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. Ronda Woods Avatar
    Ronda Woods

    Does the tea tree oil kill nits? I heard it only hinders them.

    Does Apple Cidar Vinegar kill nits? Any clinical info anyone has found?

    The salt spray kills nits but seems to be so drying. I did a treatment of lice freee and felt good about it. It has to dry completely. Im thinking to oil my hair for nourishment, wash, let dry. Then do a second treatment on day 9 or 10 like the rep from lice freee suggested if desired.

  2. Faith Avatar

    I use a peppermint spray with peppermint oil and water. It helps and soothes the scalp.

  3. Ellen Sommer Avatar
    Ellen Sommer

    Hey Katie,
    The link to the saline spray you used isn’t working in the article. What is the brand?
    Thank you! Ellen

  4. Leena Avatar

    Hello! Lice are going around in my daughter’s school and I was hoping to get the saline spray, but the links isn’t going through all the way, it just sends you to amazon.

  5. Nicki Jones Avatar
    Nicki Jones

    The only product that worked for my child was called Clearlice treatment shampoo and conditioner, it works by breaking the exoskeleton of the lice by dehydration ( salt), totally natural without any nasty pesticides. It’s not the cheapest but leaves the hair in lovely condition and smells of peppermint. Then I combed small sections with the conditioner every few days for about 11 days.

  6. Sara Avatar

    How many nights did you use the spray to get rid of the lice? Just 1 night or every night until they were gone.

  7. Claudia Avatar

    I am unable to load the link for the saline spray. Can tell me who check balances whom it is?

  8. Candace Avatar

    Please use a lot of caution when using DE in your house. Ruined my vacuum cleaner with this suggestion.

  9. Lisa Avatar

    Licefreee did not work for me. Ive been dealing for 8 months now. Mine must be super duper. I’ve pretty tried it all with no luck.

  10. Jesicka Avatar

    Have you made your own saline based spray yet? If so, can I get a recipe please? Thanks so much!

  11. Kristen Avatar

    I feel like I am at my wits end! My younger daughter (4) has now come home 3 times since Februrary w live from daycare! We are in the process of getting rid of it for the 3rd time. And have completely got rid of it the other two times.
    I feel like I am the only one w “repeat” friends!
    I’ve tried the tea tree shampoo, and spray the oil in her hair EVERY single day!
    During summer break–while she stayed at home w me she had nothing. Been in school for 2 weeks and sure enough has it again.
    This time I tried mouse in her hair every single day and spraying w hairspray (heard they don’t like products) apparently that doesn’t work.
    Honestly I feel like I can’t do anything to prevent her from getting it again!

  12. Luke Avatar

    I agree that natural is the way to go. My kids use this product by the Lice Treatment Center called jolts cheveux. It contains many of the natural oils discussed in this forum and has worked very well for us. They use it daily, haven’t had lice since.

  13. Jennifer Avatar

    I used to always have lice as a kid. Constantly using the shampoos and even spending hours getting the nits picked out of my hair. One day I was laying out with baby oil and put some in my hair I saw all kinds of bugs on the pillow I was laying on. I knew growing up that my black friends never got live and the main reason was from the oil they put in their hair. I never got lice again. When my daughter caught it one and only time I put oil in her hair put it back in a pony tail and that was it besides washing everything. Lice and nits cannot stick to oily hair follicles

  14. Pam M Avatar

    I have effectively used a combination of neem oil & olive oil and a little eucalyptus to help the neem oil smell, saturating the head and leaving it overnight with a plastic shower cap then washing out. Added some neem oil to shampoo so there’s a little in there at every hair washing. Thankfully no sign of them again!

  15. Kalena Avatar

    I think you may have missed the point that this post is about natural remedies to get rid of head lice!

  16. Elizabeth Avatar

    Okay everyone. I’m here to tell those who are struggling with the lice pandemic AS OF CURRENTLY. I currently do have a small, and mild lice infestation that I had gotten from my S/O’s little sister who had caught it from one of her close friends (Whom has parent’s who aren’t as cautious as I am, nor do pay attention to her infestation. YUK!) It honestly depends on the type of lice you are infected with & your hair type that defies how effective certain treatments work. While some treatments may work for some, they might not work for others. & I know I truly do sound silly when I say that, but it is 101% true. If you take notice in how some over the count medications work for a slight back ache, or a stomach ache, this is true to the lice effectiveness factor as well. Now, I have tried many many methods for getting rid of lice. And, before I mention these methods I might want to be particular to describing the type of hair I do have. I have a full head of thick, dark brown, wavy hair. Here’s the hair type along with the method that should work for you. (AS LONG AS YOU ARE PAYING CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE INSTRUCTIONS COMPLETELY OR THESE METHODS WILL NOT WORK AT ALL.)

    If you have;

    Step 1: Make sure hair is completely dry and brushed thoroughly. Buy 3-4 bottles of over the counter pesticide treatments of either of the following (RID, NIX, or anything containing a pesticide treatment) Application may say to leave in for no longer than 10 minutes. (This is the reason as to why these pesticide treatments DO NOT WORK) Scientists, pediatricians, etc, only monitor usage of the drug that does the killing of the nits, & lice for a certain amount of time. Thus varying its proper usage to 10 minutes to kill one aspect of the lice. Leave in for 30 minutes or 45 minutes tops. Yes, it will dry out your hair but what chemical wont do damage? It’s either the damage or the bugs. YOUR CHOICE. (And if you opt out for a less effective yet non chemical treatment than (LiceMD) should do the trick. Do not leave this product in for more than an hour as it will become non effective. If you want to leave it in longer than an hour, wash it out, blow dry hair COMPLETELY dry, & reapply application and leave on for previous time)

    Step 2: Rinse out application, making sure to rinse out ALL of application unless you want your scalp burnt to a crisp. (Only happens if you leave in for more than an hour.)

    Step 3. Blow dry hair on HIGH setting as close to scalp as you can reach. (IN PARTED SECTIONS) This should take at least an hour if not longer. DO NOT APPLY ANY HEAT PROTECTING CREAMS OR SPRAYS.

    Step 4. Use a vinegar. Could be APPLE CIDER VINEGAR, or regular white distilled vinegar. Either one is as effective. Place head over bathtub (BEING COMPLETELY DRY) Pour vinegar over head, coating every single strand of hair until your hair is soggy. (Be sure to massage into head along the hairline, behind ears, and behind the back of the neck.) Don’t wring out hair. Place shower cap over full head of hair being sure not to miss a single strand. If you do miss a strand this will allow for a chance for a nit to not come loose thus starting the process all over again. Leave on for a good hour an a half. You can leave on for longer if desired and don’t want to give it any chances. (Not guaranteed to kill any lice, but WILL loosen nits from hair shaft.)

    Step 5. After the vinegar is left in, take a small toothed comb, preferably an expensive one that ACTUALLY WORKS, and part hair into sections. Seeing as though the sections separate a line to where you can see the hairline each section. Take the comb and go through each section of hair numerous amounts of times. Until you can see that there are no live lice or nits (White, Yellow, Brown, and clear in color) If you miss any, it’s not a huge deal because there will be a step to clear that process up. BUT DON’T MISS ON PURPOSE. Make sure to comb in a scooping motion from scalp to the end of the hair.

    Step 6. After combing, rinse hair with HOT water. Don’t add any shampoo’s or conditioners. Leave hair dry of any other chemicals in case product might not be as effective with added chemicals. Blow dry hair in sections once again making sure hair is COMPLETELY DRY. (DO NOT USE BRUSH OR COMB AS USED BEFORE TO BRUSH HAIR AT ALL) (DO NOT USE SAME HAIR TIE AS BEFORE) Leave hair as tangly as possible. Unless a new brush was bought, which in this case would be fine to use.

    Step 7. After blowdrying hair, if a straightener is handy, part hair into sections like before (NOT USING THE SAME HAIRTIE AS USED BEFORE) And straighten hair from scalp to the end multiple times. Heat setting for thin hair shouldn’t take a high heat setting. But I would recommend using a heat setting of at least 300.

    Step 8. Gather all materials used before hair treatment (Brush, hair ties, combs, towels, washcloths, and even the clothes he/she was wearing before treatment.) Anything cloth like or material that has infected hair on.
    Soak the brushes/combs in scolding HOT water with a cup of bleach for 24/48 hours. I recommend 48 hours. Throw ALL hair ties used before infected AWAY. Don’t bother saving them, it’s not worth keeping if you can’t wash them or sanitize them. IMMEDIATELY throw towels, clothes, and washcloths in the washer on a ‘warm’ water setting. ADD 1 cup of laundry soap and start on heavy cycle. (Make sure before you wash clothes, that you are washing EVERY SINGLE TOWEL used prior, and every single clothing item from weeks, days, or even months before that haven’t been washed that are dirty, layed on the bed, the floor, chairs, couch, etc.)

    Step 9. BUY RID pesticide spray (Home sprays won’t work on furniture. I’m sorry to say. They just won’t.) Spray on bed TOP TO BOTTOM. Spray CHAIRS top to bottom, Spray clothes hanging up in closet, or in drawers (DON”T TAKE THEM OUT WHILE SPRAYING, JUST SIMPLY MIST THE SPRAY OVER TOP OF THEM AND IN AREA’S THAT ARE REACHABLE.) Spray headphones, table cloths, and even curtains.) Spray ANY furniture that is cloth material or has been touched by infected person.

    Step 10. THIS should have been the FIRST step and should be treated before ANY TREATMENT IS DONE. Take off sheets, pillow cases, and bed skirts. Throw in washer under WARM water with 1 cup of laundry soap on HEAVY CYCLE. Don’t forget covers either. The pillows need to be thrown in the dryer. UNDER HIGHEST HEAT INDEX FOR 1 hour. ALL PILLOWS. Bag up objects, and items and spray them with pesticide spray that cannot be dryed or washed. IN A TRASHBAG and put them in a space that wont be botherered for up to 2 weeks. You can leave them there longer if you want to be EXTRA cautious. Vacuum carpet, or any rugs you may have used.

    And last but not least STEP 11. Make sure you treat everyone in the house even if they don’t have any signs of having lice, or nits. Secondly, DON’T share hats, scarves, coats, jackets, brushes or be head to head with anyone after treatment. Except those inside the house that have BEEN treated exactly the same. Make sure to treat once again the next day, and do the washing process ALL over again. Cleaning the brushes, etc, all over again. Then wait ONLY ONE week before next treatment. This means 5-7 days. Completing process ALL over again, so make sure to stock up. After you’re in the clear, continue blowdrying and straightening hair after every close contact event. (Camps, sleepovers, school assembly’s, going out to places with friends.) AND, I highly recommend you buying a rosemary mint shampoo. The expensive ones probably do work best, but I would buy the suave walmart brand. Effective for keeping the little buggers away. Using this shampoo every two days. (I wash my hair every single day, if I can’t, I wash it every other day.)

    I’m going to be doing this method again. And will update everyone as soon as I get done with treatment. Any questions, just ask. (:

  17. Mona Lisa Avatar
    Mona Lisa

    Hi Mama. Thanks for a very helpful site I trust. Just wanted to mention that lice cannot survive long without a host. You can put all clothing, bedding etc. In black plastic garbage bags tied securely and leave in the hot sun 55 hours. Everything will die and then you can wash and dry with certainy and relief!

  18. Alexis Avatar

    Sadly we found head lice over the weekend. Boo! I used the saline spray you mentioned (and a follow-up bottle of Walgreen’s brand “Homeopathic Lice Treatment Spray” (same exact thing but no licorice smell and a bigger bottle for less money). The spray really worked. It was super easy to use and we found dead lice on pillows the next morning. We washed with the neem shampoo in the morning and combed through the hair with the nit comb. It is hard to get a good look at every strand and my daughters hair is so fine I feel like nits could slip through the comb. I am glad the spray is supposed to kill eggs too. I am planning to use the spray a couple more times this week in case it didn’t kill the eggs fully since it works great on live lice.

    The life cycle of the head lice actual makes them more manageable than I expected. All my research suggested that they can’t live off a head for more than 2-3 days so that has been helpful as well since my daughter loves stuffed animals and blankets and baby clothes/dolls. There is just too much to try and clean. We can just shut it all up for the week and starve any stray bugs.

    So aside from the hassle of washing everything that fits in the washer/dryer and combing through mountains of hair it isn’t the death sentence I was dreading. Thank you for your post which broke it down for us and made us feel like we could tackle it without chemicals. I also plan to use the spray as a preventative when we hear about lice in the classroom. Now I don’t fear the future!

Leave a Reply

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