School bells are ringing, playgrounds are packed at recess, and your giggling cherub could be exposed to head lice! The thought of bugs crawling on your child’s head may have a huge “yuck” factor, but it’s not a health threat – just a nuisance. According to the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, head lice cause up to 25 million infestations a year, mostly in children under 12 years old. It has nothing to do with cleanliness. In fact, head lice seem to prefer clean, healthy heads!

So, why do these tiny creepy-crawlies show up mostly on preschoolers and elementary-school kids? Because young children tend to play in close proximity, have head-to-head contact, and share things like hats, scarves, and Halloween masks, which make head-to-head transfer easier. So, here’s how to protect your kids from head lice:

  • Keep your eye on your child. If they’re scratching, and saying things like, “My head’s itchy!” - check for lice. Just make sure they actually have lice. Not another condition that causes an itchy scalp, like an allergy to shampoo or hair gel. Basically, you’re looking for tiny clusters of nits. Eggs gathered around the base of individual hairs that won’t come off easily.
  • If they do have lice, try an over-the-counter anti-lice shampoo and follow the instructions carefully. If that’s not effective, your doctor can prescribe something stronger.
  • Then, after you treat your child with insecticidal shampoo, there’s no need to nit-pick the scalp clean. It may sound icky, but the tiny dead eggs will just wash out or fall out on their own.
  • Just keep in mind: If one of your kids has lice, check the whole family! Everyone in close proximity is at risk – especially if you hang out on the couch together, share bedding, or use the same hairbrush. Also, head lice only live on human heads. Deprived of a regular blood supply – their only food - they typically die within 36 hours.
  • Forget all those old wives’ tales of smothering lice with mayonnaise, olive oil or Vaseline. Experts say that there’s simply no data to show that any of those work.