My son came home with a notice: “Your child may have been exposed to this communicable disease.” And “head lice” was the circled infection. I hadn’t even thought about head lice, especially with Ebola floating around. But head lice is neither a problem I need or want to deal with. So I immediately started preparing for the day when I’m faced with having to rid my son’s precious scalp of lice. And then I realized, maybe my son won’t get lice. Black kids don’t get lice, right?
Black kids get lice significantly less often than white kids; 0.3% versus 10.4% respectively. There are many theories for this, and there is probably some truth to all of them. One theory is that lice just don’t care for the shape of our hair follicle. Black people typically have an oval-shaped hair follicle versus white hair which is often round-shaped. The lice are better suited to crawl on the round follicle. Some also believe lice don’t prefer our hair treatments – infusing the hair with oil and heat. Evidently, head lice don’t like oily or hot conditions.
Our hair treatments certainly help us defeat lice. Lice like dry scalps in which to lay their eggs. Lice and their eggs can’t stick to oily hair, which is why one home remedy for lice is mayonnaise. Many Blacks have naturally drier scalps so we are constantly trying to add oil to our hair; this process gives us a natural resistance to lice. This is not foolproof however, but keeping your child’s hair oiled will decrease the likelihood of lice.
The only problem with this theory is that our hair treatments have slightly changed over the generations. When I was a little girl, my Mom and Grandma smothered my scalp in thick grease. Most Blacks don’t use heavy, petroleum based greases on their scalp anymore. Now light oils are in, which are heavily water-based products with little actual oil in them. I rarely use any oil on my hair or my son’s hair. Plus my son has looser curls in his hair and it’s short, so I don’t actually think to add oil to his hair.
The best preventative advice is to start adding oil daily to my son’s hair. This will give him the best chance to defeat the lice floating around his school.
If your child does get head lice, the old-school method of combing the nits and lice out with a fine-tooth comb is still the best method. For Black girls, straightening the hair with a flat-iron will also kill the lice; lice can’t survive in the heat. For boys, shaving the hair off, or as short as possible, will help defeat lice; lice like longer strands of hair.