Skip Navigation

Head Lice - Information for Parents


With knowledge, prevention and early treatment, parents can help reduce the spread of head lice in the community. Learn how to identify and treat head lice in your children.

What is head lice?

Head lice (pediculosis) have nothing to do with lack of cleanliness – anyone can get head lice. They are a nuisance, but they do not cause illness. Head lice are not a public health problem because they do not transmit disease.

  • Live head lice:
    • Are greyish, six-legged insects that are 2 mm – 4 mm in length (as adults)
    • Can be difficult to see because they move quickly on the scalp
  • Head lice eggs:
    • Are very small – about half the size of a pinhead
    • Can be whitish-grey, tan or yellow in colour
    • Are glued to the hair shaft less than ½ inch away from the scalp
    • Can take about 7 - 10 days to hatch

Note: Diagnosis of head lice requires the presence of a living louse. A head lice product should only be used if live lice are found in the hair (Canadian Paediatric Society, March 2022).

What to do

  • If you discover that your child has head lice:
    • Talk to a pharmacist. Ask for a product that kills head lice and their eggs.
    • Also ask about any special precautions to take while using the product. Some products might not be recommended for young children, people with certain allergies or pregnant/nursing mothers.
    • Only treat family members who have head lice.
    • Follow the product directions exactly. Never use these products on a daily basis.
    • Wear plastic or rubber gloves when using the product so that you don't expose your hands to the chemical for too long.
    • Wash your hands well, immediately after using the head lice product.
    • Hold a towel tightly over your child’s eyes to protect them from the product during treatment.
    • Rinse hair under the tap instead of in the shower or tub to limit skin exposure and to prevent swallowing the product.
    • Store unused products out of the reach of children.
    • Clean your house as per your usual routine. Wash items that have come into prolonged contact with the hair, such as pillowcases, hats, combs and brushes.
  • Check with a doctor regarding special treatment for the following:
    • Children under the age of 2
    • People with a seizure disorder
    • Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers
    • Lice are found on eyebrows, eyelashes or beard
    • The skin of the scalp is broken or infected

Alternative or natural treatments

All products, whether they are natural or not, have risks associated with them. Some alternative treatments claim to be safer and more effective than traditional treatments for head lice, but some natural products can be toxic if used at full strength.

Other methods, such as wet combing, or applying mayonnaise, oil, vinegar to the hair, etc., might not have risks associated with them, but there is no scientific evidence that they are effective (Canadian Pediatric Society, March 2022).

Other steps

If you discover that your child has head lice:

  • Tell the school or child care centre.
  • Tell anyone who has had close contact with the person in your family who has lice.


To help prevent the spread of head lice:

  • Continue to check your child’s head once a week, after school breaks, sleepovers and vacations.
  • When looking for head lice, use a fine-toothed comb.
  • It might be helpful to braid long hair or put it into a ponytail.
  • Discourage the sharing of hairbrushes, combs, hats, and hair accessories.

Need more information?