Title: Health Risks and Environmental Issues; Head Lice are Not Nice, But Using Lindane is Insane.
Authors: Williams, Rose Marie*
Source: Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients; April 2000 Issue 201, p50, 2p
Database: Alt HealthWatch
* * *
Health Risks and Environmental Issues; Head Lice are Not Nice, But Using Lindane is Insane

Pediculus humanus capilis, commonly known as head lice are most often found on children between the ages of three and ten, and except for the common cold, affect more school age children than all other communicable childhood diseases combined. As many as six million children are treated for head lice each year in the US alone.[1] That constitutes a very large market for lice products.

Female lice lay eggs, called nits, by gluing them tightly to the hair shaft close to the scalp. A single female produces between 80 and 100 eggs (nits) in a lifetime. Over 90% of the nits hatch within 7 to 11 days maturing in 8 to 9 days. New adults live for about 22 more days, laying the next generation of nits to carry on the cycle.

Infestation travels fast in a populated setting such as daycare, nursery school, or a classroom. Older siblings, parents, and teachers can easily become unwitting hosts. Lice attach to the scalp and, like mosquitoes, dine on human blood. The bites are painless, but the saliva and feces usually cause an itching allergic reaction which is often the first sign that unwanted guests have taken up residence.

Head lice are not considered to be vectors of human disease nor are they life-threatening. However, excessive scratching can lead to broken and inflamed skin, which sometimes enables pathogens to enter and cause infections like impetigo.[2]

Head lice outbreaks can generate enormous fear among parents and occasional near hysteria and draconian control methods among school personnel. In some instances schools have resorted to toxic pesticide application from roof to basement in their attempt to control lice infestation.

Lindane is a Cousin to DDT

“Lindane, a complex organochlorine, is the gamma isomer of hexachlorocychlohexane or benzene hexachloride (BHC), whose chief toxic effect is through the nervous system.” (All uses for BHC were canceled in 1978 based on carcinogenicity.)[3]

BHC is 100% pure lindane of which there are eight different isomers. Lindane, a cousin to DDT, was severely restricted as were all organochlorine products because of their persistence in the environment and their ability to bioaccumulate in wildlife and in humans. Lindane blocks specific sodium channels causing overstimulation of the body.[4]

Lindane has several metabolites. As it is broken down, the gamma isomer, which is the insecticidal isomer of the hexachlorocychlohexane (HCH), is more readily stored in body fat than the other isomers.[5]

It seems that US EPA’s attempts to protect the consumer and the environment from the hazards of lindane exposure have not been successful. For nearly two decades lindane has been through a regulatory odyssey which began in 1977 with the initiation of lindane’s Special Review (formerly Registrant’s Request for Review). In 1985 lindane was again under scrutiny due to additional evidence of kidney effects. After all this time EPA still claims it needs more information, partly due to the submission of inadequate data by the manufacturer? Sounds like a case of passive resistance, and the irony is they get away with it.

Health Risks Associated With Lindane

Questions have been raised about lindane’s carcinogenicity, fetotoxicity, teratogenicity, and reproductive effects, its potential to cause blood dyscrasia, and its acute toxicity to aquatic wildlife.[7] In addition to evidence of kidney damage, lindane is considered an endocrine disrupter and has been linked to breast cancer.

In spite of all this it is quite shocking to think that lindane products are routinely applied to children’s heads for the treatment of lice. Lindane is the active ingredient in Kwell and Lindane shampoos formerly available over the counter, now sold only by prescription.

According to Dr. Marion Moses, author of Designer Poisons, lindane should be banned. It should not be allowed for any use whatsoever. We cannot recommend its use under any circumstances[8]


Pyrethrum are pesticides derived from the chrysanthemum plant family, while pyrethroids are synthetic versions similar to natural pyrethrins, and are used in insecticidal shampoos. Both are extremely toxic to fish and some are suspected carcinogens.

As is often the case with toxic pesticides, the pests begin to develop resistance to the chemicals much faster than humans. Recent reports indicate that lice are now becoming resistant to these treatments and are becoming much more difficult to control.

Health Risks Associated With Pyrethrum

Other effects of pyrethrins include asthma, anaphylactic, pneumonia, tremors, ataxia, labored breathing and salivation, incoordination, vomiting, diarrhea, irritability to sound and touch, convulsions, stinging, burning, itching numbness, decrease in blood pressure, and death.[9]

Marion Moses, MD, even tells of brain and nervous system damage resulting in death in infants and children after application to the skin. There have been reports of aplastic anemia and an association with brain cancer in children.

To make matters even worse pyrethrin products are mixed with a synergist, piperonyl butoxide, which according to recent reports causes cancer and birth defects in rats. Again Dr. Moses warns, “We cannot recommend it for use on children.”[10]

Who Is Looking Out for Us?

To further complicate the situation, pediculocides or lice-killing products are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which leads many physicians, pharmacists, and parents to believe that these products are safe harmless medications. This often leads to overuse and misuse of these potent pesticides, further endangering children’s safety.[11]

Pregnant and lactating women should avoid all exposure (skin or inhalation) to these products. Lindane crosses the placenta to the developing fetus, and contaminates breast milk. Overuse and misuse of lindane products have resulted in childhood deaths. Health effects on the unborn are not likely to be recorded.

How can we possibly justify applying such poisons directly to children’s heads, rubbing it in, letting it sit for a period of time, and then repeating the process according to directions?

What percentage of ADD, ADHD, learning disabilities, behavior problems, cancers and other disorders might be associated with children’s exposure to these neurotoxins and suspected carcinogens? Will we ever know? Probably not.

Safer Alternatives

As with all health maintenance programs, prevention is always the best policy. Because lice have made a major comeback in schools, it is imperative to remain pro-active and stay on the lookout. Dr Andrew Weil suggests using a magnifying glass every so often to check for little grayish white eggs (nits) attached to the hair shaft[12]

Because soap is insecticidal Dr Marion Moses suggests using a soap shampoo or any shampoo except lice shampoo. Her recommendation is to thoroughly shampoo making sure to cover all areas of the scalp and hair Rinse completely, and shampoo again – do not rinse this time. Wrap towel around head for a few minutes then begin combing with a special fine-tooth comb designed to remove dead lice and nits.

Lice have not yet developed a resistance to this old-fashioned and time-consuming technique. Specially designed combs can be purchased from a pharmacy or by mail order (See resources below.)

Coconut oil or olive oil-based shampoos (without conditioners) or soaps with coconut or olive oil base, or simply pure coconut or olive oil are effective treatments. Both oils are safe and have natural insecticidal properties. Instead of poisoning the pest, the oils kill the active lice by smothering them. An added bonus to the oil treatments is easier nit removal and remoisturizing the scalp.[14] The complete protocol is available from the National Pediculosis Association (See resources below).

A reader of Alternatives suggests this simple inexpensive remedy. At bedtime wet hair and head with vinegar (always take precautions to protect eyes) and wrap head in a vinegar-soaked towel. Cover with another towel and leave on overnight. Eggs should detach during a morning shampoo.[15] If you don’t relish smelling like a pickle there are more fragrant options.

Now for the more exotic treatments – Tea tree oil (from Australia) is safe and effective. It should be put directly on scalp and left on for about ten minutes. About 20 drops can be added to a half bottle of shampoo and used in the child’s regular hair washings for a week or two as a follow-up measure.[16]

Wonderful aromatic gifts of nature, Essential Oils are safe, effective lice treatments when used as recommended.

Dr. Andrew Weil suggests this herbal remedy: 2 oz. of vegetable oil, 20 drops of tea tree oil, and 10 drops each of the following essential oils: rosemary, lavender and lemon. To test for sensitivity, Dr Weil recommends first doing a skin test on the inside of the elbow, waiting for several hours to observe if there is any irritation. To treat for lice apply mixture to infected head, wrap in towel for one hour, then shampoo. Repeat at least one more time later in week to get rid of next batch of hatched lice.[17]

Another remedy applied after thorough shampooing and rinsing, is a rinse made of six drops each of the essential oils -rosemary and red thyme mixed in a pint of warm water and applied very slowly.[18]

Another fragrant treatment consists of applying three drops of aniseed oil for children, (7 drops for adults) regularly rubbing this all over the head. Lice will soon disappear.[19] For those who are not up to preparing their own concoctions there are several excellent non-toxic products available in health food stores and by mail order

No Nits Solution and No Nits Shampoo are available from Changes and Co.

Hair Clean 1-2-3, developed in Israel is available at many health food stores. “One dermatologist in Key West told her colleagues the lice were running off their heads like clowns out of a Volkswagen.”[20]

For more complete information on this topic, and to report any findings of head lice to assist in tracking annual outbreaks please contact NPA (see resources).


National Pediculosis Association (NPA), (LiceMeister Comb) P.O. Box 610189, Newton, Massachusetts 02161 USA; 800-446-4NPA or NPA@headlice.org www.headlice.org

American Head Lice Information Center has entertaining award winning video, 888-DIELICE, www.headliceinfo.com, or contact@headliceinfo.com

New York Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NYCAP), 353 Hamilton St., Albany, New York 12210 USA; 518-426-8246; nycap@crisny.org

Bio Integral Resource Center, P.O. Box 7414, Berkeley, California 94707 USA; 510-524-2567

Changes & Co. (No Nits Solution and Shampoo) 800-707-9597 or nonits@aol.com

Health Enterprises, (AcuMed or Medi-Comb Lice Combs with magnifiers) 90 George Leven Drive, North Attleboro, Massachusetts 02760 USA; 800-633-4243

Hogil Pharmaceuticals (Innomed Lice Comb), 2 Manhattanvilled Rd., Purchase, New York 07005 USA; 914-696-7600

National Pesticides Telecommunications Network at OR. U. 800-858-7378

Pesticides Education Center, Dr. Marion Moses, Dir., P.O. Box 420870, San Francisco, California 94142-0870 USA; 415-391-8511 fax 415-391-9159; pec@igc.apc.org

Quantum, Inc., (Hair Care 1-2-3) 800-448-1448 or www.quantumhealth.com


[1]Safe Control of Head Lice, New York Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NYCAP), Albany, NY, 1997.


[3]Pesticides and You, National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, (NCAMP), Vol. 16, No. 1&2, Wash., DC

[4]National Pesticide Telecommunications Network at OR. U., phone conversation 12/8/99.


[6]Pesticides and You, National Coalition Against Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP), Vol. 16, No. 1&2, Wash., DC.


[8]Designer Poisons, How to Protect Yourself and Home from Toxic Pesticides, Marion Moses, MD, Pesticide Education Center, San Francisco, 1995.

[9]Pesticides and You, National Coalition Against Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP), Vol. 16, No. 1&2, Wash., DC.

[10]Designer Poisons, How to Protect Your Health and Home from Toxic Pesticides, Marion Moses, MD, Pesticide Education Center, San Francisco, 1995.

[11]Safe Control of Head Lice, New York Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, (NYCAP), Albany, NY, 1997.

[12]Ask Dr. Weil, Andrew Weft MD, The Ballantine Pub. Grp., New York, 1998.

[13]Designer Poisons, How to Protect Your Health and Home from Toxic Pesticides, Marion Moses, MD, Pesticide Education Center, San Francisco, 1995.

[14]Safe Control of Head Lice, New York Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, (NYCAP), Albany, NY 1997.

[15]Alternatives, David G. Williams, MD, Vol. 2, No. 10, April, 1998.

[16]Nature’s Pharmacy, L. Walker, MD, & E. Brown, JD, Reward Books, Paramus, NJ, 1998

[17]Ask Dr. Weil, Andrew Weil, MD, The Ballantine Pub. Grp., New York, 1998.

[18]The Medical Adviser, Time Life Books, Alexandria, VA.

[19]A Healer’s Herbal, Brother Aloysius, Samuel Wiser, Inc., York Beach, ME, 1998.

[20]The People’s Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies, J&T Graeden, St. Martin’s Press, NY, 1999.


By Rose Marie Williams

156 Sparkling Ridge Road New Paltz, New York 12561 USA 914-255-0836 Fax 914-255-5101

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Source: Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients, Apr2000 Issue 201, p50, 2p
Item: 6217520

*The author(s) cited above are not in any way affiliated with Rainforest Essentials. Their citation is offered solely for informational purposes and not to be construed as an endorsement of Lice Off!™ in particular or any of our products in general.