Tea tree oil is made from the leaves of the tea tree plant and has been used medicinally for centuries as a remedy for many conditions. Among other uses, some people believe that tea tree oil can kill lice. But experts are conflicted and most scientists believer that more research is needed before a conclusion can be drawn.
What does the research say?
According to the Mayo Clinic, scientists need to conduct more large well-designed trials. However some early studies suggest that tea tree oil may be useful for some aspects of treating head lice. A study in Parasitology Research suggests that it can kill lice in the nymph (newly hatched lice) and adult stages of life, but unfortunately that does not include the eggs or nits which tend to cause the most problems for families.
Tea tree oil shows promise.
Another study, published in BMC Dermatology, also found promising results. In a study using three different products to treat children with head lice (tea tree oil, lavender oil and dimethicone), nearly all of the children who were treated were free of lice (this again, does not include the eggs or nits). In contrast, only a quarter of kids treated with pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide (commonly found in OTC anti-lice shampoos) were lice free.
It might keep lice away
A study reported in the International Journal of Dermatology also compared botanical and synthetic substances for preventing lice in primary school-age kids. The researchers compared tea tree oil, lavender oil, peppermint, and DEET. By itself, tea tree oil was the most effective treatment tested. Preventatively, tree oil and peppermint appeared to be most useful for repelling lice. While the researches were impress with the results, the investigators concluded that none of the treatments were effective enough to endorse.
What are the risks of using tea tree oil?
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, tea tree oil is considered safe, when diluted, to apply to the skin. But it does pose some risk of side effects including skin irritation and an allergic reaction known as contact dermatitis. Additionally repeated use may also lead to enlarged breast tissue in prepubescent boys. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health warns that in one study, a young boy developed breast growth after using hair products that contained tea tree oil and lavender oil. Tea tree oil should only be applied topically. It is considered toxic if swallowed.
Some early studies suggest that tea tree oil may be effective for treating head lice, either alone or when combined with other botanicals, such as lavender oil. But more large-scale studies need to be conducted before experts can recommend tea tree oil as a safe and effective treatment for lice.
If you or someone in your family is suffering from head lice please call your local Lice Clinics of America for free advice, preventative education and treatment options.