Yes, black people can get hair lice; both Africans and Black-Americans. However, black people due to the texture of their hair, are less likely to be infested with hair lice compared to Caucasians.
In this piece, I would share with you what my team and I have been researching on head lice among black people, signs of head lice, how they spread, treatment and answers to frequently asked questions.
I’m excited as you are, so get your notepad and pen handy up, let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
- What are Head Lice?
- Signs of Head Lice
- How Do They Spread?
- How to Check for Lice: Step by Step Guide
- Treating Head Lice in Hair
- Best Treatments for Head Lice for Blacks
- Best Treatment for Head Lice for Non-Blacks
- Frequently Asked Questions About Head Lice
- Concluding Thoughts
What are Head Lice?
Pediculus humanus capitis, popularly known as head lice, are small, blood-sucking insects that can be found wherever there is hair on the human body, especially on the head, but can be found on eyebrows, eyelashes, and pubic area.
Head lice are not dangerous to health, but they can cause some uncomfortable itching and difficulty sleeping. Head lice are also contagious and can easily spread among people in the same household or school or community.
Head lice are more common in Caucasian, Hispanic, and Asian American people than in black people. For example, research shows fewer than 0.3% of Black schoolchildren experience head lice compared with about 10% of schoolchildren of other races.
The researchers suggest that this is due to the shape of the claws in most head lice and the width and shape of the hair shaft in coiled hair.
Getting head lice is not interrelated to the cleanliness of the person or his or her environment.
Lice feed on human blood and can infest the human head, body and pubic area. The female louse produces a sticky substance that firmly attaches each egg to the base of a hair shaft.
Eggs hatch in six to nine days.
Signs of Head Lice
1. An itching or tickling sensation in the hair
You may experience an inching on your scalp, body or genital area. This may feel uncomfortable due to feeling or seeing movement in the hair, including crawling but not hopping or flying.
2. Trouble sleeping
Due to the discomfort of itchy scalp, a person infected with hair lice may find it difficult to sleep at night as hair lice are most active during the night.
3. Presence of insects
Adult lice may be about the size of a sesame seed that is black or gray and about 2–3 millimeters (mm)Trusted Source long with six clawed legs. Hair lice may be visible on your hair, shoulder, around your ears. Lice eggs may also be present in your hair, although they’re difficult to spot because of their tiny size. Lice eggs can also be mistaken for dandruff but the difference is that lice eggs cannot be easily brushed out of hair.
4. Sores on the head from scratching, which may lead to an infection
Scratching can lead to small red bumps that can sometimes get infected with bacteria.
5. Bite marks
An infected person with hair lice is especially around the waist, groin, upper thighs and pubic area.
How Do They Spread?
Head lice are mainly spread by direct contact with the hair of an infected person. Lice can neither fly nor jump, hence the most common way to get head lice is by head-to-head contact with a person who already has head lice.
Such contact can be common among children during playtime. The most common playground for head lice infection is;
Children are mostly playing at school during break or even in the classroom. In so doing, they tend to indirectly touch each other, including hair. Storing items such as jackets, lockers or on side-by-side hooks at school at close proximity spreads lice.
Children play with other children in the neighborhood or community. If one person is infected, the other kids who get too close get infested too. Also, storing personal items such as pillows, blankets, combs and stuffed toys in proximity at home can permit lice to spread.
3. Sports activities, pick nicks, playgrounds, camp, and sleepover parties.
There are also some uncommon ways transmission of head lice may occur;
Wearing or sharing clothing, such as hats, scarves, coats, sports uniforms, or hair ribbons worn by an infected person.
5. Using contaminated combs, brushes, or towels.
Lying on a bed, couch, pillow, carpet, or stuffed animal that has recently been in contact with an infected person can spread lice. Also sharing contaminated combs, towels and hairbrushes can get us infested.
6. Sexual contact
Pubic lice usually spread through sexual contact and most commonly affect adults. Pubic lice found on children may be a sign of sexual exposure or abuse.
How to Check for Lice: Step by Step Guide
People can check for lice in the following areas:
Step1: the scalp and crown of the head
Step2: around and behind the ears
Step 3: the neckline at the back of the head
Treating Head Lice in Hair
Steps for getting rid of head lice are generally the same, regardless of hair type.
Blacks with hair extensions, wigs, or hairpieces will need to remove them before treatment. They can then find a space with good lighting and get rid of head lice by:
The Mayo Clinic advice, for a first treatment, use
1. Over-the-counter products.
Shampoos containing pyrethrin (Rid, A200 Lice Treatment) or permethrin (Nix) are usually the first option used to combat lice infestations. Follow the directions closely when using these products;
- Wetting the hair and dividing it into sections
- Applying a lice treatment containing pyrethrin or home remedy, such as coconut oil.
- Moving a louse comb through the hair in sections to remove head lice and their eggs
- Rinsing out any excess product from the hair using a shower head or running tap
- Checking anyone else in the house for head lice to prevent further spreading
In some geographical locations, lice have grown resistant to the ingredients in over-the-counter treatments. If over-the-counter preparations don’t work, your doctor can prescribe shampoos or lotions that contain different ingredients.
2. Lifestyle and home remedies
Apart from over-the-counter products to treat hair lice or seeing your doctor, an infected person can take an intentional thorough approach to clean their environment and upgrade personal cleanliness.
This can be done by treating everyone who has hair lice in the home, using shampoo and lotion that contain nix, rid; repeating treatment with the lotion or shampoo in about nine to 10 days after the first application.
Further, ash bedding, stuffed animals, clothing and hats with hot, soapy water — at least 130 F (54 C) — and dry them at high heat for at least 20 minutes.
3. Alternative treatment
A number of home or natural remedies, such as mayonnaise or olive oil, are used to treat head lice infestations, but there’s little to no evidence of their effectiveness.
A special machine that uses hot air to dehydrate head lice and their eggs is another alternative treatment method. The machine requires special training and is currently available only at professional lice treatment centers.
Best Treatments for Head Lice for Blacks
i) Tropical Treatments
As stated initially, black people can get lice. But identifying and treating the parasite is a bit harder for kinky hair textures. There are topical treatments to leave in your scalp and hair to treat lice.
The Center for Disease Control advises using nit combs, which are often found in head lice treatment packages, to gently remove nits (lice eggs) and lice from the hair.
The comb has very fine spokes, making it difficult to get through kinky black curly hair.
ii) Take care of your hair
The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends that black people follow additional hair care tips, which include:
- Washing the hair once a week or every other week
- Using conditioner with every hair wash, make sure to coat the ends of the hair
- Using a hot oil treatment twice monthly
- Applying a heat-protecting product to wet hair before styling it
- Ensuring that braids, cornrows, or weaves are not too tight
- Sticking with a ceramic or iron comb for pressing hair
iii) Apply Petroleum Jelly
Also using petroleum jelly makes hair smoother and less brittle, which is harder for head lice to grip onto.
Best Treatment for Head Lice for Non-Blacks
i) The use of Special medicated shampoos
Non-blacks can use special shampoos and hair rinses that contain a substance called pyrethroids, which are available to get rid of lice and nits.
ii) Using fine-toothed comb
Using a fine-toothed comb can help loosen the nits from the hair. It is important to also wash all combs, brushes, hats and towels after each shampoo.
iii) Follow treatment directions
Make sure you follow the directions on the over-the-counter medicine. Many times, the treatments don’t work well because many people don’t use them as directed. Be sure to apply for a second treatment about a week later. This second treatment is necessary to kill the survivors of the first application. Also, keep the medicine on your scalp long enough, or it may not be effective.
Frequently Asked Questions About Head Lice
Q: Do people in Africa get lice?
A: Yes, they get lice. Research in Africa collected lice samples from Ethiopia, Rwanda, Senegal, and Burundi.
Q: Who is more likely to get lice?
A: Head lice have been found in people of all socio-economic levels. Children, particularly those of elementary school age, are most likely to get head lice because of their close contact and social interactions with each other. Hair lice also affect Caucasians more than black people.
Q: How do you check for lice in black hair?
A: One simple way to check for lice is to have the person hold their head over a light-colored towel. Then, brush the hair and scalp vigorously downward towards the towel. Dislodged lice will be found on the towel.
Q: Are head lice black?
A: Yes, but rarely. They can be white, brown, or dark gray, although some hair lice have been found in parts of Africa.
Q: Is It True That African-Americans Do Not Get Head Lice?
A; No. Although factors such as hair texture may make African-Americans less likely than Caucasians to get head lice, they are not immune to becoming infested.
Q: Are lice eggs black or white?
A: Nits are the eggs of lice. Nits are small, oval-shaped, usually a yellowish-white color, and are firmly attached to the side of hair shafts
Q: What are black bugs in hair?
A: It may be a symptom of hair lice.
Black people can also be infested with hair lice although Caucasians are at a higher percentage to be infested.
Hair lice are contagious, especially with close proximity to an infected person. Although adults are infected too, children are more likely to be infested.
Hair lice can be treated with over-the-counter medications, shampoo, petroleum jelly or seeing your doctor if home remedies don’t work.
There’s no need to be alarmed if you’re black and notice hair lice, follow the guidelines above for treatment.
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Aurélie Veracx, A. B. (2012). Evidence for an African Cluster of Human Head and Body Lice with Variable Colors and Interbreeding of Lice between Continents. Plos One.
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Clinic, M. (2020). Lice. Patient Care and Health Information.
Michael Waldvogel, P. A. (1998). Frequently Asked Questions About Head Lice. NC State Extension Publications.
Sissons, B. (2021). Can African Americans get Head lice? Medical News Today.Vincent Iannelli, M. (2021). What Does Head Lice Look Like? VeryWell Health.