Listerine For Head Lice: Does It Work?

Written by Annie Jangam

Head lice can feel repulsive and embarrassing. Though they do not spread any serious disease, they are incredibly stubborn and tough to eliminate. While eliminating the adult and nymph louse and getting rid of their eggs as always sounds ideal, some individuals swear by the Listerine treatment for head lice. This treatment reportedly helps remove lice quite effectively.

But with very little scientific evidence to prove Listerine’s efficacy, one may naturally feel rather curious to understand how it works. Here, we further discuss Listerine and if it can actually help reduce head lice. Keep reading.

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?

Listerine contains alcohol and is hence believed to work against head lice. Research suggests that alcohol may suffocate and kill lice (1). 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 (2).

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

Does Listerine Work On Lice Eggs?

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.

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?

  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 is one of the most effective natural home remedies for lice removal (3). It suffocates lice and reduces the risk of reinfestation.

  • Coconut Oil

Pure coconut oil was found to be effective in killing head lice (4).

  • Petroleum Jelly

In studies, petroleum jelly was found to cause significant louse mortality (5). While its application and removal can be messy, it can be a great alternative for those allergic to medicated shampoos and essential oils.

  • Mayonnaise

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 (6).

Final Words

While Listerine could be popular as a head lice treatment, its efficacy is not proven. Its alcohol may kill the lice but also may dry the scalp out. You may still try out Listerine after ensuring it is not causing any adverse effects. More importantly, we recommend you check the alternative treatments mentioned in this post. They are relatively safer and more effective. Also, seek immediate help by resorting to medicated shampoos and other OTC treatments.

Frequently Asked Questions

Apart from anise oil, what other essential oils can help kill lice?

If you are allergic to anise oil or cannot find it in your cabinet, you can use any of the following essential oils:

  • Lavender oil
  • Neem 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.

Recommended Articles


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. Do drowning and anoxia kill head lice?
    2. Development of a paw paw herbal shampoo for the removal of head lice
    3. Home remedies for Pediculus humanus capitis home remedies for Pediculus humanus capitis infection among schoolchildren
    4. Efficacy of chemical and botanical over‐the‐counter pediculicides available in Brazil, and off‐label treatments, against head lice ex vivo
    5. Home remedies to control head lice: assessment of home remedies to control the human head louse, Pediculus humanus capitis (Anoplura: Pediculidae)
    6. Prevention and treatment of head lice in children
Was this article helpful?
The following two tabs change content below.
Annie Jangam is a Molecular Biologist with 7 years of research experience in Rice Functional Genomics and Nutrient Signalling with International Publications in Abiotic stress, Nitrogen, and G-protein signaling. She specializes in writing on Health and Wellness. She has been an avid reader since childhood and is passionate about stories that help decipher life and its meaning. She believes in Human Rights for all and that one should "love others like we love ourselves."