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Money-saving advice for battling lice

How are you enjoying the first weeks back to school? Or as I like to call it, the kickoff to head-lice season.

I had lice in fourth grade and I’ve been traumatized ever since. In fact, all the blood just rushed to my face admitting it, and it has been 28 years.

There’s a stigma about head lice, even though it has nothing to do with being dirty or having bad hygiene or being punished by God for having inappropriate thoughts about Christian Slater while you’re supposed to be finishing your salt map of South Dakota.

When my Chloe started preschool last year, I figured it would not be a matter of “if” she would get lice, it was a matter of “when.” So, our first book fair purchase was “Bugs in My Hair!” by David Shannon. I’d hoped the possibility of having a bug colony on her head would scare her into letting me put her hair in a braid every day but it didn’t work. She’s an INDIVIDUAL, you guys.

My friend Erin’s daughter brought home the dreaded creepy crawlies. She went out and dropped $100 on poisonous, over-the-counter treatments like Nix and Rid, none of which worked. She was stuck with the bugs for two months, ready to shave her daughter’s head.

So, as we all brace for the possibility of unwelcome guests, here’s money-saving advice from a local pediatrician, a professional lice-removal employee and research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Consumers Union.

• It’s tempting, but don’t go throwing out all your hair bows, stuffed animals and hats. If it makes you feel better, bag them up for a week and wash them in hot water. But lice is spread by head-to-head contact. They also depend on the scalp for food and warmth, and can’t survive long away from it – one week or less. Don’t waste money on chemical sprays for your furniture, either. Just vacuum normally.

• Don’t waste your money on chemical pesticides like Nix, Rid or similar prescription products. Consumers Union called on the FDA earlier this month to ban products like those containing Lindane, and other known neurotoxic carcinogens. They’re expensive, they don’t kill the eggs and kill only a percentage of live bugs, which have become resistant to the chemicals.

• Try this method from the People’s Pharmacy instead: Kill the insects by soaking the hair in Listerine ($6.59), then covering it in a shower cap for an hour. Wash it out, rinse with vinegar (1.9 cents per ounce) to loosen the eggs from the hair shaft and comb thoroughly.

• The only sure way to get rid of lice is to physically comb it and its eggs out of the hair.

Invest in a good metal lice comb with fine, closely spaced teeth, such as the Fairy Tales Terminator, $11.95 on Amazon. Stand behind the head in bright light and comb with the teeth toward you, being sure to make good scalp contact throughout every part of the head. (Here’s a good tutorial at Business.) Repeat combing with olive oil or conditioner to prevent reinfestation. We comb the kids’ hair conditioner through once a week at bath time as a safeguard.

• Beware hair products that claim to repel lice. The Federal Trade Commission sued Lice Shield last year for false advertising because there is no evidence it works. But if you still want to try a product like Fairy Tales repellent shampoo, there are knockoff brands at Sally Beauty Supply that have the same ingredients.

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