Oh, Nits!

With Nits, Try This

from Becky

With the school year starting next week, it's time to shift from summer to some schedule that includes getting my kids to bed before 10pm. That first week is going to be interesting!

With the return to school, it's the return to school issues like worms and nits. Nits are a rite of passage equal to dealing with chickenpox or whatever other parenting milestones we quickly educate ourselves about as needed. Margaret gives us a fantastic overview of the head lice landscape and options. I love that the research on the Tea Tree essential oil blend was shown more effective than the chemical options.

This week's article from Margaret marks the 10th issue of our 10 contributors and so ends the 'first round.' I'm excited about what we have accomplished, starting up this magazine from an idea. And I'm thankful to our contributors and readers for realizing that we were creating something special. For our 'second round,' we'll have some surprise guests as well. And even though my husband John thinks I can't keep a secret, I can, and I'm excited.

In health, Becky

Oh Nits! It IS about the Bugs

This following article was prompted by a chance discussion with the local Playcentre co-ordinator about how local parents are coping with head lice. Apparently not very well as some have resorted to extreme measures, using products such as Spot-On and Ivermectin, on their children.

These are broad-spectrum antiparasitic products designed to kill internal and external parasites on animals. They are considered neurotoxins, likely to be absorbed into the body. Obviously, some of the things people do in an attempt to get rid of lice can be much more harmful than the lice themselves.

Our health nurse's attitude is that Western society is insect phobic. "Having headlice is not a serious medical condition, but it does carry a lot of misinformation and outdated attitudes that can cause parents to overreact". Hopefully, the more we know the better we deal with it.

What are head lice?

The head louse, (Pediculus humanus capitis), is a parasitic insect that can be found on the head, eyebrows, and eyelashes of people. Head lice feed on human blood several times a day and live close to the human scalp. They have three forms: the egg (also called a nit), the nymph, and the adult.


  1. Head lice have been around for a long time & most communities learn to live with them.
  2. Head lice are not known to spread disease but they can be annoying because they may cause itching and loss of sleep.
  3. Head-to-head contact with an infested person is the most common way to get head lice.
  4. Head lice move by crawling; they cannot hop, fly, or jump from person to person.
  5. Head lice and their eggs (nits) soon perish if separated from their human host. Because they need food, humidity, and warmth to survive, it is unlikely they will be found alive on car seats, curtains, or carpets. clothing or combs, brushes, and towels.
  6. No approved treatment will kill all the unhatched eggs.
  7. Head lice cannot swim. They can survive underwater for several hours but are unlikely to be spread by the water in a swimming pool
  8. Anyone can get head lice. It is not related to poor personal hygiene or home cleanliness.
  9. Headlice feed on blood, not dirt.
  10. Children do not get headlice from dogs, cats, and other animals.


It is difficult to prevent head lice infestation in children. Community-wide or school-based programs informing parents of methods to eradicate lice are the most effective ways to keep infestation rates down. Parents need to take responsibility for this as it has been shown that class checks for head lice are not effective.


There are a variety of treatments available to families ranging in cost from very cheap to very expensive. Cost is no measure of effectiveness. The best way to break the cycle is regular systematic treatment from a range of options listed below, keeping in mind that the head is the home of the brain.


The chemical treatments available in NZ are usually topical applications applied directly to the scalp. These include products containing Pyrethrum, pyrethrin, and/or Phenothrin; synthetic pyrethroids (permethrin); and organophosphates such as malathion, also known as maldison.

Physical Methods

Physical methods of removing nits and lice can be effective on their own but they are time consuming. Eggs are cemented strongly to the hair shaft and simple washing usually doesn't remove them. Metal nit combs are the most effective way of physically removing the nits.

Wet Combing

The easiest way to find lice is to put lots of conditioner on dry hair - at least three times as much as usual. Conditioner stuns the insects for about 20 minutes and makes them easier to comb out. Repeat the combing at least twice more on consecutive nights if possible and then weekly. Cutting the hair short makes searching and removing lice easier but won't prevent reinfestation. Hairdressers often refuse to cut hair showing any signs of eggs or lice.

Suffocating Agents

Products such as dimethicone (a silicone oil), petroleum jelly, or benzyl alcohol. Home remedies such as mayonnaise and olive oil have been used but can be messy.

Essential Oils

There are several products available that are based on essential oils. An Australian study, entered into the Australian/New Zealand Clinical Trial Registry in August 2010, compared the efficacy and safety of three topical treatments; one containing Melaleuca oil (tea tree oil) and lavender oil; a head lice "suffocation" product; and a product containing pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide.

The percentage of subjects who were louse-free one day after the last treatment with the product containing tea tree oil and lavender oil and the head lice 'suffocation' product was significantly higher compared to the percentage of subjects who were louse-free one day after the last treatment with the product containing pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide. The high efficacy of the TTO/LO product and the head lice 'suffocation' product offers a realistic alternative to the pyrethrins-based product.

As I am always concerned about using chemicals if effective alternatives are available, I will pass on a well tried recipe given to me by the health nurse at a large secondary school in Christchurch. It is cheap, easy, and effective.

Recipe for Head Lice Treatment

  • 1 teaspoon Tea Tree Oil = 5ML
  • 1 cup White Vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Conditioner or Shampoo


  1. Mix ingredients in a clean plastic bottle.
  2. Apply required amount over the head.
  3. Cover head with Glad Wrap.
  4. Leave for half an hour Rinse briefly Repeat every 7 days for at least 3 weeks.

Note: Test a little on the inside of the wrist or elbow before first use.

From You

"Reading this book [Why Natural Matters] made me want to become involved and I want to learn more! Yes, you have 'Started the Conversation' and done so in a positive way – it's certainly not all doom and gloom out there – you keep the negativity and blame out of it. It is insightful and doesn't try to preach or convert the reader, but leaves you with a sense of possibility and the potential to make decisions about your health. It doesn't have all the answers, or claim to – it gives you an awareness and self-responsibility – you have the knowledge and power to improve your health, beginning with small steps." 
~Karen | Australia



"Only actions give life strength; only moderation gives it a charm."~Jean-Paul Richter (1763 - 1825)
About the author

Margaret Macbeth

Margaret likes the challenges that have arisen over the 30 years of living on the West Coast of the South Island. She is at the end of the road, on the edge of the land, in a very beautiful place. The greatest challenge was to create a business that would support her family in this remote location. In 1996 she and her husband, Hamish set up True Blue Organics. Her aim was to grow and distill the only organic Tea Tree oil in New Zealand from Melaleuca alternifolia plants. It has taken a long time but she has now achieved her wish to use the land to produce a crop or product that would be beneficial to people looking for natural therapeutic remedies. Her lifestyle has taken her back to basics and she has learned a lot of useful skills along the way: how to live simply and sustainably, garden and grow organically, eat healthily, run a small business, participate in the local community. She credits family and friends as being most important of all.