At first, it seems like a quick and easy fix for head lice: Just zap them with a generous dose of bug spray. But will bug spray actually kill head lice? And could it be dangerous for the person being sprayed? The answer is probably--many bug sprays are basically poison that must be used carefully and according to directions. But what's for certain is that bug spray can be dangerous, and health experts recommend safer and more conventional ways to treat head lice.
Doctors warn against using products for anything other than their intended purpose. In addition, the National Pediculosis Association, a nonprofit organization that promotes education about head lice, advocates against using chemical sprays to kill head lice.
The most common bug sprays are approved for killing or repelling outdoor pests such as mosquitoes, gnats, flies, ticks and chiggers; other sprays kill garden bugs or hornets and wasps. Biopesticides are bug sprays made from naturally derived substances, such as oil of lemon, eucalyptus and oil of citronella.
Treating Head Lice Yourself
According to the Mayo Clinic, the first option in destroying head lice should be a special over-the-counter shampoo. The most popular are pyrethrin, sold under the brand name Rid, and permethrin, sold under the brand name Nix. Mayo Clinic doctors advise that people who use these should follow the directions exactly.
Sometimes over-the-counter medicine isn't strong enough. In these cases, doctors prescribe medication such as malathion (Ovide), which is applied to the hair and scalp. Two cautions: It is flammable, and women who are pregnant or breast-feeding must make sure their doctors know. Another prescription treatment is lindane, which comes in cream, lotion and shampoo forms. Again, women who are pregnant or breast-feeding may not be able to use it. Benzyl alcohol lotion is a more recently approved treatment that should not be given to children younger than 6 months, as the effects on them can be fatal, according to the Mayo Clinic.
You don't need special shampoos or toxic creams to rid yourself or your children of head lice. The National Pediculosis Association recommends removing lice and nits (eggs) by hand, saying it is the only remedy that is completely safe.