Tea Tree Oil for Head Lice

You've probably heard that it's effective to use tea tree oil for head lice. You can find lots of recipes for lice treatments on the internet – sometimes using tea tree oil by itself, and other times in conjunction with other plant oils, or mixed with vinegar.

Tea tree oil is also touted as a good way to prevent catching head lice in the first place. Some herbalists recommend putting mixing a few drops of tea tree oil into a spray bottle filled with water, and spraying your hair every day to ward off lice.

There are also pre-made lice prevention sprays marketed for this purpose. The products usually include other essential oils along with the tea tree oil.

You can buy tea tree shampoo and tea tree conditioner intended to help prevent head lice. (Tea tree shampoo is also supposed to be good for managing dandruff.) You can buy tea tree oil leave-in conditioner, and even styling gel containing tea tree oil.

So, what's behind the hype? Does this really work? The answer is a bit more complex than you might assume. Tea tree oil for head lice may be somewhat effective, and at the same time it may not be advisable.

Let me explain.

Let's address the two separate issues – treating existing head lice with tea tree oil, and trying to prevent head lice using tea tree oil.

Tea Tree Oil For A Lice Infestation

The main rationale given for using tea tree oil as part of a campaign to rid yourself of head lice is that tea tree oil appears to kill at least some head lice. Nobody really understands exactly how it does this. It may be neurotoxic to the lice.

However, tea tree oil does cause allergic reactions and skin irritation in some people. While the efficacy of the oil in killing head lice might be assumed to go up with increasingly strong solutions of tea tree oil, the risk of adverse reactions also would increase.

Another idea behind the promotion of tea tree oil for head lice is that you can suffocate head lice with tea tree oil. This is the same reasoning behind the use of olive oil, another common home remedy for head lice. Some people say you can use any type of vegetable oil to suffocate head lice.

There is some question whether this suffocation-by-oil method really works. Some researchers recently concluded that while some head lice may be killed by a sufficiently long application of oil, others simply go into a dormant state. They revive a few hours after the oil is removed from the scalp.

If the dormancy assertion is correct, oil can still be helpful at immobilizing the creatures so that they are easier to catch and comb out with a good lice comb.

Tea Tree Oil for Head Lice Prevention

The smell of tea tree oil appears to repel head lice. It does have quite a strong smell, and if it's neurotoxic to head lice than you would expect that they would want to stay far away from it.

So if you have tea tree oil on your head, it might be helpful in keeping head lice from coming near your head … which could be especially helpful if you're still in contact with the (usually unidentified) original source.

HOWEVER … I would not use tea tree oil regularly on my head or on the head of anyone in my family.

The New England Journal of Medicine reported on an NIH study that "suggests that repeated topical use of products containing lavender oil and/or tea tree oil may cause prepubertal gynecomastia, a rare condition resulting in enlarged breast tissue in boys prior to puberty, and for which a cause is seldom identified."

This highlights the fact that many essential oils are not well studied. There are very safe and effective methods of head lice prevention that anyone can implement, without putting powerful oils on your head every day.

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