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What is a Pediculicide?

By T. Broderick
Updated May 17, 2024
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A pediculicide is any substance used in the treatment of head lice. Though many pesticides are effective in killing head lice, only two are commercially available in the United States and abroad. A number of natural remedies exist as well, yet the lack of scientific data on their effectiveness makes them somewhat unreliable. Enzyme- and silicone-based products are less toxic but require more than one treatment. Gasoline, though once a commonly used pediculicide, can ignite and should never be used to treat head lice.

Head lice is an infestation that affects mainly children under the age of 10. Its prevalence necessitates the existence of various pediculicide treatments. The first category of treatments is pesticides. In the US, malathion and lindane are the only two approved pesticide-based treatments for head lice. Though usually effective after a single application, preliminary research has shown that head lice are developing resistance to these treatments.

For parents who do not want their children exposed to pesticides, many natural remedies exist to treat lead lice. Soaking hair in a vinegar bath or coating the scalp in petroleum jelly are both proven methods of killing head lice. These methods usually require more than one treatment. A downside of natural treatments is that since no scientific testing has discovered the best treatment schedule, the chances that lice will reappear is greater than that of pesticide-based treatments.

Silicone- and enzyme-based pediculicides offer an alternative to both possibly harmful pesticides and unreliable natural remedies. An enzyme-based pediculicide, for example, acts by destroying the exoskeleton of head lice. Silicone works by suffocating the lice. Though these treatments work by different methods, they have a distinct advantage over other treatment options; as lice cannot become resistant to silicone or enzymes, the effectiveness of these two treatments will not diminish.

No one should ever consider using gasoline as a pediculicide. Before gasoline became a fuel for automobiles, it was sold in small amounts as a remedy for head lice. The fumes from gasoline can ignite very easily and cause immense harm. Despite the accessibility of other, safer pediculicides, incidents where children are severely burned still occur.

Though gasoline is extremely dangerous, rubbing alcohol is a much safer and effective pediculicide. Applying small amounts to the scalp kills both adult lice and their eggs. Though a cheaper remedy than prescription-strength malathion or lindane, scalp irritation and reddening of the scalp are common side effects.

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