Head lice and dandruff have a lot in common: irritation on the scalp, itchy head and white substances in the hair. However, the truth is there is no link between head lice and dandruff. And neither is caused by the other or influenced by the other.
Dandruff is caused by a yeast-like fungus known as Malassezia. While everybody has this fungus on the head, it only causes problems to some people. The reason for this boils down to the way the fungus survives. It feeds on the natural oils secreted by the scalp. Malassezia breaks down the oil to leave oleic acid behind. This is what causes dandruff. Those who suffer from dandruff are sensitive to oleic acid. Dandruff is associated with excessively oily or dry skin, yeast infection and certain genetic factors.
Lice, Pediculus humanus capitis, are small, wingless parasites that feed on blood. They infest the head and feed off the blood on the scalp. A mature louse is about the size of a sesame seed, while a nit (louse egg) is about the size of a flake of dandruff.
Left untreated, lice infestation can grow to cause severe itching and scalp aggravation. This explains why lice infestation is predominant in preschool and elementary school children.
Lice infestation is not an indicator of poor hygiene or a bad lifestyle. It simply means that you got into contact or shared personal effects like clothing, towels, beddings, combs, hair accessories and hats with an infected person.
There are three main types of lice.
These lice infest humans only. They can affect anywhere on the scalp, particularly on the nap of the neck. They feed on human lice.
Different from head lice, these types of lice stay on the clothing and lay eggs on them. Like head lice, body lice like to feed on human blood. They crawl and get onto the body to suck blood.
The smallest of the three, pubic lice have different looks. When observed under a microscope, they have large front legs and a crab-like body. They breed in the hair in the genital area. They can be easily transferred during sexual contact.
As already mentioned, lice feed off human blood. They bite into the scalp to suck blood. These bites can be quite irritating, causing the host to scratch. Excessive scratching can result in breaking of the skin and this can ultimately result in open wounds and bleeding.
Long-term infestation can be dangerous since these parasites extract blood from the host. Remember, lice reproduce quickly and can multiply at an alarming rate. Severe lice infestation can cause anemia, loss of energy and sleep deprivation.
Lice infestation occurs as a result of person-to-person transmission of the parasites through contaminated agents like clothing, beddings and other personal effects. It is highly contagious and very common in pre-schoolers and small children.
Dandruff, on the other hand, is caused by a fungi known as Malassezia. It is extremely common, especially in teens and adults. Some people may experience repeated outbreaks of the condition and can at times be linked to genetic factors.
Both head lice and dandruff can cause noticeable symptoms in some people. Both conditions are associated with itching. Lice feed on the blood and stay close to the scalp. During the bite, the insects’ saliva irritates the scalp to cause itching. Dandruff, on the other hand, tends to itch when the scalp is very dry.
Check all members of your household for lice infestation, especially if they are sharing personal effects like beddings, clothing and combs. Here are some of the lice treatment options:
Head lice can be treated using medicated shampoos. These shampoos contain permethrin and pyrethrin that kill lice and nits and are recommended for people of all ages. Wash your hair with medical shampoo for seven to 10 days to ensure that all lice are dead.
You may use over-the-counter or prescription medication to treat lice infestation. Here are some of these medications:
Medicated shampoos can be combined with non-medical remedies to treat lice infestation and prevent spreading. These include washing beddings and all clothing in very hot water before drying them on a high heat setting. Additionally, be sure to vacuum upholstered furniture and carpeting and bag up infested pets and other toys for at least two weeks to starve lice.
Dandruff too can be managed using medicated shampoos that slow down the skin-shredding process or treat the fungi that may cause skin flaking. Buy shampoos with salicylic acid, coal tar, selenium sulfide and ketoconazole. Apply the shampoo every day to manage flaking.
Tea tree oil is one of the most effective home remedies for dandruff. Other home remedies include:
Lice can affect anyone. And it is not a sign of bad hygiene or dirtiness. The length of your hair does not affect your risk factor of getting lice. That said, lice can be prevented by avoiding sharing personal items like combs and hair ties. Also, advise children to avoid head-to-head contact with people who have lice. Finally, regularly examine your children’s hair for lice or nits.
Preventing dandruff can be a challenge if you are genetically predisposed to the condition. That said, here are a few options you can consider to reduce or prevent episodes of flaky skin:
Lice and dandruff are two of the most common hair and scalp conditions. Some people confuse the two thanks to a similarity in color and size and the itching effect. Head lice are tiny, brown parasitic insects. These tear-shaped parasites stick close to the scalp and feed on human blood. Dandruff, Seborrheic dermatitis, is a different scalp condition. Proper prevention and treatment of lice and dandruff require a proper diagnosis of the infection.