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Plant Based, Year-Round Health

Head Lice - Tea Tree Essential Oil as a Treatment Option

Image of Dr. Terry Vanderheyden, ND, RH
by Dr. Terry Vanderheyden, ND, RH

Kids congregating in school and daycare raises the spectre of head lice. It should be noted that head lice are not an issue of cleanliness – no amount of cleaning reduces the risk or aids in treatment, according to the Caring for Kids website, a site hosted by the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS).

In recent years, cases of lice have increased because of growing resistance to commonly used insecticides like pyrethrin. A 2009 clinical trial of isopropyl myristate/cyclomethicone solution (recommended by the CPS) demonstrated an 82% response rate versus only a 19.3% response with pyrethrin.

St Francis Herb Farm Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil (TTO) is a very effective pediculicide, which is to say a lice-killing agent. When tested ex vivo (in a petri dish), it causes 100% mortality in lice after 30 minutes, when lice are submerged in a 1% solution. The problem is that the ovicidal (egg-killing) property is not as good, with tea tree oil taking 5 days to cause a 50% kill rate. Louse eggs hatch in 5-8 days, so it is conceivable that prolonged TTO use for 2 weeks could be an effective eradication measure.

I agree with Benjamin Franklin that prevention is easier than cure. Having been exposed to lice in the past, my own family used this approach and found it to be reliable. What we do is simply add 1-2% TTO to a liquid coconut oil (a combination of Medium Chain Triglyceride oil and Coconut oil) and apply to the scalp at bedtime, nightly. It’s best to use a shower cap and/or towel to protect the pillow. In addition, add 1-2% TTO to shampoo and use this each morning to wash out the oil mixture. Repeat nightly for 2 weeks. Make sure to wash your sheets and pillowcases frequently, drying them at a high temperature.

In the end, tackling the perennial problem of head lice with Tea Tree Oil makes for an eminently practical and effective solution, courtesy of Mother Nature.  

For references please contact


Image of Dr. Terry Vanderheyden, ND, RH
Author: Dr. Terry Vanderheyden, ND, RH


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