What to Do If You Think You Have Head Lice

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Another option is to call your general doctor or dermatologist, who will likely prescribe something like malathion or ivermectin lotion, which also work by killing the lice themselves and are typically applied to the hair and scalp and left on overnight, then removed the next morning, Zeichner says. “Head lice are typically treated once and then again nine days later to make sure you kill lice that had not hatched when you did the first treatment. "It’s also important to treat clothing and bedding that has been in contact with lice by washing or drying in heat or bagging in plastic for two weeks," Farber says.

We're breaking down everything there is to know about head lice: the bad (it's very transmissible) and the good (it's not quite as transmissible as you might think). "Head lice are insects that live exclusively on the scalp of humans," explains Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

It will also be easy to tell them apart from other common scalp issues like dandruff or dry scalp. "Lice, and in particular the nits, are firmly attached to the hair, while dandruff will easily flake off," says Farber. "Nits are most commonly seen behind the ears accompanying lymph swelling, and a rash on the neck can be clues.

Scientifically known as pediculosis capitis, head lice aren't contracted as a result of slacking on your personal hygiene practices. "Having head lice does not mean that you are dirty; the lice have no preference for clean or dirty hair," Zeichner explains.

In order to spread, there usually needs to be "direct contact with an infected person’s head," Farber explains, which is why lice is so common among children (who often play with each other in close contact all day long).

To do so, you can run to the drugstore and purchase an over-the-counter treatment, which will usually contain an ingredient called permethrin, which works to literally kill the lice. "These kill live lice, but not eggs, but repeat treatment usually makes these effective options," Farber says.

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