Head Lice Life Cycle: Everything You Should Know About It

Written by Annie Jangam

Most of us would have experienced a lice infestation. Those tiny blood-sucking creatures spread and breed rapidly on the human scalp. Although lice infestation is not life-threatening, it causes pain, embarrassment, and frustration. Understanding the life cycle of lice can help one determine the treatment methods. In this article, we will discuss the life cycle of lice, the symptoms of lice infestation, and the treatment options currently available. Keep reading.

What Are Head Lice?

The head lice are scientifically known as Pediculus humanus capitis. These wingless parasitic insects feed on human blood several times a day (1). These tiny creatures and their eggs (known as nits) are usually found on the head, eyebrows, and eyelashes (1). Although they spread rapidly, they do not transmit any disease.

Wondering how these parasites look? Find out below.

What Do Head Lice Look Like?

An adult head louse has six legs and a grayish-white or tan color (1).

What Do Head Lice Look Like


Nits are lice eggs that are usually white or yellow. They are often confused with dandruff, hair spray residue, or scalp buildup.

What Do Head Lice Look Like


Keep reading to find out the telltale signs and symptoms of lice infestation.

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Head Lice?

Lice infestation is characterized by intense itching and a feeling of something crawling in the hair or on the scalp (1). One may also experience the urge to scratch, irritation, and sleeplessness at night (1). Lice bites can trigger allergic reactions, prompting you to scratch your head often and resulting in sores or scabs.

You could have a lice infestation if you experience any of these symptoms. Lice may also spread from person to person. Let us see how.

How Are Lice Transmitted?

Head lice are highly contagious and spread through physical proximity (2). Even sharing personal items like combs, hairbrushes, hair ties, hats, and headgear may cause the transmission. Close personal contact is the most likely way lice spread. Although lice cannot live long on inanimate surfaces, they can hitch a ride on towels or clothes. Sharing bedding and pillowcases with an infected person can also lead to lice infection.

We have learned that lice spread rapidly through personal contact. Keep reading to know more about their life cycle.

Understanding The Life Cycle Of Head Lice: The Three Stages

Head lice exist in three major forms:

  1. Nit: These are tiny, yellowish-white, oval-shaped lice eggs usually found near the scalp or the base of the hair shaft (1). They are often difficult to be viewed with the naked eye. These eggs take 8 to 9 days to hatch and move on to the next stage of the life cycle (1). They leave a hard shell or casing behind on the hair strands that are difficult to be removed.
  1. Nymph: This is a transitional stage of the head lice where they feed voraciously on the human blood for growth and development (1). The nymph takes about 9 to 12 days to develop into an adult head louse (1).
  1. Adult: This is the final stage in the life cycle where the adult lice are fully developed and thrive on blood (1). They usually lay 6 eggs every day (1).
What Do Head Lice Look Like


These are the 3 major stages in the life cycle of the head lice. Wondering how long they live? Scroll down to find out.

Life Span Of Head Lice

The average life span of head lice is 30 days (1). They die 2 to 3 days after their life cycle is complete. However, they lay 6 eggs per day and quickly multiply. This makes eliminating them a challenge. In the following section, we discuss how lice survive.

How Do Lice Survive?

Head lice are parasitic in nature. They need to feed off a host for survival. They suck blood from the human scalp several times a day. Their bites can trigger allergic responses that may result in sores or scabs. The lice can grab onto the hair strands quite tenaciously. While this may make removing them a challenge, it is quite possible.

Treating Head Lice

Prescription or OTC medications such as pyrethrin and permethrin are popular for killing head lice. However, these kill adult lice but not their nits or eggs. Since head lice multiply rapidly, you need to use these treatments several times for the best results.

You may also use benzyl alcohol to treat head lice (3). Consult a doctor immediately in case of an allergic response.

Natural remedies like olive oil and tea tree oil help kill lice. Anecdotal evidence suggests these remedies are effective and safe. Wide-tooth combs or lice combs help remove nits and their casings.

These treatments may help remove your head lice. But what is more important is you prevent their recurrence.

Can You Prevent Head Lice?

You can limit or break the spread of lice by avoiding head-to-head contact with others. Limiting the use of personal items such as combs, hats, and beddings can also reduce the risk. Regularly clean your hairbrushes, and wash your clothes and upholstery.


Lice are parasitic creatures that live on your head and suck your blood for survival. They are highly contagious and spread easily from person to person through physical contact. However, medications and other home remedies are enough to eliminate them. Taking the right precautions can prevent their recurrence too. Follow the methods highlighted in this post and live a life free of lice!

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