Listerine For Head Lice: Does It Work?

Learn why Listerine is a popular remedy for lice and the most effective way to use it.

Reviewed by Tiffany Young, Certified Trichology Practitioner
By Annie Jangam

Dealing with head lice is an annoying hassle. Those pesky little creatures make your scalp itchy and are difficult to get rid of. While there are treatments available to eliminate these lice and nits (eggs), some people swear by using Listerine for head lice. But does Listerine really work?

Did You Know?
An estimated 6 million to 12 million head lice infestations occur annually in the US among children between 3 and 11 (1).

Once they’ve settled on your scalp, eradicating head lice is tough. You can literally feel these ugly creatures crawling on your scalp.

Here, we explore the possibility of using Listerine to eliminate head lice. We also look for any scientific evidence available. Keep reading to know more.

Ingredients In Listerine

Listerine contains the following active compounds:

  • Alcohol (30%)
  • Eucalyptol
  • Menthol
  • Methyl Salicylate
  • Thymol

The inactive ingredients include:

  • Water
  • Alcohol (26.9%)
  • Benzoic acid
  • Poloxamer 407
  • Sodium benzoate
  • Caramel

Can Listerine Mouthwash Kill Lice?

Woman scratching her head due to head lice

Shutterstock

Listerine contains alcohol and is hence believed to work against head lice. Research suggests that alcohol may suffocate and kill lice (2). Some claim the very alcohol in Listerine may shun lice. Furthermore, the herbal oils in Listerine, like that of eucalyptol, thymol, and menthol, and methyl salicylate, may discourage lice. Studies show that thymol (used in shampoos) could potentially reduce hair lice infestation (3).

However, there is no evidence stating that Listerine could serve as a permanent solution for head lice.

Does Listerine Work On Lice Eggs?

Lice eggs in the hair

Shutterstock

Listerine may play a role in dislodging lice eggs (also called nits) from hair shafts and killing them. Lice eggs contain a protective, waxy coating that saves them from water damage and allows them to evolve into nymphs. The alcohol in Listerine seems to dislodge this waxy material and removes the adhesion with the hair shaft. As a result, the eggs may either fall off or become easier to be uprooted.

Some believe the alcohol in Listerine may suffocate the nits by cutting off their oxygen supply. Research is limited in this regard. The impact of Listerine on lice seems to be negligible. This is so because nits can lie dormant until the mouthwash dries out and may hatch again later under favorable conditions.

Listerine may not be as effective in killing head lice as previously thought. But is it safe? Or does its use cause any harm?

Is Listerine Harmful?

There is limited research here too. Some believe that the alcohol in the mouthwash may enter your bloodstream by penetrating the scalp. Listerine use on kids below the age of 12 is not recommended.

The alcohol in Listerine may also sap moisture. It may dry your hair out and make it brittle. It could irritate your scalp too. This burning sensation, along with the lice infestation, could cause serious discomfort. In kids, alcohol may damage the hair follicles.

Stylecraze Says
Listerine was originally used as a surgical disinfectant. It was also sold as a solution for dandruff treatment, hair tonic, and deodorant.

Despite the limited research on its efficacy, why is Listerine still popular?

Why Is Listerine So Popular As A Treatment For Head Lice?

The presence of alcohol in Listerine could have made it quite popular for lice treatment. The alcohol could make a small, if not majorly impactful, contribution in helping eliminate head lice. It may help remove nits from the hair shaft.

While the efficacy of Listerine in eliminating head lice is unclear, you may still use it. Anecdotal evidence states that it may have some benefit. In the following section, we discuss how to use Listerine.

How Can You Use Listerine To Kill Lice?

Woman using Listerine and a shower cap to kill head lice

Shutterstock

  1. Soak your hair in Listerine (preferably Listerine Original) and cover your hair with a shower cap.
  2. Let it rest for about two hours.
  3. Rinse your hair with cool water and soak the strands in a diluted vinegar solution.
  4. Allow the vinegar to sit in your hair for two hours. Wear a fresh and clean shower cap to cover your hair.
  5. Use a fine-toothed comb to comb out the lice and nits.
  6. Wash your hair with a tea tree essential oil-infused shampoo. Follow with a coconut conditioner.
  7. Repeat the procedure once every 5 days (as residual nits usually hatch in 5-day periods).

You may also go for other natural alternatives that could be far more effective in killing head lice. We have discussed the same below.

What Are The Other Natural Alternatives To Kill Lice?

  • Anise Oil
Anise oil for lice treatment

Shutterstock

Anise oil is one of the most effective natural home remedies for lice removal (4). It suffocates lice and reduces the risk of reinfestation.

  • Coconut Oil

Pure coconut oil was found to be effective in killing head lice (5).

  • Petroleum Jelly

In studies, petroleum jelly was found to cause significant louse mortality (6). While its application and removal can be messy, it can be a great alternative for those allergic to medicated shampoos and essential oils.

  • Mayonnaise
Mayonnaise for lice treatment

Shutterstock

Some research suggests that mayonnaise can kill lice, but only if applied liberally for at least 12 hours. It helps lubricate the hair and makes it easy for one to comb out the lice. It also may help remove lice eggs from the scalp (7).

  • Lavender oil
  • Neem oil
  • Tea tree oil
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Clove oil
  • Cinnamon leaf oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Red thyme oil
  • Nutmeg oil

Combine 15 to 20 drops of any of the oils above with olive oil and apply the mixture directly to your scalp. Leave it on for 12 hours and comb out the lice. Follow by shampooing and conditioning your hair. Repeat the procedure once every 5 to 7 days.

Final Words

Applying Listerine for head lice is not a proven method for treating them. It may act as a dehydrating agent and, thereby, reduce lice infestation. However, this will negatively affect the scalp as well. Despite some people’s positive experiences with it, it may cause unwanted reactions on the skin. We recommend you explore the safer and more effective options discussed in this article instead of using Listerine. Use medicated shampoos to kill lice and nits. If the condition persists, consult your healthcare provider on ways to effectively deal with this problem.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take Listerine to kill lice?

It takes about 6 to 24 hours for the alcohol in Listerine to suffocate the lice and eggs.

What kills head lice fast?

There are specially formulated lice treatments, like creams, ointments, and solutions, that can eliminate head lice.

Does hydrogen peroxide kill lice?

Hydrogen peroxide might be able to eliminate lice. Hair dyes containing hydrogen peroxide mixed with bleaching agents are said to kill lice and their eggs.

Can I use Listerine on my itchy scalp?

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Listerine may treat an itchy scalp. It contains eucalyptol, menthol, and thymol, which soothe and refresh the scalp.

Does hairspray kill head lice?

Some anecdotal evidence suggests that hairspray can suffocate lice. However, more research is needed to prove this claim.

Key Takeaways

  • Listerine is believed to combat head lice due to its alcohol, eucalyptol, and thymol content.
  • It may dislodge nits from the hair shafts and kill them, but it can also dry out your scalp.
  • In light of the limited research on Listerine’s effectiveness in treating lice, other natural remedies like anise oil and mayonnaise are recommended.

Sources

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

    1. Head Lice
      https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/epi.html
    2. Do drowning and anoxia kill head lice?
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5844234/
    3. Development of a paw paw herbal shampoo for the removal of head lice
      https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12587697/
    4. Home remedies for Pediculus humanus capitis home remedies for Pediculus humanus capitis infection among schoolchildren
      https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Mehmet_Eren_Yueksel/publication/324163582_The_spectacular_presentation_of_orf_disease/links/5ac2643da6fdcccda65f79f5/The-spectacular-presentation-of-orf-disease.pdf#page=29
    5. Efficacy of chemical and botanical over the counter pediculicides available in Brazil, and off€label treatments, against head lice ex vivo
      https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-4632.2009.04335.x
    6. Home remedies to control head lice: assessment of home remedies to control the human head louse, Pediculus humanus capitis (Anoplura: Pediculidae)
      https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15637580/
    7. Prevention and treatment of head lice in children
      https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10937452/
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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

Tiffany Young

(Certified Trichology Practitioner)
Tiffany Young is the CEO and founder of ThinHairThick. She is also a recognized expert in the hair and beauty... more

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