Does Alcohol Kill Lice? What Are The Dangers Related To It?

Look at some interesting facts on this surgical spirit and its effect on those pesky lice.

Reviewed by Madison Dufour, Barber & Cosmetologist
By Annie Jangam

Many people use alcohol to treat head lice. It is considered non-toxic and safer than pesticides like permethrin, especially for toddlers and adults. However, does it really work? If you are wondering how alcohol can be a harmless solution for head lice treatment, read this article. It discusses how different types of alcohol may work for lice and the potential risks. Scroll down.

What Is Rubbing Alcohol?

Rubbing alcohol or surgical spirit usually contains isopropyl alcohol and, in a few cases, ethanol. According to the CDC guidelines, FDA has not cleared any disinfectants with alcohol as the main ingredient (1). However, rubbing alcohol is popularly used as a surface disinfectant due to its antimicrobial properties.

So, here’s the most important question does it help in killing lice? Find out in the next section.

Does Rubbing Alcohol Kill Lice?

Yes, to some extent. It also depends on the type of alcohol you use. Anecdotal evidence suggests that rubbing alcohol (with either isopropanol or ethanol) helps in controlling lice infestation, while there is scientific data supporting the use of benzyl alcohol to kill lice.

  • Benzyl Alcohol

The most effective and safe alcohol to treat a lice infestation is benzyl alcohol. 5% benzyl alcohol lotion has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of head lice (2). This non-neurotoxic topical head lice treatment is safe for children as young as 6 months old (3). The alcohol kills lice through asphyxiation by closing the respiratory spiracles of the louse (4). Thus, it is effective in killing lice but not the nits or lice eggs. A second treatment with benzyl alcohol after a week can kill any newly hatched lice. In rare cases, benzyl alcohol can be mildly irritating. Consult a doctor if such irritation occurs.

  • Isopropyl Alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol or isopropanol is a transparent, volatile, colorless liquid used as a solvent and disinfectant. It is applied topically as an antiseptic and is effective at 70-90% strength. It is widely believed that this alcohol dissolves the outer cell membranes of the louse. Further research is needed to understand the mechanism and efficacy of using isopropyl for killing lice.

  • Ethanol Alcohol

Ethanol is used as a disinfectant, solvent, and preservative due to its antimicrobial properties. It is speculated that ethanol alcohol kills germs by denaturing the cellular proteins and dissolving the lipid membranes of the microorganisms. However, it is recommended that you never apply alcohol directly to the scalp.

So, we have learned that different alcohols can be used to treat lice. Keep reading if you want to know the risks associated with using them.

What Are The Dangers Associated With Using Rubbing Alcohol To Kill Lice?

  • Allergic: If you are allergic to alcohol, it can cause itching, stinging, and even hives in extreme cases. A simple patch test on the forearm can be done to check for such reactions.
  • Dehydration Of The Scalp: The drying nature of the alcohol can strip away the moisture and natural oils from your hair and scalp. It may also damage the hair follicles.
  • Chemical Burns: Topical application of alcohol can put you at risk of getting chemical burns, especially if you have sensitive skin or any open wounds or cuts. The strong fumes may cause your eyes to tear up and cause a burning sensation. In case the alcohol gets into your eyes, wash them out immediately with cold water and seek medical attention.
  • Alcohol Is Flammable: The highly flammable nature of alcohol can be a health hazard, especially for kids. Using it on the scalp can put the child at risk of burns. Make sure you are at a safe distance from any open fires when using alcohol to kill lice.

One of the more prevalent methods of treating head lice is using alcohol and alcohol-based lice treatment. Using rubbing alcohol with ethanol or isopropyl alcohol may kill lice. In addition, the FDA has approved shampoos or solutions containing 5% benzyl alcohol for lice treatment. They are a better option than toxic pesticides. However, there are some dangers associated with these products with alcohol. Allergies, drying of the scalp, and chemical burns are all possible side effects. As a result, it is best to use them with caution.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take rubbing alcohol to kill lice?

It depends on the rubbing alcohol you use. Some types can be left for 10 minutes, while others need to be left on for an hour. If you feel any burning or inflammation, wash off the alcohol immediately.

Will hand sanitizer kill lice?

While hand sanitizers do contain alcohol, they don’t kill lice. They may slow down lice for some time, so you can remove them with a fine comb.

Will vodka kill lice?

You can mix vodka (3 tablespoons) with tea tree oil (5-10 drops) to remove lice from your scalp. Apply it with a cotton ball and leave it in your hair overnight. Wash it off your hair in the morning.

Is hydrogen peroxide the same thing as alcohol?

No, hydrogen peroxide is not a type of alcohol. It is a bleaching agent used to lighten or remove color from hair and clothes.

Key Takeaways

  • Depending on the type, rubbing alcohol can help contain or eliminate lice infestations.
  • Benzyl alcohol kills lice, while isopropyl and ethanol alcohols control infestations.
  • Do not apply alcohol directly to your scalp.
  • It may cause side effects such as allergic reactions, chemical burns, and scalp dehydration and is flammable.

References:

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Annie Jangam is a researcher-turned-content writer. She enjoys dissecting complex clinical studies and shuffling through the scientific jargon to make... more

Madison Dufour

(Barber & Cosmetologist)
Madison Dufour is a licensed and practicing barber and cosmetologist as well as an entrepreneur running several hair businesses, including... more

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