The 8 Best Lice Treatments of 2020

Bugs, be gone!

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First Look

Best Comb: Nit Free Terminator Comb at Amazon

"The microscopically rounded tooth ends also protect the scalp from unwanted pricking, scratching, and pulling."

Best Shampoo: RID Lice Killing Shampoo at Amazon

"It’s the top over-the-counter pick, powered by a combination of piperonyl butoxide and pyrethrum extract to remove louse, nymphs, and nits."

Best Gel Treatment: LiceMD Head Lice Treatment at Amazon

"The formula includes conditioners, helping to prevent painful tangles in the midst of treatment."

Best Spray: Licefreee Spray! Instant Head Lice Treatment at Amazon

"An effective homeopathic solution powered by sodium chloride, AKA salt, making it safe for both adults and children as young as six months."

Best Mousse: Fairy Tales Lice Good-Bye at Amazon

"Uses enzymes rather than chemicals or pesticides to effectively remove louse and nits."

Best Gentle Method: Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser at Amazon

"If you or your child has particularly sensitive skin, give this method a try."

Best All-Natural Method: Olive Oil at Amazon

"Olive oil is considered a suffocant when it comes to lice treatments, meaning it blocks the airways of louse to kill them"

Best Preventative Wash: Lice Shield Shampoo & Conditioner at Amazon

"An exclusive blend of citronella, rosemary, lemongrass, cedar, and geraniol essential oils that repels lice and super lice and nourishes your hair simultaneously."

Nothing makes your skin crawl quite like a case of head lice. Head lice infestations are most common among pre-school children who attend child care and elementary school children due to consistent close contact with others, but adults can get head lice as well—especially from their infected children. We know, gross. But once that initial “ick” factor and surge of panic subsides, it’s important to understand how to treat it so you and your family can all enjoy a fresh, clean, and lice-free existence.

There are several ways to remove head lice effectively from both children and adults. Manual removal involves the use of a fine-toothed comb to remove all adult louse, nymphs (baby lice), and nits (eggs) from the hair and scalp. Chemical removal can require the use of a shampoo, mousse, spray, or treatment gel powered by ingredients that either repel, neurologically stun, or kill the live lice. The manual removal of nits must follow chemical treatments. Finally, some prefer natural suffocates like mayonnaise, oils, and gels that asphyxiate louse over a period of hours. Again, you need to manually remove nits after such treatments. 

As with any product intended for medical use, it’s important to read the instructions carefully and follow them accurately. Plenty of people use lice treatments for less than the time suggested on the packaging, then deeming the products ineffective and leaving them with a prolonged lice infestation. Additionally, adults will likely need to use more chemical and suffocate removal products than children simply due to the larger surface area of their scalps.

We rounded up the best lice treatment products for you and your family below, including manual, chemical, and natural solutions, so you can feel confident in your eradication of all adult louse and eggs, as well as the prevention of future outbreaks. No need to freak out—the buggers will be gone before you know it.

Our Top Picks

Best Comb: Nit Free Terminator Comb

Most experts will agree that you cannot effectively eradicate lice without the manual removal of louse and nit with a fine-toothed comb. With that said, not all combs are created equal. In fact, some say the combs that come with lice treatment kits are rather ineffective.

Instead, invest in a high-quality Nit Free Terminator Comb. Called a “must-have” by experts and users alike, this professional comb is able to get underneath and remove even the smallest of lice eggs thanks to its spiral micro-grooved teeth. The microscopically rounded tooth ends also protect the scalp from unwanted pricking, scratching, and pulling. And because it’s made with durable and corrosion-resistant stainless steel, it can be effectively sterilized between uses.

Best Shampoo: RID Lice Killing Shampoo

Once louse are found, the recommended first line of defense is a potent, insect-repelling wash like this RID shampoo. It’s the top over-the-counter pick, powered by a combination of piperonyl butoxide and pyrethrum extract to remove louse, nymphs, and nits. You can apply it safely to dry hair, let it work, and rinse it away easily without leaving any chemical residue behind. Remember to thoroughly comb through the clean hair afterward with a lice comb to remove any remaining nits. It’s also advised that you repeat the treatment a second time within seven to 10 days for optimal effectiveness. This shampoo is safe for use on adults and kids over the age of 2.

Best Gel Treatment: LiceMD Head Lice Treatment

If you’re struggling with persistent lice, or super lice, this gel treatment from LiceMD is definitely worth a try. It’s pesticide-free, non-toxic, safe, and odorless, and the manufacturer claims that the formula can eliminate lice in as little as 10 minutes. It’s powered by dimethicone, which is less likely to irritate the skin and is very effective in killing louse, as well as preventing a future infestation. Simply apply the gel, comb it through the hair for even coverage, let it sit, and then shampoo it out. The formula includes conditioners, helping to prevent painful tangles in the midst of treatment. LiceMD is clinically proven, pediatrician tested, and safe for use on adults and kids over the age of 2.

Best Spray: Licefreee Spray! Instant Head Lice Treatment

This expert-recommended spray is a quick and effective lice treatment that doesn’t rely on harsh chemicals to kill louse, nymphs, and nits. Instead, the homeopathic solution is powered by sodium chloride, AKA salt, making it safe for both adults and children as young as six months.

This special formulation also enables you to use it daily during an infestation without the worry of skin irritation. Simply spray it all over your hair until it is fully saturated, let it dry completely, and then use a comb to remove dead louse and eggs. Users report that it works well on both super lice and nits, and they love how it begins working on contact. The spray application also makes it easier to use as a self-treatment.

Best Mousse: Fairy Tales Lice Good-Bye

This foamy mousse uses enzymes rather than chemicals or pesticides to effectively remove louse and nits. More specifically, the formula helps to dissolve the sticky glue that attaches eggs to the hair and breaks down the shell of the louse. The mousse is easy to apply and safe to use repeatedly, if necessary—each bottle contains six to 10 treatments, depending on the length of hair being treated.

Apply pumps of the mousse to damp hair, working it throughout layers in a massaging motion to loosen the nits. After letting it sit for 20 to 25 minutes, comb each section throughout to remove the mousse, louse, and nits. The manufacturer labels this product as safe for kids and does not list any age restrictions on the label.

Best Gentle Method: Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser

If you or your child has particularly sensitive skin, reach for a classic bottle of Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser and give this method a try. Apply an ample amount of the cleanser to dry hair, massaging it thoroughly to make sure that every bit of hair and scalp is coated. Then grab your lice comb and carefully move through the hair one section at a time, removing the product along with any louse, nymphs, or kits you can find. Finally, blow-dry the hair on high heat to kill any bugs you may have missed. Repeat this treatment again at the one week and two week mark to make sure the infestation is eradicated.

Best All-Natural Method: Olive Oil

Olive oil is considered a suffocant when it comes to lice treatments, meaning it blocks the airways of louse to kill them. As a bonus, it’s full of vitamins, antioxidants, and healthy fats that help hydrate the scalp and strengthen the hair.

Coat the scalp and dry hair with olive oil until it’s fully saturated. Since it can be a bit messy, it’s best to use some sort of head wrap or shower cap to secure the hair and oil in place. Louse can live for hours without breathing, so leave the olive oil on the hair overnight for best results. Then comb through the hair section by section, removing all louse and nits along with the oil (the olive oil helps loosen nits from the hair). Once all signs of lice are gone, wash your hair as you normally would.

Best Preventative Wash: Lice Shield Shampoo & Conditioner

If you want a natural preventative against a lice infestation, go the essential oils route with this two-in-one shampoo and conditioner. Specially developed with an exclusive blend of citronella, rosemary, lemongrass, cedar, and geraniol essential oils, this gentle-yet-effective cleanser repels lice and super lice and nourishes your hair simultaneously. The gentle formula also makes it safe for the entire family. Just apply the cleanser generously to wet hair, massage thoroughly, and rinse. Consider it one of the easiest ways to protect your kids (and yourself) when everyone returns to school, as well as during the inevitable lice outbreak.

Final Verdict

The ideal first line of defense in getting rid of lice is an insect-eradicating treatment like RID Lice Killing Shampoo paired with a high-quality comb like the Nit Free Terminator Comb. If the lice appear to be resistant to this treatment, you’re likely facing off with super lice and will require additional treatment. In that case, experts recommend the LiceMD or Licefreee Spray! Instant Head Lice Treatment. Regardless, you need a good lice-removing comb and patience for the manual removal of louse, nymphs, and nits.

What to Look for In a Lice Treatment

Method and Severity: “Most lice treatments are topical insecticides that either directly kill the louse, or egg, or both. Prescription treatment benzyl alcohol works by smothering the lice. Different products (both over-the-counter and prescription) have different ways of killing the lice based on the mechanism of action of the product. Many treatments need to be reapplied in seven days due to the life cycle of nit to louse. In addition to medication, combing the hair with a fine-tooth comb every three to four days for several weeks may clear the infection, but studies show it may not be as effective as the medications.

“Lice can infect both children and adults at all socioeconomic levels; however, children are more often infected compared to adults. This may be because of the mode of transmission (direct contact or possibly sharing hats). There is no difference in the mechanism of treatment for adults and children, but adults may need more product due to larger head sizes. We also have more safety concerns with younger children who may absorb more product relative to their size.

“Unless there is widespread resistance in the community, over-the-counter preparations made with permethrin are the first-line treatment. In some communities, lice are becoming resistant to that treatment. If a prescription is needed, I prefer benzyl alcohol or spinosad. Malathion is also a commonly prescribed medication, but it smells bad and may be flammable. It is also important to follow the directions for the specific product because they are applied for differing amounts of time, and some are applied on wet hair while others are applied on dry hair.

“When rinsing the hair, we recommend using cool water to limit the risk of absorption. When blood vessels get warm, they get bigger and increase absorption through the skin. Rinsing over a sink rather than a shower or bath also lessens contact with other skin. Many products are irritating to the eyes, so care should be used not to rinse it into the eyes.” — Adam Keating, MD, a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s

Manual vs. Chemical: “For the most part, lice treatment is the same for all age groups. It is important to read the contraindications for any product to check for age restrictions or other vulnerable populations (like pregnant women) and for allergies. Most over-the-counter and prescription lice treatments are safe if the directions are followed appropriately. However, many people do not follow directions. For example, when the product label says to leave it in the hair for one hour, some people rinse it out after 10 minutes.

“As with many things, there are many options for lice treatment, and some are better than others. However, it’s just as important to have good lice comb as it is to use a good lice treatment product. Most combs that are supplied with a treatment kit are not effective. We use and recommend the Nit Free Terminator Comb. It is a “must-have” for successful treatment. For any person that is concerned about any ingredient in a product, it is possible to have a successful treatment using an inert product, such as a conditioner, olive oil, or coconut oil combined with the Nit Free Terminator Comb. Combing (manual or mechanical removal) is also a treatment method on its own.” — Anna Warren, the owner of The Asheville Lice Treatment Center in North Carolina

Ingredients: “Key features of lice treatment include topical neurotoxic agents, oral agents, combination therapy, and mechanical removal therapy. Washing all bedding, sheets, and towels in hot water for at least 30 minutes is also important in the treatment and prevention of reinfestation. Items that cannot be washed can be placed in a Ziploc bag for more than one week as lice cannot survive without blood from a human for longer than 48 hrs. Wash all surfaces. Any other siblings and adults should be treated also if live lice are visualized in the scalp. Also important to note, the removal of nits must be done on a daily basis manually after topical treatments. It is very important to make sure patients are aware of side effects and age recommendations of certain treatment methods. Always be sure to check with your healthcare provider and/or pediatrician for the best advice for your child. All treatment options work similarly but can have more side effects in younger-age children.

“I usually recommend Nix or RID over-the-counter treatments, up to two applications one week apart, as the first line of defense. It is very important to comb wet hair with a fine-toothed comb, removing all nits. If one nit survives, reinfestation can occur. Treatment of all family members in the home, and washing all sheets, towels, and bedding at the same time of treatment is important. If the first treatment fails, I recommend Sklice or Ovide therapy (prescription options). It is important to discuss with your primary medical provider all concerns relating to the safety and efficacy of different treatments of lice.” — Sara Siddiqui, MD, a pediatrician at NYU Langone Health

Why Trust Verywell

As a seasoned health writer, Alena Hall understands how important it is to know exactly what you’re getting in a wellness product. Over the years, she has reviewed dozens of products, from athletic recovery aids to homeopathic essential oils to ever-trendy CBD topicals, to help readers like you discover products that can help you live your best life.

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