I include a few examples on this page to demonstrate why it’s important to do thorough research.
The following examples are NOT comprehensive or complete. Always consult your doctor before starting any treatment.
AllergiesPeople can become allergic to any ingredient in any product. If someone in your family has allergies, then you probably already know how important it is to read ingredient lists carefully for known allergens. Even if there are no known allergies, products containing common allergens should often be tested by limiting exposure to only a very small amount at first, in a limited area, to see if a reaction occurs. Your doctor can advise you on this.
PlasticNEVER use plastic wrap to cover kids’ hair. Use a shower cap or towel. Plastic wrap and plastic bags pose a suffocation risk.
PesticidesPesticides are not necessary to deal with head lice, and they should not be used on children. (You can get rid of lice and nits by combing alone. The only reason to use pesticides or any other product other than a good nit comb is to make the process easier and/or quicker … a potential benefit that does not justify the risk of putting pesticides on a child’s head.)
LindaneAccording to an FDA Public Health Advisory, Lindane puts patients “at risk for serious neurologic adverse events, and even death, particularly with early retreatment”.
PermethrinAccording to the Journal of Pesticide Reform, permethrin “is a neurotoxin. Symptoms include tremors, incoordination, elevated body temperature, increased aggressive behavior, and disruption of learning. Laboratory tests suggest that permethrin is more acutely toxic to children than to adults.”
Pyrethrins and pyrethroidsAccording to articles published at the National Institutes of Health, pyrethrins and pyrethroids “can induce adverse health effects, more often in acute poisoning, but also due to chronic exposure.”
MalathionAccording to an article posted by the National Pediculosis Association, malathion is “chemically related to nerve gases developed during World War II. For decades, scientists have been debating whether such pesticides cause birth defects, cancers, and other health problems. Studies have shown links between regular exposure to malathion and various human maladies, including non-Hodgkins lymphoma, childhood leukemia, anemia, chromosome damage, and weakened immune systems ... Malathion and other pesticides are especially dangerous to children, who are more vulnerable to neurotoxins than adults.”
AlcoholIt’s probably never appropriate to apply an alcohol-based product to a child’s scalp and let it sit for any length of time. I would certainly never do this without asking my doctor first. For instance, trying the Listerine home remedy would likely not be safe for kids.
Coal TarI’ve seen Denorex and other coal-tar shampoos recommended as effective for treating and preventing head lice infestations. However, coal tar in high concentrations is classified by the World Health Organization as a cancer-causing agent. So, while I might consider using a coal tar shampoo once to fight a lice infestation, I would not use it regularly for anyone in my family.
Essential OilsLots of lice products contain essential oils. These are intended either to smother/kill lice, or simply to repel them. Often the marketers of these products promote them as totally safe to use, even on babies and young children.
However, many essential oils are not well studied. Some of them may well be safe to use frequently … but because they haven’t undergone rigorous controlled testing, it could be there are subtle harmful effects that haven’t been discovered yet.
Tea Tree Oil & Lavender OilFor example, during my research into lice products I discovered that according to the National Institutes of Health, tea tree oil and lavender oil may have subtle hormonal effects when used long-term.
So, while I might consider using a product containing tea tree oil as a one-time event to treat head lice on my son, I would definitely not have him use a tea tree oil shampoo regularly in order to prevent head lice.