Thursday, 10 May 2012

School blues: head lice

If your child has started to go to playgroup or school, you can't escape the rite of passage of head lice. Even in this day and age it's still controversial for some and it makes you scratch only thinking about it. We all know that everybody can get it and it doesn't matter if your house could pass Aggie's test, but deep down we are marking unkempt, "dirty" children as culprits.

"Don't play again with those children, they live in the dirt," my mum told me after she got rid of my nits. And yes, I'm keeping a beady eye on children with uncombed hair in my daughter's school and monitor scratching every time I am there. Trouble is children scratch their heads a lot, for a multiple of reasons...

Head lice treatments
I will be brave and admit I got nits from my daughter twice. When I mentioned this to some mums, they moved a mile away from me - why? Nits don’t have wings, so unless they got close and personal, which you don’t as an adult... - while others shrugged their shoulders, saying everybody goes through it, just try XZY shampoo. Well I did try two shampoos and to be honest I wasted my money. It was deeply satisfying seeing nits drop from the comb into my sink, but these shampoos don’t kill all the eggs, so unsurprisingly, around ten days later I had baby nits scurrying on my head.

So it was off on the internet to find out the wisdom of the afflicted masses. If you are a nit novice, I recommend visiting the NHS site, where you get really good information. If you want to try alternative remedies, you can try hair gel (suffocates the nits), mayonnaise (ditto), olive oil (ditto) or tea tree oil (preventative too). Trouble is you get a greasy scalp and your hair will look sticky so you will have to wash it, and then the nits will come back next time you are reading a story to your child and her/his head touches yours. Nits walk from head to head...

In our case there was also the slight complication that we both suffer from dandruff, so it’s hard to say if it’s an egg you are looking at or dandruff, unless you squash it, of course - don't do this if you are squeamish.

Best treatment for head lice
I finally got rid of our head lice and I have to thank the NHS leaflet my daughter’s school passed on. I did try a tea tree shampoo and gel too, but although effective they didn't give me total reassurance (and my hair looked awful gelled up). 

The way I did it was through combing my hair and my daughter’s regularly, twice a week. I did my daughter’s hair while she was in the bath playing with a dolly that pees if you put water in her mouth - this way there was no complaining of being uncomfortable or bored as she was sitting down and occupied. I used the fine combs I got from the unreliable (and full of nasty chemicals to boot) shampoos I tried. By the second week there were just tiny hatchings, but regular combing got rid of those. I really got good at it, stopped cringing and just concentrated on combing all over and getting rid of the critters. I became the Rambo of the nit world.

Say no to chemical warfare (on your head)
Trouble is that all this combing and the residue from the two nasty shampoos I tried made my scalp very itchy. It was a vicious circle situation as I wasn’t sure I had nits left, but the comb kept "saying no". So it was very providential that the lovely PR at GreenPeople sent me a Lavender shampoo and conditioner to test. I also got a natural deodorant (perspirants contain aluminium, which is not that good for you).

So in my chemical-busting mission, I tried the shampoo and the deodorant and found them both excellent. The shampoo got rid of the itching and reassured me as nits don’t walk on heads with strong scents as they can’t smell us - some nit busters advise using tea tree oil and lavender scented shampoos. Think of the ogre in a fairy tale, if he can’t smell humans, he won’t attack. The nit is interested in sucking human blood and like mosquitoes they detect us through our smell. ARRRR, it doesn’t bear thinking about it, but if you look at some of the pictures of crusty scalps online you get my drift.
So if you are thinking of buying a nit shampoo, think again. They can’t guarantee 100% success and the only useful thing in the box is the comb. Yes, they will kill the nits and some eggs but part of the next generation will be cruising your scalp a week later. Regular combing might be boring but it works. If your head is badly infested, try three times a week, so you are working against their reproductive cycle. Female lay a huge amount of eggs every day.

And the natural deodorant? It’s slightly bigger than other roll-ons and it worked really well, even after a session at the gym. It has a medicinal, herby smell but it’s not overpowering and it doesn’t stain clothes.

I do love natural, organic products, I just wish more of us buy them so the prices can come down a bit. But as with everything you get what you pay for. And the truth is that chemicals are cheap while natural ingredients are costly because they are harvested and carefully processed for a long time to ensure they keep their goodness. 

Green People Lavender Shampoo and Conditioner are £7.75 each for 200ml. The Natural Deodorant is £7.95 for a 75ml roll-on.  Green People products are available online at Selected products are on sale through Ocado and independent stockists across the UK.

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