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Keep lice away with this easy homemade lice repellent spray using essential oils and my tips for natural lice prevention.
I've never been so unenthusiactic about finding out one of my DIY recipes probably works.
Why would I be upset about something like that? Can you take a guess?
Let me start from the beginning.
For several years now, I've been making a homemade lice repellent spray for my son. I probably started doing it around 3 years ago when he first started school. His school, as most schools around here, seems to be a bit of a breeding ground for lice; so much so that several times each year they send home reminders to be proactive about preventing and checking for lice.
My first homemade lice repellent spray
I spent hours and several days researching essential oil blends before mixing up my first spray. I based a lot of the oils used in my recipe on a post written by a guy who had done some essential oil lice experiments at home. (Don't ask me how now, I've spent the last few days looking for that post again to link to it, but sadly it seems to be lost in the vast expanse of the internet.)
My first homemade lice repellent spray used a mixture of a lot of different oils. You can find the recipe for that original spray below. It's the one that worked for me for years, but it might not be the best option for using with young kids.
You see, at the time, I was oblivious that you are supposed to avoid using oils like eucalyptus and peppermint on young children. Interestingly enough, even our pediatrician here in Spain had prescribed us a mix of eucalyptus and peppermint, amongst other oils, to be vaporized as a natural decongestant for babies and small children. It sort of makes me wonder how common problems with those oils really are, but it's always best to err on the side of caution, right?
Luckily for me, I didn't have any issues with any of the oils, and I occasionally checked his hair with a nit comb, but never found any lice ever.
Meanwhile, I was hearing other parents in the class talk about how their kids were constantly being reinfected in school, and even my own niece had caught them a few times.
When family members asked me if Eric had ever had them, they seemed very surprised that my answer was no. When I mentioned using an essential oil mix in a homemade lice repellent spray of sorts, they sort of blew it off. They told me that they had tried using tea tree essential oil with my niece (not sure how, exactly), and that she still kept getting reinfected with lice. That's also why I kept researching about which oils were most effective, and the main reason I used a lot of different oils in my spray.
Over the years, I used the spray, but the naysayers really had me doubting the effectiveness of it.
I guess, I just sort of figured that my son was one of those lucky kids who was immune to lice. Just like mosquitos are more drawn to certain people, I thought that lice probably are the same way. (Incidentally, my son attracts mosquitos like you couldn't imagine! Oh, the irony!)
So, this summer, when I ran out of my spray, I just didn't bother making more and only used water instead to style my son's hair in the morning. (It's easy for me to remember to spray his hair every morning because it's usually messy and I need a bit of water or something to help comb it into place.)
What happened when I stopped using the homemade lice repellent spray?
You can probably guess where I'm going with this, right?
I had figured that between the chlorine in the pool, his minimal interaction with other kids during the summer, and my thought that he was somehow immune to lice and, well, I thought that lice were going to be a non-issue.
When he started scratching his head, I didn't even immediately think lice. (Nor did I think of it when my own head started to itch. I mean, I haven't had lice since the one time in grade school!)
I did a bit of a check in his hair and didn't see anything except for two areas of somewhat dry, irritated scalp, but when you have a son with atopic skin that isn't really that unusual either. Even my mother-in-law looked over his head, but she didn't see anything either. She had a better idea of what to look for, having helped my niece out several times. I, on the other hand, was going on pictures of lice that I'd seen on the internet.
I looked for the nit comb, but since I couldn't find it, I sort of dismissed the lice idea for a few more days.
My neck rash experience
Then, one day I took my son and my niece to a waterpark. I didn't do a great job of applying my homemade sunscreen on parts of my back and neck, and that night I had some pink areas. The next morning, though, I had a huge, itchy, red rash!
It must be a reaction to the sun or the chlorine in the pool, or even to the milk I'd had in my coffee that morning, when I rarely drink milk, right?
After some pestering from family members about going to the doctor for my rash that didn't seem to be improving after several days out of the sun, I finally went. I had put it off, saying it would be a waste of time and that they'd only give me a steroid cream and an antihistamine. Having a son with atopic skin, I already have a huge collection of those given to me on his visits to the doctor.
Was it a waste of time?
Well, I wasn't wrong. She sent me home with a steroid cream and an antihistamine and without a lot of insight as to what could have caused the rash. (Perhaps the sun? Are you SURE you aren't using a new shampoo? YES!) She did do an exam on my head, hair and neck, but never mentioned that lice could cause a neck rash, nor did she mention them all all. What she did mention, though, was that I had a bit of dandruff and that could be contributing to my overall itchiness.
After a few days of using apple cider vinegar rinses and coconut oil on my hair overnight in an attempt to rid myself of dandruff, I did feel a bit less itchy. (Looking back, it's not surprising seeing as how those remedies are supposed to be good for both dandruff and lice!)
I finally broke down and went to the store for an anti-dandruff shampoo. While I was there, I noticed a nit comb nearby, and since I couldn't find mine, I decided to buy a new one.
Checking for Lice
I got home, and “for fun” decided to comb my hair with the new nit comb…
Combing through my hair in the kitchen resulted in a few creepy crawlies on my kitchen counter!!!
This is what I found in my hair!
That's when it dawned on me…
Could my neck rash also be due to lice? After a bit of Googling, sure enough! I found lots of pictures of lice provoked neck rashes similar to mine! (Which makes me wonder… If lice are as prevalent as they are here, wouldn't you think that they doctor could have mentioned that my issue might be caused by them? That little bit of insight would have saved me several days of itchiness!)
So, I immediately went to work treating them. (I'll tell you about that another day soon!)
You can bet that I also immediately made a new batch of homemade lice repellent spray!
Want to learn how?
Homemade Lice Repellent Spray Recipe
Homemade Lice Repellant Spray Recipe
Makes around 8 oz/250 ml
- 4 ounces water (or until 8 oz. bottle is full)
- 4 ounces vodka
- 80 drops essential oils (see notes on oils below)
- 1 tsp. neem oil
- Mix together all of the ingredients in an 8 ounce spray bottle.
- Shake and carefully spray on hair each morning, and again when going to places where lice exposure is likely! (Avoid spraying on skin, eyes and ears!)
- As an example, for my last spray, I upped the other oils, and then upped the alcohol content to help dissolve them. I mixed together the following: 1 tsp. neem oil a few squirts of argan oil (from s squirt dispenser so I didn't measure) 30 drops tea tree EO, 20 drops Eucalyptus EO (my son has never had issues, otherwise it's best to wait until age 10 and test it out in small amounts), 20 drops lavender, 5 drops cinnamon leaf oil, 5 drops geranium oil. I then filled the bottle with mostly vodka, along with a dash of distilled water, and shook it to combine everything well. If you are using for children under 10, you can replace the eucalyptus oil with a different oil on the list, or a combination of oils. (Or just replace it with more tea tree oil.)
My First Lice Repellent Spray
I added 8 ounces of water to a bottle, and added tea tree oil (20 drops), eucalyptus oil (15 drops), 10 drops each of geranium, thyme, lavender, and peppermint oils, and 5 drops of cinnamon leaf oil
This is the spray that was effective for me up until now, but I'd like to reiterate that you are supposed to avoid using eucalyptus and peppermint oils in young children. (Most places say to avoid peppermint until age 6 and eucalyptus until age 10.)
Making your own perfect homemade lice repellent spray
Oils that have been shown to be effective against lice to some degree:
- Lavender oil
- Tea tree essential oil
- Clove essential oil
- Cinnamon leaf essential oil (Can be irritating to skin, so keep concentrations low.)
- Geranium essential oil
- Peppermint essential oil (Caution kids under 6- can also irritate skin in high concentrations.)
- Nutmeg essential oil (Caution kids under 6- can also irritate skin in high concentrations.)
- Aniseseed essential oil (Caution kids under 6- can also irritate skin in high concentrations.)
- Eucalyptus essential oil (Caution kids under 10)
- Neem oil
Of the above, the safest essential oil to use with very young kids is lavender oil, but it may not be the most effective for lice. The next 4 oils on the list are also generally safe for young children (over 6 months) as long as the concentrations are kept low. (3-5 drops per ounce of carrier oil for under 2 years old, up to 20 drops per ounce ages 2-6, up to 30 drops/oz. ages 6+.)
From my studies, I think that the most effective sprays will include not only tea tree oil, but also eucalyptus and peppermint oils, but, of course, you are supposed to be very cautious with those oils in younger children. That's why homemade lice sprays using lavender and tea tree are very popular; they are the safest, but they may not be the most effective. (Although it's hard to be certain since a spray like this using different oil combinations hasn't really been tested.)
As kids grow up, I think you can bump up the effectiveness of your spray by adding in other oils and increasing the concentration used. The combination of oils can kill off or repel lice using the different mechanisms of action of each different oil.
Studies on the effectiveness of essential oils in the prevention and treatment against lice
One study showed that using either a combination of tea tree and lavender essential oils, or using a suffocation method, were both more effective than pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide treatment of lice infestation.
In another study, Eucalyptus oil and clove oil were studied against resistant head lice. Eucalyptus oil was found to be the most effective and in an 8% spray worked effectively against lice infestation.
A neem oil and eucalyptus oil lotion treatment was used weekly in a study that found it to be effective in killing both lice and their eggs!
Another study on prevention showed some promise when studying tea tree, lavender, peppermint essential oils, and coconut oil vs. DEET. Tea tree oil was found to be the most effective of the above in preventing lice, and in some cases in preventing them from feeding on blood, but they weren't convinced enough about the results to promote using any of them.
On the other hand, in a study on aniseed, cinnamon leaf, red thyme, tea tree, peppermint & nutmeg (together), rosemary, and pine oils, all but rosemary and thyme were found effective against lice in an alcohol spray. The effective components of the oils were thought to be phenols, phenolic ethers, ketones, and oxides (1,8-cineole). Of course the 1,8 cineole is also the component in eucalyptus oil that is said to cause CNS and breathing problems in some young children, which is why there's a caution against it for children under 10.
Formulating your personal homemade lice repellent spray
In my new lice repellant spray recipe, you'll see that I used both a combination of alcohol and water. Essential oils are, well, oils, and don't dissolve in water. Alcohol, on the other hand, serves as an emulsifier to help disperse the oils well through the spray. Depending on it you are going to use other non-essential oils in your spray, in larger quantities, you can increase the amount of alcohol. For example, in one of my last spray experiments, I added in some neem oil and some argan oil, and ended up using all vodka and no water to ensure that it would combine well.
My logic is that the argan oil, known to be a great conditioning oil for hair, will combat any possible drying from the alcohol. The neem oil is effective against lice, and d¡since it isn't an essential oil, you can safely use a bit more of it in your mixes. (Keep in mind that the scent isn't very pleasant.)
My first spray didn't use any alcohol at all. The oils weren't dissolved in the water, but I shook the mixture every day before using it, and it seemed to work pretty well. So, if you are opposed to using alcohol, don't use it!
Essential oils concentration
I used about 10 drops per ounce of spray in my recipe, the equivalent of around 1%. While you can safely go to up to 30 drops per ounce of carrier oil in older kids, this spray is an aqueous mix and not an oil one. Because you aren't really diluting them exactly, I think it's best to err on the side of using less than that. Once the alcohol and water evaporate, you may find that areas of the skin that were accidentally sprayed may have irritation. While I never had that problem with my son, despite his sensitive skin, I did react once to a spray with cinnamon leaf oil on my neck (of course I wasn't very careful about focusing only on the hair when spraying on myself). Keeping that in mind, you should focus on spraying the hair, and try to avoid spraying the skin. You can also use more non-essential oils in your spray to help dilute them (like neem and argan oil mentioned above, with or without alcohol), especially if you are having issues with the spray, have sensitive skin, or plan to use it on really young kids. This is also more important when using oils that are known to be irritating to skin, and not so much of an issue when using lavender and tea tree oils.
Other natural lice prevention methods
Get a good nit comb!
From now on, I will try to comb my son's hair through every day when he comes home from school. Combing with a nit comb will help alert me to any new unwelcome visitors, and will get them out of his hair before they can settle down and raise a family there. 😉
Coconut Hair Mask
Once a week, you can put coconut oil in your hair, under a shower cap, leave it in overnight, and wash it out the next morning. Not only does it make your hair feel great, but it also helps suffocate and kill any lice you may have in your hair. It's probably even more effective if you add a few drops of the above essential oils to the coconut oil. You can use other oils instead, but coconut oil itself is thought to be somewhat effective against lice, and it's also great for your hair. Plus, I've found that if the oil gets on your pillowcases, it doesn't stain like other oils. (In fact, I often don't use the shower cap at all.)
It is often recommended to add tea tree oil to your shampoo to help prevent and rid yourself of lice infestations. Recommended concentration is 1-10%, which is actually quite a bit. I've seen people suggest using 5-20 drops in the shampoo you are going to use each time you wash.
I personally haven't tried this as I think that using the spray, nit comb, and hair mask are enough for me, but it's another option for those who want to try it.
I hope I've given you enough information to formulate your own homemade lice prevention spray, and to naturally keep your kids (and yourself) lice free!
If you have any questions, comment below!
Essential oils disclaimers: Always use caution when using essential oils. Everyone is different and some people are more likely to react to certain oils than others, so it's important to check for any irritation or other adverse reactions before using it all over your head or using it repeatedly. You can test by using it in a small, limited area first.
Don't spray into eyes or ears! If you should get the spray in eyes or ears, fully rinse immediately.
This article is purely informative and not meant to diagnose or cure any disease or medical condition. Use of the spray is at your own risk.