HOW DO HEAD LICE BECOME RESISTANT?

Scientific research has shown that 98 per cent of head lice have become immune to permethrins and pyrethrins - the active ingredients in many over-the-counter treatments available from pharmacies. Due to overuse of these products, the so-called super lice have built up a resistance to the pesticides, leading to a gene mutation. Experts recommend seeking alternative treatments to prevent and cure head lice infestations.

DO HEAD LICE LIVE ON ANIMALS?

There is no danger of your family pets catching them, as head lice can only live on human scalps. In the same way, if the family dog or cat has an infestation, the species of lice will be specific to your pet.

Head lice can survive for around 30 days – they can generally survive for 24 to 36 hours when removed from the host and their source of food. It's recommended to wash bedding, clothing and cuddly toys on a 60°C wash cycle; vacuum the carpets, upholstered furniture and car-seats; and spring-clean the house to avoid a possible re-infestation.

DO HEAD LICE CARRY DISEASES?

Head lice are not known to carry or spread disease. Their presence is more of an annoyance, since they cause excessive itching and insomnia. For some people, the itching can lead to continual scratching. This increases the chances of secondary skin infections, with red lumps appearing around the hairline.

ARE HEAD LICE ASEXUAL?

There are female and male head lice and they reproduce sexually, with adults starting to mate as soon as they have finished the final shedding of skin to transform from the nymph - the second stage of their life cycle - into the adult. Scientific studies of head lice show that the actual mating can take up to 30 minutes.

ARE HEAD LICE AND NITS THE SAME THING?

Head lice are the adult insects that crawl through your hair, feeding off the scalp and laying eggs. The nits are the eggs that are "glued" to the hair shaft after being laid by the female - leaving empty, yellowish-white egg-shells in the hair when they hatch into nymphs. However, people commonly refer to head lice as nits, no matter what stage of the life cycle.

HOW ARE HEAD LICE CONTRACTED?

Head lice don't have wings and can only crawl so it takes head-to-head contact for them to transfer to another person's hair. Head lice can survive for up to 36 hours away from the host, so there's a possibility that you can become infested by sharing personal items such as brushes, hats and towels. However, the major cause of infestation is by direct head-to-head contact.

WHAT HEAD LICE LOOK LIKE

Head lice are flat, oblong parasites whose bodies are divided into 3 parts: the head, thorax and abdomen. They have 6 clawed legs and can be tan to greyish-white in colour - although their bodies are partly transparent. Their claws enable them to grip the hair shaft and their legs have sensory receptors that indicate when the hair shaft is disturbed, enabling them to move quickly away from danger - such as when the host scratches.

LIFESPAN OF HEAD LICE

Head lice start life as eggs or nits; they take around 7 days to hatch. An immature louse is called a nymph - they can't reproduce at this stage but it only takes a week for them to mature into adult lice. This is the third and final stage of the life cycle. The adult lice can survive for up to 30 days on a person's head.

HOW BIG CAN HEAD LICE GET?

Head lice eggs, known as nits, are up to 0.8mm long and because they're so minuscule they can be hard to spot. When they hatch, they are only the size of a pinhead – so they are also quite difficult to see. Adult lice can grow 2mm to 3mm in length.

ARE HEAD LICE NOCTURNAL?

Head lice are nocturnal insects, hence they are most active while you're sleeping. This is why your head is likely to start itching more at night, as the lice start moving around. Some people may not realise they have lice until intense itching begins or when small red marks appear round the hairline – undetected lice may have been present for some time.

ARE HEAD LICE VISIBLE TO THE HUMAN EYE?

Although head lice and nits are tiny, they are still visible to the naked eye. Adults are white, dark grey or brown and are commonly found behind the ears or at the nape. Eggs are round or oval specks that are found attached to hairs near the scalp. They are often mistaken for dandruff or styling products.

HOW DO HEAD LICE REPRODUCE?

Head lice are oviparous, meaning they produce their young by means of eggs. Males try to mate with lice of a suitable size, including other males. The eggs hatch after being laid near the base of the host's hair shaft, with one female laying up to 8 eggs per day. Once hatched, they are known as nymphs - until they reach maturity after 7 days.

WHAT DO HEAD LICE EAT?

Head lice feed on blood sucked from their host's scalp. When they need food, they move close to the scalp and pierce the skin with their mouth, adding saliva to the wound. After ingesting the blood, they pump it through the head and into the intestine. Head lice need food relatively often and when they eat, this can cause an itching sensation as some people suffer a reaction to the saliva.

WHAT HEAD LICE TREATMENT CAN I USE WHEN PREGNANT?

Check the packaging or leaflet to see if each treatment is suitable if you're pregnant or breastfeeding or for children under 2. Generally, chemical-free head lice treatment products made with natural ingredients, like the KIT & COCO range, will be suitable if you're pregnant. If in any doubt, consult your GP or pharmacist.

WHEN DID HEAD LICE ORIGINATE?

Historians believe that head lice have been in existence for an amazing 5 million years, originally evolving on apes. This was discovered through new technology, using DNA research on fossils and on mummified bodies discovered in burial grounds. Scientific research shows that head lice have been a problem all over the world for centuries, with the first lice comb dating back to the first century BC.

WHEN TO TREAT HEAD LICE?

Head lice should be treated as soon as they are spotted, as they can multiply rapidly and spread to other people. If left untreated, there can soon be an epidemic. Adult lice live for up to 30 days on a person's head, each producing up to 240 nits during their life cycle. So, as soon as you spot either lice or eggs (nits) you should treat the hair immediately!

WHY DO HEAD LICE SPREAD?

As they can’t fly or jump, head lice travel via head-to-head contact. This explains why children are more prone to lice, as they tend to have more close contact through play, at school or through hugging. Adults can also catch lice through hugging children who are infested. This is why personal items such as brushes, combs, hair accessories, hats and towels should never be shared.

WHY DO HEAD LICE LIKE CLEAN HAIR?

Greasy hair makes it harder for the lice to climb the hair shaft, so they typically prefer clean hair - dispelling the old myth that head lice only infest dirty hair. Certain styling products can help prevent lice, as can old-fashioned hair oil. Hairstyles that are slicked back, such as braids or a French plait, work better with styling products - the hair doesn't look obviously greasy.

WHY DO HEAD LICE ITCH?

Head lice feed on blood from the scalp several times a day - the lice bites become itchy. This is caused by a reaction to the lice saliva and although harmless, scratching may cause small red bumps or sores. Some kids might experience only a mild irritation, while others can develop a more troublesome rash, leading to further scratching.

WHEN ARE CHILDREN MORE PRONE TO LICE?

Each time the children return from holidays & during school breaks, as they tend to interact even more with other children during this time.

WHY DO LICE PREFER AREAS ON THE NECK AND BEHIND THE EARS?

Lice prefer to lay their eggs in those areas as they are the warmest parts of the head and therefore provide optimal conditions for the development of the eggs. Generally, lice colonize the entire head.

WHY DO CHILDREN GET LICE MORE OFTEN THAN ADULTS?

Children are more prone to lice simply because they tend to be more often in close contact with other children, through hugs, playtime & naptime. That said, adults can and do get lice (usually through their little ones). As soon as one of your family members is infected with lice make sure to properly check everyone including you and your partner.

I DETECTED LICE. SHOULD I CLEAN MY HOME FROM TOP TO BOTTOM?

Well, unfortunately yes...Lice are resistant little critters. They can survive for up to 36 hours on your pillows, bed sheets, and clothing. If you want to prevent a re-infestation, it is highly recommended to collect all the bed linens, clothing of the week, toys (that lie on the bed), isolate them in an airtight bag for 48 hours and then wash them at 60°C (OR you could use this as an opportunity to do some spring cleaning!) and vacuum all flooring, carpets, upholstered furniture and car seats.

IS HAVING LICE A SIGN OF POOR HYGIENE?

No, lice feed on blood, not dirt. There are just as many lice found on clean heads as dirty ones! In some cases we see that lice actually prefer cleaner heads! Also, contrary to popular belief, girls in general are not more prone to getting lice than boys! The length of hair is what may make a difference- as lice travel through head to head contact. Large households are more likely to see proliferation.

HOW MANY LICE CAN A PERSON HAVE?

Thousands! Fortunately, the typical number found is much, much, less! Averaging about 10-12 per head.
Our lice expert came across some extreme cases (these numbers are per head!) :

  • 650 lice collected on very short hair.
  • 973 lice collected on hair above the shoulders.
  • 2,000 lice collected on hair at shoulder level.
  • 2573 lice collected on long hair.

In these two last cases, the children's hair were matted and extremely tangled. But don’t worry, those are extremely rare cases!

CAN LICE JUMP OR FLY?

Absolutely not! Lice are not fleas, devoid of wings; they cannot jump or fly. They are transferred through direct contact.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DANDRUFF AND NITS?

Dandruff is white and falls spontaneously from the head, un-hatched eggs are transparent and nits (the empty eggshells) are whitish. Nits & eggs are strongly attached to the hair by an adhesive that is secreted by the louse while laying the egg. Nits cannot be removed by brushing or washing hair. So if you notice white things hard to remove from hair, you know what you have to do: start the KIT & COCO head lice routine!

FOR HOW LONG CAN LICE SURVIVE?

Far from their host, lice rarely survive for more than 36 hours. They die of starvation or dehydration. This is why we recommend keeping sheets, toys, clothing etc. that may have come in contact with the lice in an airtight bag for 48 hours before washing to ensure that they are dead and can no longer spread as lice & their eggs can survive in water. However, if washed in very hot water at 60°C or tumble dried for a minimum of 30 minutes at the highest temperature setting, lice & their eggs will die.

HOW FAST DO LICE REPRODUCE?

Ooh. Very, very, quickly. An adult louse lays between 4 to 10 eggs per day, called nits. These eggs hatch about 7 days later giving birth to a new louse called a nymph. The empty eggshells left behind are called nits. After 10 days, the nymphs reach the adult stage and are ready to breed.