The Truth About Hair Dye and Lice: If You Dye Your Hair, Do Lice Die Too?

Lice suck. They itch, they multiply absurdly fast, they make everybody avoid you like the plague, and they are just a general nuisance. Everyone has had them at some point, and if you have a child in school then chances are you may come in contact with the little jerks again someday.

There are lots of ways to get rid of them. Some people swear by one method while others promise you they know the real secret for genociding those lice fast. We’re going to talk about one particular method – more like a rumor – for removing your parasitic problem. That method is using hair dye.

But wait, what? You might be asking yourself "there’s no way that can be true. Does hair dye really kill lice?"

The short answer is “kind of”. Allow me to explain.

How Lice Survive and What They Do

To start, we’re going to go through some terminology.​

  • Lice: This is both a catch-all term for everything related to lice and specifically a reference to adult lice.
  • Louse: a singular version of lice. I.E. I have found a louse, versus I have found lice.
  • Nymph: Basically a baby louse.
  • Nit: The remains of a hatched egg, or a dead egg, or an unfertilized egg. Basically, an egg that has either already hatched or will never hatch.

There are actually many different kinds of lice (pubic lice, body lice, head lice), but we are going to be talking about head lice.

Head lice cannot survive off of your head for more than two days. They cannot survive in your clothing. They aren’t interested in your arm hair, butt hair, or your genital hair. They survive by nibbling on your scalp and sucking up tiny amounts of your blood, which they later poop out. That’s right, if you have lice, they are pooping on your head right now.

They basically cling to your hair, and they cling so tightly that even vigorously washing your hair or swimming can’t get rid of them. Lots of people try to kill lice with the “suffocation” method, but this is ineffective, as lice can hold their breath for up to 8 hours.

So, when you get lice eggs on your head, they hatch, leaving behind nits, they moult several times and become adults, have HBO-quantities of lice sex, and lay a crapton of eggs in your scalp, which then hatch and repeat the lovely process.

Now that you have the idea of a lice orgy firmly implanted in your brain, you must be keenly interested in learning how these little rascals die.

How to Get Rid of Them

Extreme heat or cold kills lice, which is good to know for once you’ve gotten them off your head – throw all your bedding and clothes into the washer and dry them on high heat, and vacuum the carpets methodically. To remove them from your head is another matter.

The original question was if hair dye killed lice. Here is the long answer.

There are certain chemicals found in hair dyes that do in fact kill head lice. These chemicals are like poison to the little monsters, and can quickly massacre their populations and clear your head of them. These chemicals differ from dye to dye, but the majority of dyes and hair bleaching products will kill lice and nymphs.​

So why didn’t I just say that at the beginning?​

If you were paying attention just now, you’ll notice I specifically said “lice and nymphs”. Not eggs. The chemicals in the hair dye and bleach products commonly used are not strong enough to penetrate the egg shells, meaning that even if you kill the entire lice armada, there’s just going to be another full-fledged infestation within days.

It only takes 7-10 days for those eggs to hatch and for the nymphs to go through the full maturation cycle. After that, it’s back to your regularly scheduled lice orgies and poop parties.

So if you want to get rid of lice, unfortunately, hair dye alone will not be enough to permanently solve the problem.​

So How Do You Get Rid of Them?

Like we said earlier, there are a lot of potential methods people talk about. Soaking a lice brush in Listerine and brushing your hair, soaking your hair in vinegar and water (but then you’d smell like vinegar which is arguably worse than the lice), soaking your hair in butter, olive oil or mayo (ew, just don’t), and even soaking your hair in gasoline has been suggested (don’t ever do this, by the way, that’s dangerous).

All of these methods, including dyeing your hair, are all just myths. If you really want those lice gone, the best way to do it is to use the doctor approved methods.

Lice shampoos are over-the-counter products developed with pesticides specifically designed for the sole purpose of killing lice. This is literally the only reason for these products to even exist. Use a lice shampoo and a lice hairbrush together, in combination with regularly washing your bedding and clothing in hot water and drying on high heat and cleaning your carpets/fabrics, and you will find that your lice problem is solved.​

What If I Can’t Find or Use Lice Shampoo?​

Some people can’t actually use lice shampoo, because some people may find the chemicals cause irritation to the scalp or other side effects. In this case, you have four options.​

  • One – the “Try everything” method
  • Two – the “nuclear” method
  • Three – the doctor’s method
  • Four – The “hard” method

Like Disney’s Zootopia advises us, you could try everything. Try all those hair-brained schemes, like hair dye, hair bleach, excessively straightening, blow-drying and/or curling your hair, everything, until something works. Hair dye is an ineffective method but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for it to work.

So if you’ve got lice, don’t break out the hair dye, unless you were going to use it anyways.

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