Why Chemical Head Lice Treatments Can Be Dangerous

Published: 29th April 2010
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For decades we have been using chemical head lice treatments to get rid of these parasites. Whether in the form of shampoos, lotions or sprays, lice products are pesticides and can have dangerous side effects. First it is important to know what head lice really are and why you should treat them, then you should know the side effects of the different head lice products sold so that you can make an informed decision on which products you'll want to use, traditional chemical treatments or home remedies made with natural products.

About head lice and why you should treat pediculosis

Head lice have a life cycle that lasts between 20 and 30 days. After a maturation period of about 2 weeks, the fertilized female louse ponds about 6 to 8 eggs, called nits, per day. Nits appear as small gray and bright oval bodies that stick to the hair close to the scalp of the host. They will remain so between 4 and 10 days before hatching. Afterwards, the young lice, called nymphs, have 24 hours to feed on human blood.

Lice inject their saliva filled with anticoagulants responsible for facilitating the outflow of blood from the host they parasitize. It is to their saliva that the host reacts. This immune response is usually but not always accompanied by itching symptoms and excoriations (scratch marks). It is essential that you treat head lice right away, as there is a risk of infection associated: the person with pediculosis (head lice) may, by dint of scratching, contract skin lesions or impetigo. Moreover, there is a high risk of contagion because the louse passes easily from one person to another. A child may contaminate the whole class. In addition, the louse is a vector of typhus, but fortunately this disease that has no longer been identified in most western countries.

Traditional chemical treatments and their side-effects

The main active ingredients which are components of anti-lice products are malathion, permethrin, lindane, and piperonil butoxide.

Malathion as a treatment for head lice is used in low doses (0.5% preparations). Preparations include Derbac-M, Prioderm, and Quellada-M. It is claimed to effectively kill both the eggs and the adult lice, but in fact has been shown in several studies to be only partially effective on adult lice, and even less on nits. This is assumed to be caused by the lice having developed resistance against malathion. Malathion itself is of low toxicity; however, absorption or ingestion into the human body results in its metabolism to malaoxon, which is substantially more toxic.

Permethrin is a common synthetic chemical that belongs to pyrethroids and is widely used as an insecticide and insect repellent. It is not known to rapidly harm most mammals or birds, but is highly toxic to cats. It generally has a low human toxicity and is poorly absorbed by skin. OTC (over the counter) treatment for head lice is usually permethrin with 1% concentration. Permethrin is classified as a likely human carcinogen. Excessive exposure to permethrin can cause nausea, headache, muscle weakness, salivation, shortness of breath and seizures.

Lindane is a chemical that has been used both as an agricultural insecticide and as a pharmaceutical treatment for lice. In humans, lindane affects the nervous system, liver and kidneys, and may be a carcinogen. Its international trade is restricted and regulated and its production and use have been banned in 2009 under the Stockholm Convention. A specific exemption to that ban though allows it to be used as a second-line pharmaceutical treatment for lice, and products containing lindane have been withdrawn from the market but are still in our cabinets.

Piperonil butoxide (PBO) is a pesticide synergist, which means that it does not, by itself have pesticidal properties. However, when added to insecticide mixtures such as pyrethrin, its potency is increased considerably. It is suspected of being carcinogenic and teratogenic, which means it can cause birth defects in newborns.

None of these substances are harmless to health, indeed, most of them are considered carcinogens or likely to be for humans. In addition, side effects can result in symptoms ranging from fatigue to coma or cardio-respiratory disorders in severe cases. This is why you should be careful before using them against head lice. There are many alternative treatments such as home remedies and herbal treatments that are safe and effective and that will rid you of these pesky parasites.

Get your free mini-course on natural head lice treatments and home remedies: visit http://headlicecenter.com.

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