During the sixties, I carried out a pilot programme of investigation revealed a resurgence of pediculosis, infestation with head-lice, amongst school-children in South Wales. Many were resistant to conventional insecticidal treatments. The findings were first published as a popular feature (1, 2, 3) and brought some response from readers (4). Later accounts were published in a reference part-work (5), a medical periodical (6), New Scientist (7) and a report in the national press (8). The research has been cited in later papers (for example, see reference 9) and was featured on television.
I think that the best way to clear of lice the hair is a fine tooth metal nit comb. It drags out the nits (eggs). One method is to comb the hair when it is dry, and comb thoroughly. Keep the comb clean. NOTE: try especially behind the ears. The back of the ear and the head create a warm and moist area favoured by lice. Another method is to wash the hair and then put on lots of conditioner. Do this at bathtime, so it becomes part of having a bath. The conditioner will help to make the hair slippery to the comb. Then comb normally, to line up the hairs, before combing again with the nit comb. This will bring out the adult lice and the nits adhering to hairs. Do this again three or four days later, and again after another three or four days. In fact, using a nit comb every time the hair is washed is the best way (a) to comb hair thoroughly (b) to keep scurf from the scalp and (c) to control head lice.
I believe that combing oil through the hair might prove to be a valuable treatment, and oil is also said to be good for hair - many modern hair treatments rely on oil. Prior to the 1970's an oily dressing, like brilliantine, was popular among smart young men. I think that this may have had an anti-louse action of its own. The oily gel would prevent their breathing or reproducing effectively. In my view, an oily or gel hair dressing would be very suitable for treating pediculosis. The insects would be unable to breathe if an oily environment clogged their breathing pores. If you want to see when people employed hair dressing that I think helped to control lice, the movie GREASE showed it in vogue.
Lice cannot survive without blood (and the fine comb removes them); they cannot breed without time for their eggs to mature (and the comb removes those); and they cannot survive if they are unable to breathe (which oily hair preparations may prevent). At the very least, oily hair stops them moving normally, which may well interfere with feeding. If you use a fine nit comb, then do the combing thoroughly - little children will quite like being groomed, anyway - and always remember to comb behind those ears.
Brian J Ford
1: Announcement, 1965, Head Lice, South Wales Echo, 3 June.
2: Editorial Promotion, 1965, Head Lice Article by BJF, South Wales Echo: 4 June.
3: Ford, Brian J., 1965, Head Lice: The Shocking Facts of Some Cardiff Schools, South Wales Echo, 4 June.
4: Readers, 1965, Beating the Lice [and] Shave it Off, Correspondence Column, South Wale Echo, 11 June.
5: Ford, Brian J., 1965, Micrographic Studies: Human Head Louse, etc, New Knowledge, 3 (12): 565, July.
6: Ford, Brian J., 1965, Pediculosis: Mediaeval Problem in Today’s Setting, Medical News, 10 December.
7: Ford, Brian J., 1970, Head Lice a Growing Problem, New Scientist, 48 (732): 590-591, 30 December.
8: Ford, Brian J., 1971, Pediculus - Bug with a Lousy Image [illustrated news report], Sunday Times, 14 November.
9: Hoffman, G., 1983, Epidemiology and Control of Pediculosis capitis infestation in the Federal Republic of Germany [cites BJF, 1970, New Scientist, 48: 590-591] Journal of the Royal Society of Health, 103, (3): 88-92, June.