE). I’ve used DE before for fleas and other pests and found some evidence that it could help kill lice as well. The tiny particles of DE have microscopic sharp sides that scrape the exoskeleton of the lice and lead to dehydration. This is another chemical-free way to help kill head lice or other pests.

Caution: DE can cause irritation if inhaled. Be careful to apply in a way that doesn’t create dust your child could inhale. I did this by having them cover their face with a face mask and a towel (and doing this myself as well), and then carefully sprinkling DE all over their scalps. We then applied a shower cap and let them watch a movie while the DE did its work before washing out.

I also used DE in treating our house to avoid future outbreaks (see below for the steps I took).

Other Important Steps to Fight a Head Lice Infestation

Since head lice can survive for a short time on bedding, clothes, or carpet, it is also important to treat the home for lice as well. These are the steps we took that prevented another infestation:

  1. I started by spraying and saturating all of the children’s hair with the saline lice spray and letting it dry. This was in the afternoon, so we left the spray on overnight while they slept.
  2. Then, I tackled the house. I started by stripping all beds, pillows and removing all clothing they had worn for the past 72 hours from their rooms. I washed all of these in hot water and used the hottest cycle in the dryer. Even just 20 minutes in the hottest setting on a dryer is supposed to kill any lice living on clothing or bedding. I also ran their pillows and stuffed animals through the dryer for 20 minutes. Any stuffed animals, cloth toys, or furniture that was too big to be washed was put in a black garbage bag and put in the attic (it was hot this time of year) for 2 weeks. This might have been overkill, but I wasn’t taking chances.
  3. I sprinkled diatomaceous earth on all carpets, let sit for 15 minutes, and vacuumed everything… twice.
  4. Then, I took all hairbrushes/combs and ran through the sanitize cycle on the dishwasher. Hairbows, hair ties, and other hair accessories were put in airtight bags for several weeks.
  5. I also parked our family car in the hot sun for several hours to kill any surviving lice in the car.

Avoiding Future Head Lice Infestations

We have not had any lice infestations since that initial time, despite exposure several times. To keep from getting another outbreak, I’ve used this lice-free spray on our children any time I know that we’ve potentially been exposed. We also use the Neem shampoo once a month or so, especially this time of year, just to be safe.

But (try) to remember, it isn’t the end of the world…

If your child comes home with lice at any point, don’t panic! I know it can be embarrassing, frustrating, and exhausting to deal with head lice, but lice are not life-threatening or dangerous… just annoying!

Even with these mutated drug-resistant lice, there are natural options that work! In my opinion, they even work better than harmful conventional insecticide-based options.

While I hope we never need these remedies for lice again, it gives me peace of mind to be prepared and have a plan ahead of time.

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Michelle Sands, ND. She is double board certified in Integrative Medicine and Naturopathic Medicine and is also a Board-Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and competitive endurance athlete. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

Has your family ever dealt with head lice? What did you do that worked?

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


91 responses to “Natural Ways to Fight Drug-Resistant Head Lice”

  1. Lisa Avatar

    I have tried virtually everything and after of 8 weeks of DAILY treatments I can not get rid of this for myself or my daughter! Super-lice is serious and I really need some help. I do comb-outs EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I switch up what I try- apple cider vinegar, olive oil, coconut oil, neem oil, Countless essential oils, homeopathy, DE and baking soda, oil & saran wrap, high heat extended blow drying and ceramic flat iron, saline, enzymes and yes….even the toxic junk! I’ve already cut LARGE amounts of my daughter and I’s hair off (after years of both of us having long hair) and I truly fear that we will both have to shave our heads. I don’t want to do this and my teenage daughter will fight me to the death to avoid this. My life has been consumed with hair comb-outs and copious mounds of laundry. I really thought I was making progress until tonight’s comb-out when I got a huge louse out the size of a sunflower seed! Nothing in all the days of comb-outs on my daughter and I has been this big. How is this possible? HELP!

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      Have you tried leaving the lice free spray in overnight? Another reader had a similar struggle and said that is what worked for her.

    2. Nicol Avatar

      It is probably because she is not a person that is irritated by the itching so she doesn’t disturb them as much. I would also bet that she is getting it from someone at school. My youngest was like that. I started using regular hand sanitizer on her hair every Sunday then combing it out before she took a shower. The hand sanitizer kills instantly and helps losen the nits from thicker hair. Plus it is cheap. It may be that your daughter could just need to have her hair blow dried and combed and checked every day. Tea tree and rosemary help repel it but don’t kill it. You can buy the oils and add several drops to any leave in conditioning spray. Also braiding her hair or keeping it up while she is at school will help her keep from picking it up.

  2. Kathleen Avatar

    Where are the ingredients for your remedies? Blank spaces in their place?

  3. Shawna Avatar

    Tee tree oil is the best!! I got rid of them in two days by combing tee tree oil through. It might be strong smelling and linger for a little while, but so worth it.

  4. Lisa Avatar

    We Have been battling “Super-Lice” for a month now and feel like I have tried everything. What seems to help the most is Apple cider vinegar soaks for 30mins then a comb out. I add tea tree oil to the ACV. Then I mix olive oil (or coconut oil- I rotate) with straight thick neem oil 50/50 ratio then add more essential oils to this. I leave it on for 1-2 hours then do a comb-out then sleep with the rest of the oil on my head overnight. Then shampoo out with Essential oil and neem shampoo the next morning. Comb-outs EVERY day and treatment has left me and my daughter with awful sores on our head and we STILL have lice. We wash pillowcases, clothing and towels EVERY day. we have also tried homeopothy shampoo (did nothing) and the toxic junk. I have been rotating essential oils. We also have the electronic comb which only really tells you that you still have it or that you are clean (oh how I dream of that day!!). I have already cut 12″ off my daughters hair and 15″ off of mine. I will try DE and Baking soda but am seriously considering shaving my head (something I REALLY don’t want to do). I would like to hear from someone who has dealt with the “Super-Lice” and gotten rid of it. Any Help would be appreciated!

  5. Erin Avatar

    Thank you so much for this information! I’m picking up the Lice Free Spray tonight on my way home! I have used the Nix and it just doesn’t work and I do not want to keep using the chemicals. I really hope the spray works as great as it did for you.

  6. Robin Avatar

    I taught preschool and kindergarten for 34 years and went through many, many outbreaks of head lice in my classroom. Although I had long hair that I wore down I never (thankfully) got lice personally despite working and playing in very close contact with the children. I would wash my hair with regular shampoo and blow it dry on the high heat setting of my blow dryer. I think that any stray lice I may have picked up found the heat and blasting air inhospitable before they had a chance to settle in and get comfortable!

  7. Sarah Avatar

    We just got done dealing with lice and this routine worked well for is. 1: used coconut oil and tea tree oil mix and combed through it well. 2: blew it dry and 3: used a straightener on it. 4: spray listerine and water mixture couple times a week before school.

  8. stefanie Avatar

    Hi Katie,

    i have been using leave-in conditioner eith a few drops of tea tree oil on my daughters very long and thick hair after her shampoo. Never had another infestation!
    however i want to stop using chemicals and go the natural way so would you recommend a natural leave-in conditioner or a recipe for it?
    thank you

      1. stefanie Avatar

        thank you Katie i will give it a try plus the detangling spray will actually come in handy on my daughter waist-long thick curly hair!

      2. nikki Avatar

        could u list the recipe please…link is not working for me!
        also a recipe with tea tree oil. peppermint oil. lavender….whatever works!thanks so much

  9. Sara Avatar

    This article is so rich in information. Thank you for your efforts? can the saline solution be made at home?

  10. Monica Avatar

    We are treating my daughter now! We think she got them from counseling at camp.

    We used rubbing alcohol on her scalp and covered her head with a shower cap for half an hour or an hour. Then we put olive oil with Lavendar essential oil on her scalp during the day. We combed it with a nit comb but I like just sectioning the hair and looking at it with a bright light behind it.

    It was easier to find the nits in her long,thick blonde hair than her friend’s dark hair.

    We also put on conditioner with tea tree oil(purification from YL) to help comb it with the nit comb a few times. It made the combing much easier.

    I put eo’s on my head to prevent getting lice.

    We are washing and drying a lot of clothes. We are using this experience as a fun redo and go through her room to make it a teen room!

    Vacuuming the bed and bagging what we don’t need for two weeks takes little time. We are drying her bedding every day and freezing her pillow and whatever else can’t be in the dryer for 12hours.

    What a way to start her first day of homeschool high school! We are making the most of this time into a purposeful and hopefully positive experience.

  11. Brooke Avatar

    Lice is a nightmare!!!
    My oldest, also with very thick hair, had it last school year. Oh my goodness. It seemed like it went on forever! I used mean oil like from a gardening store that you’d spray on your plants. . And I used olive oil and coconut oil.
    Tea tree helps.
    I’m going to purchase the neem that you recommend and put that in their shampoo bottle, along with tea tree oil.

  12. Valerie Avatar

    Last winter our son got lice and when speaking to the school nurse she advocated for using olive oil instead of insecticide. Not only did she mention that they were ineffective, but that they were highly toxic. I was happy she was in agreement with us in not using them. I ended up mixing a blend of olive oil and lavender essential oil and saturated his head wrapping his head in plastic wrap. This was very successful and I was able to pull out dead adult lice and juveniles. After rinsing out using dish detergent to remove the oil, I rinsed his head with ACV, washed with shampoo, then dried with a hairdryer on hot. I then pulled out any nits I could find which weren’t many. I don’t think the nits can survive the oil and ACV bath. Every 3-4 days we treated him with oil to kill anything else off and checked for nits every day. It was a pretty quick and easy process. I have also combined olive oil, lavender essential oil, and tea tree oil as this also soothes the scalp and deters the bugs. I definitely plan to purchase the homeopathic treatment, however, as this is a very quick solution and one that will be great to have on hand as the kids go back to school next week.

  13. Tracy Avatar

    We used tomato sauce. The acid kills them instantly and it makes the hair so soft. I bought shower caps and covered my boys hair in the sauce for 2 hours and then washed it out. I did the same thing the next day and they were completely gone. Then we were done!! I believe they got it from the movie theater. It really scared me…the chemicals recommended by pharmacists were expensive and horrible. So, just wash the bedding and try this…it worked wonders for us!!

  14. Sharon Avatar

    Great tips. I have used oil (olive or vegetable) massaged into scalp, leave for at least 2 hrs this suffocates lice. After washing out use a good quantity of conditioner and comb through with lice comb, this removes lice.
    Repeat this process in seven days to combat the newly hatched eggs, this has proven to be very successful and easy to do. I don’t even bother changing linen, except for the pillow case. Hats and head wear just leave for at least 24hrs without wearing. Apparently if lice don’t feed within a 24 hr period they die.

  15. Amy Avatar

    This year, we got lice for the first time ever. We co-sleep sometimes and my daughter and I had just slept head-to-head that week so mama got it too. While I am a natural girl…I COMPLETELY lost it and panicked, sending my husband to the store for chemicals. (It was bedtime when we found them) I didn’t want to use them but I was too freaked out to google and wait to find something that might or might not work. The chemicals killed all the adult lice, but even with combing twice daily with the included comb, I found a few more several days later. (I had already cleaned and scrubbed and bagged EVERYTHING) Supposedly, the chemicals should have killed the eggs too but clearly it didn’t. I didn’t want to reapply chemicals to my kids, so I repeated the dose for myself only. Then I ordered the terminator lice comb from Amazon and used it on the kids. That comb got EVERY SINGLE THING. It is so much better than the combs at the stores. The nits and lice were completely gone after a day. Next time (hopefully never) I’ll use coconut oil to stun them and just comb comb comb. I think I’ll order the saline stuff too.
    Now……for me, who was panicked and used the chemicals TWICE on myself, I lost somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 half of my hair over the next few weeks. It was awful. It’s all back now but I was so scared it was all going to fall out 🙁 So….next time I won’t freak out as much….and I’ll go natural. It’s just so freaky knowing there are bugs on your head!

  16. Jen Avatar

    Lice expert here (not by choice!). My oldest daughter got them about every 4 weeks last year during school… her best friend’s parents aren’t as conscientious as they should be… arg. {Plus the school doesn’t require the kids go home or stay home until it’s dealt with, so infestation is ongoing there). My youngest and myself have yet to get them, so they must like certain people better.
    Tried over the counter chemicals once and it didn’t work. Hit the internet and our foolproof go-to now is cheap Listerine. Douse hair and cover with saran wrap for an hour. Dead lice. Always. You do still have to comb out the nits, but I have a routine of checking her head EVERY night before bed, so I usually catch it with only a few eggs to get rid of.
    Also shorter hair above her shoulders seems to help quite a bit.
    I will have to try the salt solution though. The Listerine is drippy and can sting the eyes, but darn it works.

  17. Anita Avatar

    Wow! I’ve had to deal with lice a few times between my older daughter growing up and now my younger one. I even had to go as far as cutting off my little ones hair because it is so thick and was very long. We cut it right above shoulders and still had an extremely hard time getting rid of them. If I ever have to encounter them again, I will have to definitely try this! Thanks!

  18. Rachel Avatar

    I have four children and they have picked up lice from school a few times. The most effective method I found is using the hair dryer on a hot setting. Totally fry’s those little guys! And cooks the eggs so they never hatch. Breaks the cycle straight away. I don’t bother treating the house as the eggs stick to the hair & lice cannot survive off the head. Wash sheets if you must, but hanging in the sun is effective. Fuss & chemical free! Blow drying once a week help detection and prevents a major outbreak especially if you’re in a class with a couple of children who are not being treated effectively ?

  19. Rachel Avatar

    When my children got lice from a neighbor kid, all I knew to do was use the OTC chemical products for killing lice, BUT it was a Friday evening and my husband had our only vehicle with him at work. So, I started searching online for natural remedies. The one I decided to try was to spray Listerine on the hair, then cover with a shower cap and leave on for two hours. Then we washed their hair with regular shampoo and rinsed it with vinegar. My husband also bought a comb that zaps the live lice & we used that periodically for the next several weeks and then repeated the Listening treatment weekly. I also washed all bedding and pillows and vacuumed all floors and furniture. This combination worked very well for us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *