A toxic chemical banned for use in farming and pet products will continue to be allowed in head lice treatments. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently denied a joint petition from Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network asking FDA to ban the use of the neurotoxic drug lindane as an ingredient in children's head lice treatment shampoos and products.
Considered most dangerous for children—who are those most likely to be treated with the drug—lindane was named a carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2005. A year later, the Environmental Protection Agency canceled its pesticide registration due to human health concerns and the drug's ability to build up in the environment.
Making matters worse, the dangerous chemical insecticide isn't even the most effective treatment. A 2002 study testing the efficacy of five lice treatments found lindane to be the least effective.
Lindane most often pops up in shampoo and lotion products aimed at treating lice and scabies. In June 2012, Rep. Edward Markey (D–Mass.) asked the FDA to ban the use of the drug because it doesn't work and poses serious health risks. "In the case of lindane, the cure is worse than disease," Markey said in a summer news release. "There is not a nit of scientific evidence to support the FDA's decision to continue to allow the use of this toxic chemical for treatment used predominantly on children."
Still, FDA will continue to OK the dangerous drug for this application, so it's best for parents to read ingredient labels carefully and choose more effective and safer alternatives.
Here are safer head lice treatment options:
First, don't panic. While learning your child's scalp is home to tiny, irritating insects and their eggs, it's really not as bad as it sounds. Beyond some itching and discomfort, head lice don't generally cause serious health problems. Experts don't suggest kids stay home from school anymore if a child has a case of head lice. In fact, by the time the itching occurs, lice have been living on the scalp for three to four weeks.
Avoid sharing. Head lice is spread mostly through close head-to-head contact, so avoid sharing combs and brushes and hats during a bout with head lice.
Get nit-picky. Even if you use another head lice treatment, nit picking is essential to wipe out any lingering lice. Here's how to do it, courtesy of Beyond Pesticides:
• Liberally apply coconut oil to the child's head and scalp.
• Once the hair and scalp are thoroughly coated, comb through her hair with a
wide-toothed comb to remove tangles and straighten the hair.
• Separate the hair into one-inch sections and look for lice as you use the nit comb.
• Pin cleaned sections of hair aside, curling the hair close to the head.
• Periodically clean hair and debris out of the comb with a tissue, placing the tissue in hot, soapy water when it is soiled.
• Once finished, wash the child's hair with hot water and blow it dry.
• Recheck the entire head for stray lice and nits.
• Clean out your nit comb, removing any stray hair and nits, and soak in 150-degree Fahrenheit water for 15 minutes before putting comb away.
• Repeat on everyone showing symptoms of head lice for 12 consecutive days.
Clean your home. You don't need to treat your home with toxic chemicals if someone in the family is dealing with lice. Thorough vacuuming and washing towels and bedding with hot water generally will do the trick. If something isn't washable, put it in the dryer for 20 minutes or place in a plastic bag and store in the freezer for 10 hours.