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Will a buzz cut of a boy, man or a girl (I guess) eliminate a case of head lice?

Over the years, we’ve had clients – girls and moms on whom we’ve confirmed or detected head lice.  Sometimes we treat them and sometimes they choose to self/home treat.  In any event, they engage in a battle to remove the head lice and except for considering a trim or cutting a few inches if the hair is extremely long or has dry/damaged ends, for the most part, females just seem to accept that they have to REMOVE THE HEAD LICE.

But then there are the dads on whom we identify or confirm evidence of head lice.  Immediately after the “positive” head check, we’ve had fathers go out to the local Walgreens and pick up a head shaver and trim their hair in our restroom (unbeknownst to us) while the girls in their family are being treated in our facility.

Is buzzing the hair really an effective method for removing a case of head lice?

In short, the answer is, “Maybe, but probably not unless you take the hair down to below a “guide/guard 1” level and/or the case was very light to begin with.”

Let me convey some recent findings.

In the past two weeks, as the weather’s warmed up considerably here in the Atlanta area, I have had several clients call me to come in for head check appointments.  They’ve been moms of boys who have had confirmed (by astute school nurses or moms/dads/other relatives with previous experience) cases of head lice, and the moms have buzzed the boys, conveying to me, “I don’t need to bring my son for a head check because I buzzed him.  It’s all taken care of.  He’s fine.”  When I query if they engaged in any other head lice removal methods (namely head lice combing or nit picking) and they answer, “no,” I strongly suggest they bring their sons in for just a head check and when I explain why and explain that the cost of only $10 is worth the peace of mind, they’re always happy to do so.

Guess what?  In every case, the boys have still had evidence of head lice.  Viable evidence that needed treatment/intervention.

So what’s the deal?

If a person (boy or girl) has a confirmed case of head lice, nits are generally attached on the hair shaft, extremely close to the scalp.   Shaving the head super super close (again, really lower than a guard 1 which is something that I’ve learned most males do not want) will remove the hair that is “housing” the bugs and probably also the nits that are affixed to the hair with a glue-like protein substance.

Voilà! Good bye head lice.

However, giving someone a super short haircut – a cute haircut – you know . . . a little longer on the top and short on the sides . . . or similar – even with a buzzer – does not guarantee that the hair is short enough to remove the nits (or even young nymphs –  maturing bugs that frequently live on the scalp feeding).  Close to a warm scalp, at least some of those nits could eventually hatch.

Of course, once they do hatch from nits to nymphs (maturing lice,) they won’t really have a good “exercise field” on very short hair so you can bet that they’ll be looking for a more attractive host.  Oh – someone else in the family recently had head lice and there might be some subcutaneous saliva residue remaining?   Good potential home?   Hmmmm.  Head lice back to the girls?   Definite possibility!

All of that having been said, however, crew cuts/buzz cuts DO minimize the likelihood of contracting head lice as the bugs have little to grab onto in attempting to migrate from another host/head.  So contracting head lice can definitely be made more difficult with very very short hairdos.

However, it is not also true, without a shadow of a doubt, that giving a short hairdo to someone who already has head lice will eliminate the case.  It will certainly make continuing treatment – in the form of vigilant lice combing and nit picking much less laborious (and that is another justification for the short hair).  But by just buzzing, you’re not “out of the woods.”

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