What are head lice & how long do they live?
If you know or suspect a member of your household has head lice it is helpful to understand a little bit about head lice and their life cycle.
Head lice are small, wingless insects that are about 2-3mm and live on the scalp. Head lice live on the scalp as they feed on blood and need to be near their food source. They live for approximately 30-35 days and each female louse can lay up to 150 eggs in their 30-35 day lifespan. Meaning an infestation can get out of control very quickly if it goes undetected.
As you can see from our diagram, head lice go through 3 stages of their lifecycle.
Read more about the 3 stages of the Lifecycle below.
Learn more about the 3 stages of the lifecyle below
Stage 1: Eggs (nits)
The head louse eggs (commonly referred to as nits) are usually the first sign of an infestation.
Female head lice attach each egg with their glue like substance to the root of an individual hair strand, close to the scalp, so that when they hatch out, they are very close to their food source. They like to lay their eggs near the temples, behind the ears and at the crown and nape of the neck.
The eggs are very small (about the size of a pin head) and they are a tiny teardrop shape, securely fastened to the hair shaft.
When the eggs are 'live' meaning they haven't hatched yet, they are a brownish colour and can be very well camouflaged in the hair. Once they have hatched, the shell that is left behind (the nit) is a white/cream colour, which can often be mistaken for dandruff or flaky scalp. The way to know it is a nit is it won't easily slide down the hair shaft between your fingers (due to the glue) and will only move down when you use your nails.
Eggs take approximately one week to hatch but can take anything from 6-10 days.
Stage 2: Nymph
The nymph is an adolescent louse that hatches from the egg. The newly born nymphs can be tiny, as small as a pin head.
It takes about 7-10 days for a nymph to grow into a mature adult louse.
A nymph cannot mate and produce eggs until it is a mature adult louse.
Once a female nymph is a full grown louse it will start mating with males immediately and laying eggs within 1-2 days of mating.
Stage 3: Adult Louse
The adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed or small ant and a greyish or brownish colour.
Females start mating as soon as they become adults and lay their first eggs 1–2 days after mating.
A female head louse stays pregnant and produces up to 8 eggs per day for the remaining 15 days of their lifespan.
Each female louse will lay on average between 50-150 eggs in their 30-35 day lifecycle.
The Facts Of Lice
All your questions about head lice, answered!
Nitty Gritty’s Top Tips For Checking, Treating & Preventing Head Lice
If you see your child itching their scalp (especially if they are itching behind their ears or nape of the neck) this is definitely the time to do a quick check, even if you have checked recently. But do remember, not everyone itches when head lice are present!
We recommend checking your child weekly for any signs of live head lice or unhatched eggs, it is far easier to treat if you can catch them early before they have hatched and start to breed.
Even better if you can incorporate a quick visual check into your child’s daily hair care routine, whilst brushing or styling their hair before school or nursery. Then a weekly wet comb check, will mean you are always on top of it before an infestation can really take hold.
When checking your child’s hair pay particular attention to behind the ears, temples and nape of the neck, these are the main places where head lice like to lay their eggs.
Head lice will lay their eggs very close to the scalp where it’s nice and warm. The live eggs are about the size of a pinhead and brownish in colour. If you are finding white eggs and they are slightly further down the hair shaft, these are the nits – which are the empty egg cases. The eggs will be glued to the hair shaft and you will be unable to slide them down the hair strand with your fingers.
Check out our Lice School page to find out more about what eggs and head lice look like and the lifecycle of a head louse.
If you find any sign of live head lice, eggs or nits, you now need to treat the problem by doing a thorough combing.
Unlike other products on the market our award-winning Nitty Gritty NitFree comb is the only head lice product which removes not only the smallest head lice as well as the nits – the empty egg cases – but also, most importantly, it even removes the unhatched 'live' head louse eggs.
Firstly, saturate the hair with our Aromatherapy Head Lice Solution or regular hair conditioner (combing dry hair is completely ineffective). If using our Nitty Gritty Aromatherapy Head Lice Solution then leave the solution on the hair for 20 minutes, the solution will help imobilise the head lice so they can’t move around the head while you are combing, it will also loosen up the glue that sticks the eggs to the hair.
If the hair is long enough, section the hair with hairdressing clips or hairbands in to 4 sections and go through each section thoroughly combing from root to tip, removing any lice or eggs from that section before moving onto the next section. Remove any lice or eggs from the comb teeth after each stroke, either in a bowl of water, under a running tap or with tissue. Remember to pay extra attention to the areas behind the ears, crown, and nape of the neck.
It is important to treat the whole family if any member has head lice, otherwise, you will just pass them back and forth. Remember, not everyone itches when head lice are present.
To minimize your child’s chances of catching head lice make sure you tie their hair up every day for school or nursery, and for other social activities where you know they will be having close head-to-head contact with other children. If their hair is long we recommend tying the hair into tight plaits or a tight bun.
We also highly recommend using our Nitty Gritty Conditioning Defence Spray, which you simply spritz onto the child’s hair before school or nursery. It is made up of a carefully chosen blend of ingredients, which smell lovely to us, but not so nice to head lice! Head Lice use their sense of smell to detect the presence of a potential new host, so by disguising the host’s natural smell head lice will stay put rather than migrating over to your child’s hair. Just a few spritz each morning before school or nursery or other social gatherings where you know your child will be in close contact with other children, will keep those pesky lice at bay!