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Head-lice Or Flakey Scalp? Know The Difference!

Updated: Jan 30


Headlice; that word ensues fear into parents all over the world; making them itch and feel just yucky. But how can you be sure your child or even you have headlice? Can you tell the difference between headlice and a flakey scalp? Here is a quick lowdown on the differences and how best to treat both;

Firstly, headlice is probably one of the most common head complaints in children but can also have an effect on adults too. In actual fact, it affects between 6-12 million people a year. They spread by head-to-head contact and the sharing of combs, brushes and hair ties. It doesn't mean you're dirty or unclean. Lice actually love clean hair so pat on the back to you for having nice clean locks!

Most of the time, headlice like to congregate around the hairline and crown. It's really hard to tell the difference between an itchy scalp and headlice; however, upon closer inspection, there is a definitive difference. For instance, a flakey scalp will have white specks on the scalp all over. Sometimes it may have a slight yellow tinge to them. The biggest difference between a flakey scalp and lice is that when you comb hair, the flakey scalp will come out on the comb. With headlice, they cling on to the hair shaft unless they're dead. If this is the case, this can be treated with medicated shampoos from your pharmacy or supermarket. Unfortunately, there are no known prevention methods for a flakey scalp; but there are ways to alleviate discomfort and still keep your hair looking fabulous. Speak to your hairdresser if this is something that is giving you cause for concern.



Nits are the eggs where headlice come from and can be mistaken for a flakey scalp.

Headlice, on the other hand, is a little harder to get rid of, but there are also prevention methods out there to help. What do headlice look like? Well ironically, they look like meniscal specks of the flakey scalp, but that's how you can tell the difference. These are eggs known as 'nits' and are unhatched. They are a lot smaller and usually can be spotted around the nape of the neck, crown and front hairline including the ears.



Adult lice are easier to spot. Different in color and size.

Adult lice are grey or brown in color and can live up to 30 days in someone's head. They're around the size of a sesame seed and are a lot darker in color. Easier to spot, however, they are always on the move. They live off of human blood and if one falls off, they can die within 2 days if not attached to another host.



Headlice comb for wet combing and aftercare prevention methods.

How do you treat headlice? There is a method called 'wet combing' which can be effective and avoid you needing a chemical treatment to get rid of them. Simply go to your local pharmacy or hair supply store, buy a headlice comb and in small sections on wet, clean hair, with conditioner still in, comb through. Now as gross as this sounds, the reason you do this is that basically, it chops their legs off. Yep; by paralyzing the headlice, they, therefore, cannot move and in turn won't be able to suck on your head. They eventually die and after a few days, you'll start to comb out dead headlice. You should do wet combing on days 1, 5, 9 and 13 to enable you to catch any new hatchlings.

If after 17 days, you still find live lice, consult a pharmacist and buy a treatment to kill them. Each has its own attributes; so it's down to each individual which brand they choose. However, be sure to treat EVERYONE in the household and notify schools and friends as a precautionary method. Be sure to boil wash all towels and bed sheets (although some experts say it's not necessary, I always do this if a client has it because it still makes me feel a bit cringy) and put combs brushes, etc in hot water for 10 minutes.

Unfortunately, there are no actual prevention methods out there but there are ways that can help prevent them from reoccurring too often. These are some of the things I have used over the years as a hairdresser and that my own mum used to use on me:


1) On a weekly basis, comb hair with a nit comb in the same way as wet combing. However, use tea tree conditioner. They hate the stuff. Now I don't know exactly how true this is and whether this was something my mum used to tell me to stop me freaking out but, tea tree kind of knocks them unconscious and then the comb is able to do the work. Again I don't know how true this is but if it's not, we gotta love my mother for trying!

2) Put hair up. It's as simple as that. Make sure hair is tied up and off of the face. It again isn't always known as a prevention method but in my experience has helped.

3) Educate. There are so many stigmas attached to headlice. By owning up and saying either you or your child has it, an epidemic can be avoided. Let people know that it isn't connected in any shape or form to being dirty or unclean and share the knowledge you have learned. A lot of people are ignorant of headlice because they haven't been given the right information or education. Help others understand.

Good luck and happy combing!

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