Expert Opinions

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My nine-year-old came home from school with a bad case of head lice. I'm reluctant to use harsh chemicals. Are there any natural treatments?


L. C.
"The best treatment for head lice is prevention," says Jeff Jump, M.D., director of the Memorial Center for Integrative Medicine in Chattanooga. "Teach your kids not to share hats, combs, brushes, or pillows. If an outbreak occurs, treatment starts with limiting the spread and the chances of reinfestation." That means changing and washing all bedsheets and towels. Disinfect brushes and combs as well.

There are a number of natural alternatives to commercial chemical treatments like Rid, Kwell, and Nix. In one study, oil from the East Indian neem tree had a 98% success rate. To try this alternative, combine four parts neem to one part turmeric, then apply the paste to affected areas until dry. Or try sweet flag; its powdered root can be made into a poultice or rubbed directly into affected areas. (Organic gardening shops and health-food stores carry neem and sweet flag.)

A third choice is an essential oil mixture: Combine 2 ounces of vegetable oil with 20 drops of tea tree oil and 10 drops each of rosemary, lemon, peppermint, and lavender. (Test for the occasional allergic reaction by first dabbing a small amount on your child's forearm. If no redness develops, it's safe to use.) Apply to the scalp and cover with a towel for about an hour, then wash the hair.

After any type of treatment, remove nits, the tiny grey-white eggs attached to hair shafts, with a fine-tooth comb or tweezers. Treatment will probably need to be repeated in seven to 10 days.

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