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Pesticide-Free Head Lice Treatment Under Study
by The Deirdre Imus Environmental Center 


By Erin Ihde Research/Project Manager

In May 2009, The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center® launched a groundbreaking pediatric clinical trial on a pesticide-free head lice treatment. Six schools across New York and New Jersey enrolled students in a two-week trial on the dimethicone product LiceMD. The study found that after only one day of treatment, 98.3 percent of children were lice-free. The clinical trial showed dimethicone is a safe, effective and low-cost head lice treatment, allowing children to be treated without the harmful pesticides present in most over-the-counter and prescription formulas. The pesticides in these traditional products are linked to neurological problems, cancer, and other serious health effects. The study was published in BMC Pediatrics June 2015 edition.

Head lice, or Pediculus humanus capitis, cause an estimated 6 to 12 million infestations per year in the U.S., most commonly affecting children 3 to 11 years of age.  Despite common perceptions, head lice crawl, and cannot hop or fly.  For this reason, transmission occurs most often by human head-to-head contact, and much less commonly by the sharing of personal items such as hats, coats, combs, or towels.  Because head lice feed on human blood, they cannot live on pets and are only viable 1-2 days on surfaces other than the human head.  
Head lice affect all socio-economic groups.  Infestations spread regardless of the cleanliness of a home or school, or of personal hygiene. The most common symptoms are itching, but those affected are commonly asymptomatic as well.  Head lice are most commonly found close to the scalp, usually behind the ears and near the nape of the neck.  Despite perceptions otherwise, infestations are not a public health hazard, as they are not responsible for spreading any disease.  Diagnosis occurs most often by the school nurse, who routinely conducts lice screenings and recommends treatment, which is most commonly carried out by a parent or guardian.  In most cases, only when a first treatment is unsuccessful would a pediatrician’s visit be sought.
The most common treatments are pesticide-based, over-the-counter remedies of permethrin (1%), or pyrethrin-based products.  Approved prescription-only options are permethrin (5%), malathion (0.5%), or lindane (1%).  Non-pesticide-based “home” remedies include mayonnaise, kerosene, olive oil, Cetaphil lotion and essential oil blends.
Pesticide-based treatments are coming under increasing scrutiny, as superbugs and pesticide resistance grows.  Repeat treatments of traditional pesticide-based products, especially on immune-compromised children, has been anecdotally linked to A.L.L. (acute lymphoblastic leukemia) and even death. With the decreasing efficacy of traditional treatments reported in some areas, this study found an effective, safe, affordable and widely-available pesticide-free treatment.

Click here to read the study.

Press Release--Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center Study Sheds New Light on Pediatric Lice Treatment

For more information on pediatric head lice, please see our resource page.

Works Consulted:

-   CDC Head Lice Fact Sheet:

-   Pearlman, D. L. (2004). A Simple Treatment for Head Lice: Dry-On, Suffocation- Based Pediculicide. Pediatrics 114: e275-e279

-   The National Pediculosis Association/Jesse’s Project:

-   American Academy of Pediatrics: Clinical Report on Head Lice:

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