What Do Head Lice Look Like?

These pictures will help you spot lice, nits, and eggs

Caregivers of children need to know what head lice look like because lice infestations are common in school-aged kids.

It's easy to confuse a condition like dandruff for lice. Once you know what head lice look like on a child's head, you'll be able to tell the difference more easily.

Being able to identify head lice will also help you make an informed choice about treatment. Usually, you only need to treat your child with a lice shampoo when you see live lice. If you only see lice eggs and no live lice, you just need to carefully remove them.

This article has pictures of what head lice look like. You will learn how to tell if your child has live lice or just lice eggs. Once you know for sure that your child has lice, you can get treatment.

What Lice in Hair Look Like

Head lice infestation in a girl with long hair
Vincent Iannelli, MD

This picture shows a child with a head lice infestation.

Confused because you can't see any lice? Believe it or not, there was a large, live louse on their head right before the picture was taken. It goes to show just how tricky it can be to find lice, especially on a child with long hair.

The texture, color, and thickness of your child's hair can also make it harder to spot lice. A louse might be easier to see on the head of a child with lighter, thinner, hair than in a child with dark, coarse, thick hair.

What Adult Lice Look Like

Adult head louse
arlindo71 / Getty Images

This is an up-close picture of an adult head louse. Mature head lice are about the size of a sesame seed.

You can clearly see the six legs that a louse has. If you magnified the image more, you might be able to see the small claws on the end of the legs that lice use to grasp the hair.

What Female Adult Lice Look Like

human head louse: pediculus humanus capitis copulation
London Scientific Films / Getty Images

Head lice look different depending on which sex they are.

As you can see in the image above, a female head louse is a little "fatter" than a male.

What Lice Look Like Up Close

Head louse
Vincent Iannelli, MD

In addition to knowing what head lice look like in general, you should also know about the different sizes of head lice.

This image of a head louse is magnified, but you can use the strand of hair next to it for comparison. That will give you a sense of just how big head lice really are.

Head Lice Magnified

Hand holding hair covered in head louse

Panyawat Boontanom / Getty Images

If you're worried that your child has lice, looking at head lice pictures like this one can help you know what to look for when you're doing a lice check—including live lice and lice eggs (nits).

Can You Spot the Louse?

Head louse on a blond girl's head
Vincent Iannelli, MD

Now that you know what head lice look like, can you spot the head louse in this picture of a young child with a head lice infestation?

What a Lice Louse Looks Like

Vincent Iannelli, MD

This picture is of a live head louse on a child's head with a red circle around the louse to make it easier to see.

What Lice Nits Look Like in Hair

Blurry nits on blond hair
Vincent Iannelli, MD

In addition to knowing what lice look like, you should also learn what their eggs look like.

Lice eggs are called nits. They are small, oval-shaped, usually a yellowish-white color, and are firmly attached to the sides of hair shafts.

The terms can be confusing because some people only use "nits" to refer to empty egg casings while "lice eggs" is used for eggs that can hatch (viable eggs).

However, other people use "nits" to refer to both viable lice eggs and empty egg casings.

Having nits does not necessarily mean that your child has live lice because some nits are actually empty egg casings. Others are dead and only have non-infective lice embryos inside.

Nits that are close to your child's scalp are the most likely to be infective. They're also the ones that are thought to hatch into live lice—a process that takes six to nine days.

Continuing to get new nits even after you have removed them from your child's hair is also a sign that your child has live lice and needs lice treatment.

A live louse will typically lay up to eight eggs a day. If your child only has a few nits, they likely do not have an active lice infestation.

Can My Child Go to School If They Have Lice?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is against "no-nit" policies that exclude children from school when they have lice.

In fact, the AAP now states that "no healthy child should be excluded from or allowed to miss school time because of head lice."

This might come as a surprise to caregivers who have had their kids sent home from school because of head lice.

Spotting Nits

Vincent Iannelli, MD

Here's an out-of-focus picture of a nit with a red circle around it to make it easier to spot.

How Lice Life Cycle Works

Head lice egg, nymph and adult next to a U.S. penny

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Knowing what head lice and nits look like is just one part of your head lice education as a caregiver. It's also helpful to understand how the lice life cycle works.

The picture above shows the three stages of the head lice life cycle with a penny to make it easy to compare each size.

The three stages of the head lice life cycle are:

  • Egg or nit
  • Nymph
  • Adult louse

Louse Life Cycle

Head lice go through a few stages:

  • A mature or adult head louse can lay up to 10 eggs or nits each day.
  • The nits hatch in about seven to 12 days. Baby lice (nymphs) are about as big as a pinhead when they hatch but quickly grow into adult lice (in about seven days).
  • In just a few days, adult lice are ready to mate and start the cycle over again. Lice have a lifespan of three to four weeks.

If your child has lice, try not to panic. Getting the right lice treatment can stop the lice life cycle and clear up the infestation.

Head Lice Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Child


Looking at pictures of live lice and nits can help you learn to spot them on your child's head.

Knowing what head lice look like will also help you tell them from other conditions that kids get. For example, you can easily mistake flakes of dandruff for a head lice infestation if you don't know what to look for.

If you spot lice eggs in your child's hair, go ahead and pick them out. If they have live adult lice, you'll need to use a prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) treatment to kill them. You may need to repeat these steps until all the lice are gone.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are nits?

    Nits are lice eggs. They are very tiny—about the size of a knot in a strand of thread— and can easily be confused with dandruff, scabs, or even droplets of hair spray.

  • How do I know if I have lice?

    There are some warning signs of head lice, including:

    • Feeling a tickling sensation in the hair
    • Frequent itching
    • Difficulty sleeping (head lice get more active in the dark)
    • Sores on the head from scratching that can get infected
  • How long do lice eggs take to hatch?

    Lice eggs (nits) take around eight or nine days to hatch. After that, it only takes about seven days for baby lice (nymphs) to grow into adult lice and start the cycle over again.

  • How do you get lice?

    Head lice are commonly spread through head-to-head contact. Lice can also be transferred between kids on the playground, while they are playing sports, or at a slumber party.

    It's less common for lice to spread through shared clothes or belongings, but it is possible. Pets such as dogs and cats do not spread head lice.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Head lice treatment.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Head lice biology.

  3. Devore CD, Schutze GE, The Council on School Health and Committee on Infectious Diseases. Head licePediatrics. 2015;135(5):e1355-e1365. doi:10.1542/peds.2015-0746

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Head lice frequently asked questions (FAQs).

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
 Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.