Lice Treatments through the Ages

Head lice have been around for thousands of years. Treatments have varied widely over the centuries. The first recorded treatment of head lice was found in an Egyptian medical guide known as the Ebers Papyrus, dated around 1550 BC. It recommended filling one’s mouth with warm date meal and water and then spitting it on the skin “in order to drive away the Fleas and Lice which disport themselves.” In China, documents from 1200 BC indicate they used mercury and arsenic compounds to drive away head lice. By 450 BC, Egyptians recommended shaving the entire body to eradicate lice, which, while effective, proved impractical in the succeeding centuries.

Lice combs have been found in the tombs of Egyptian royalty, and even Cleopatra had solid gold lice combs buried with her in 30 BC. It appears in those times it was not considered a social blemish to deal with head lice. Surprisingly, the technology for treating head lice didn’t change much for thousands of years.

In 100 AD, the Chinese discovered that Pyrethrum powder, extracted from a species of chrysanthemum, was an effective insecticide. Marco Polo brought Pyrethrum powder to Europe in 1300 AD, proclaiming it to be a ‘near-magical’ compound.

In the early 1900s, immigrants embarking on ships to the United States were stripped naked, examined for lice and nits, showered with kerosene, and vaccinated against smallpox. At the end of this process, scoured clothing was returned to its owners and they received a certificate deeming them “Vaccinated and Unloused and passed as vermin-free.”

It wasn’t until 1977 that Permethrin, a synthetic version of Pyrethrin, was introduced as a head-lice treatment product. Even though the topical product has met some success, the process of lice removal is still lengthy and painstaking. After applying the product, the combing process to remove the eggs has to be repeated up to weeks at a time. If a few eggs are missed, they hatch and the whole process has to start over. The stress and uncertainty surrounding whether a treatment has been effective only adds to the frustration of dealing with an infestation. To complicate matters, studies in Britain, Australia and the United States have found that head-lice strains are developing resistance to these natural and synthetic pesticides (collectively called pyrethroids). In the United States, 80 percent of over-the-counter lice products contain Permethrin or Pyrethrin.

It’s estimated there are 6-12 million cases of head lice in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reporting of incidents tends to be erratic, with many parents hiding the condition from even their doctors, and others reporting anonymously through schools and day-care centers. With lice developing resistance to insecticide-based treatments, research into topical cures has been slowed by a cloud of futility—head lice are evolutionary survivors and any new chemical cure could be relatively short-lived.

Thankfully, a highly effective treatment has been found. In 2006, Dr. Dale Clayton, an evolutionary parasitologist at the University of Utah, discovered that head lice had a harder time surviving in dry climates. He developed the AirAllé device, the first FDA-cleared medical device clinically proven to kill not only head lice but 99.2 percent of lice eggs. The device uses carefully controlled heated air to dehydrate head lice and eggs in a single, one-hour treatment and is chemical-free. Lice Clinics of America is the exclusive provider of the AirAllé head-lice treatment and is rapidly adding new clinics throughout the world in response to growing demand.

Head lice are tenacious parasites, but they are not dangerous to human health and they are not related in any way to human hygiene. In fact, they are far more prolific on clean hair and scalps, because they have little resistance when follicles and skin are easily accessible. The fact that head lice are medically harmless doesn’t mean they are benign, as they can cause a great deal of discomfort, especially in advanced infestations, and they can easily spread throughout a family or school.

Lice Clinics of America has successfully treated more than 850,000 cases. The company has more than 265 clinics in 20 countries, making it the world’s largest network of professional lice treatment centers. Its patented heated-air device, AirAllé, has effectively performed more than 850,000 head lice treatments. Lice Clinics of America and AirAllé ( are brands owned by Larada Sciences, Inc., which is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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