Lice and dandruff may look similar at first glance, but they are very different conditions with very different treatments. Unlike dandruff, lice are highly contagious and can easily spread to others, so it’s important to take appropriate action right away. Here’s a look at the differences between lice and dandruff to help with identification and what you should do in each case:
Dandruff is related to a skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis, or seborrhea, which can occur in other areas of the body, such as the upper back. Seborrhea that occurs on the scalp causing flaky, white, or yellowish skin to form, then show up as white flakes in the hair and on the shoulders is what is known as dandruff. In addition to flaking, the scalp may also be itchy or develop a scaly texture.
The most effective way to treat and control dandruff is to use dandruff shampoo. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following when using these products:
- Follow the instructions on the dandruff shampoo bottle, such as how to correctly lather and if it should be left on the scalp for any period of time
- Those of Caucasian or Asian descent should shampoo daily and use dandruff shampoo only twice per week
- African-Americans should only shampoo once per week using a dermatologist-recommended dandruff shampoo
- People with light-colored hair should take care to avoid dandruff products with coal tar as it could make the scalp more sensitive to sunlight.
In some cases, flaking and itching that you may think are due to dandruff could indicate another medical condition, such as psoriasis, a fungal infection or eczema. If symptoms continue after using dandruff shampoo, talk to your child’s physician.
Head lice are tiny insects that can live on the human body. Lice eggs, which are called nits, are similar in size to a dandruff flake and are found on the scalp as well as the neckline, which is why it is sometimes easy to confuse the two. However, unlike dandruff, lice are living parasites that feed on human blood to survive.
Signs of lice include:
- A tickling sensation in the hair
- Frequent itching (caused by an allergic reaction to lice bites)
- Sores from scratching
- Trouble sleeping due to more lice activity at night
To manage lice, the American Academy of Dermatology suggests:
- Checking children’s hair for lice
- Inspecting household items such as towels, rugs, and bedding for signs of infestation
- Teaching children not to share things that touch heads and to avoid head-to-head contact
If lice have found their way into your home, don’t panic. Contact your doctor for recommended treatment and a prescription, as many over-the-counter medications are not as effective as they have been in the past due to increasing resistance, and will require multiple treatments before the lice are effectively removed. Please note that it is unsafe to use products containing pesticides around the eyes. If you find head lice or nits in eyelashes or brows, consult with your child’s doctor.
You will also need to ensure items in your home are cleaned properly to avoid anyone else being affected. Clothes and linens should be washed using hot water and then drying them on the hot drying cycle as high heat will kill lice. Combs and brushes should also be soaked in hot water for about 10 minutes.
Whether you believe your child has dandruff that requires help for relief, or you fear you may have found lice, contact us today.