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OTC Lice Treatments Are Outdated

If you’re like most parents, when your child comes home with head lice you’ll run to the drugstore to get lice-treatment medication. There on the shelf, you’ll see mostly the same products that have been around for decades.

A 1999 study found that head lice were developing resistance to the active ingredients in over-the-counter (OTC) head-lice products—the same ones that are still on those drugstore shelves. Scientific research has shown that these retail head-lice-removal products are increasingly ineffective. So why haven’t manufacturers updated or improved these products?

To answer that question, let’s look at what these products are made with.

The active ingredients in a majority of OTC head lice removal products are insecticides called Pyrethroids. They are derived from Pyrethrum, a powder extracted from a species of Chrysanthemum flower that was discovered by Chinese herbalists some 2,000 years ago. Pyrethrin is a more refined version of Pyrethrum, and Permethrin is a synthetic version of Pyrethrin. These are the two chemicals used in retail lice-removal products. Products using these chemicals were cleared by the FDA decades ago.

Pyrethroids are neurotoxins. They work by disrupting the central nervous system of the head lice, causing muscle spasms, paralysis and death. No one feels sorry for the lice, of course. But what about humans? According to the National Pesticide Information Center when people get Pyrethroids on their skin, they may have irritation or tingling, burning and itching at that spot. If Pyrethroids get in the eyes they can cause redness, pain or burning. If people swallow Pyrethroids they could cause sore throat, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. People that have inhaled Pyrethroids may have had irritation in the nose and lungs, difficulty breathing, headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting.

Pyrethroid-based head-lice treatments involve shampoos and creams. Clearly there is exposure to the skin. It is also extremely easy for the shampoo to get into the eyes and mouths of children.

Health regulators have established no safe exposure level to Pyrethroids, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has not set an exposure limit to these chemicals. Though some Pyrethroids have been banned from use in food production, they are still used in head-lice products. In a 2009 memo, the EPA classified Permethrin as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” in some conditions.

It may well be that the reason these lice-removal products have not been updated to combat resistant strains of head lice is that they would be required to go through the FDA-approval process again, and may not regain FDA clearance. There is a growing distrust of Pyrethroid-based treatments, as washing children’s hair and scalp in an insecticide made with neurotoxins does not appeal to many parents.

As a result, a cottage industry of home remedies has exploded on the Internet, with bloggers recommending household products like mayonnaise and petroleum jelly to treat head lice, and companies offering proprietary solutions they claim to be effective. Testimonials to the success of these products abounds. “It worked for me,” anonymous users will claim. There is simply no way to validate any of these claims without clinical trials; and there isn’t a lot of incentive for the makers of these home remedies to do clinical trials.

Fortunately we now have an alternative to pesticides and unproven home remedies for treating head lice. Researchers at the University of Utah have developed a medical device that kills head lice and 99.2 percent of eggs using nothing but controlled, warm air. The product has been through a clinical trial and has been cleared by the FDA as safe and effective. It’s now on the market as the AirAllé device, and treatments using this device are available at Lice Clinics of America treatment centers across the country and throughout the world.

AirAllé and Lice Clinics of America are bringing a completely new approach to head-lice treatment—one based on sound science and medicine that is free of any pesticides. The treatment takes about an hour only, and is guaranteed to be effective.


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