Wet combing treatment (also called 'bug-busting') is a natural way of removing head lice from the head without using lotions or sprays to kill them.
This leaflet is part of our series on head lice
|Checking for head lice|
|Lotions and sprays for head lice|
|Wet combing treatment for head lice|
What is wet combing treatment?
Wet combing is a way of removing head lice without having to use a chemical to kill them. Hair is combed through carefully with a special comb designed to remove the lice. Applying conditioner before combing, then leaving the conditioner in your hair, helps make this combing more effective. The conditioner causes the lice to slide out more easily and the water and conditioner help to slow them down. After combing, the conditioner should be washed out.
The advantage to the wet combing option for treating head lice is that it is natural and safe. Anybody of any age can have wet combing treatment. There are no medicines or chemicals involved. The downside to this treatment is that it is time-consuming. It also may not be as effective as some of the lotions and sprays which are available for treating head lice.
How can I get the comb for wet combing treatment?
You will need the correct toothed comb. This is a special fine-toothed comb. (The teeth of normal combs are too far apart and the teeth of 'nit combs' are too close together.) Most pharmacies stock suitable combs.
One option is the Bug Buster® kit, which contains a suitable comb and has been shown to be effective in trials. It is available on prescription. You can also obtain it by mail order from Community Hygiene Concern (see below). Only one comb or kit is needed for a family, as it is washable and reusable.
How is wet combing treatment done?
It can take up to an hour to do a wet combing session properly. It depends how long and how thick your hair is.
- Wash the hair in the normal way with ordinary shampoo.
- Rinse out the shampoo and put on lots of ordinary conditioner.
- Comb the hair with a normal comb to get rid of tangles.
- When the hair is untangled switch to the detection comb.
- Slot the teeth of the detection comb into the hair at the roots so it is touching the scalp.
- Draw the detection comb through to the tips of the hair.
- Make sure that all parts of the hair are combed by working around the head.
- Check the comb for lice after each stroke. A magnifying glass may help.
- If you see any lice, clean the comb by wiping it on a tissue, or rinse it before the next stroke.
- After you have combed the whole head, rinse out the conditioner.
You need to do the above routine at least four times, with four days between each session. The number of sessions required depends on the last time you see lice:
- The first combing session should remove all hatched head lice but does not remove eggs. Therefore lice that hatch from eggs after the first session may still be present.
- Subsequent sessions clear newly hatched lice. Keep doing the combing sessions every four days until you have had three sessions where no lice are detected.
- Once you have had three sessions where you do not see any lice, it usually means that you are then free of lice.
What about family and friends?
All people in the same home, and other close 'head-to-head' contacts of the previous 4-6 weeks, should be informed. They should check for lice with a detection comb. Anyone who has live lice found on their head should be treated. All people with head lice in the same home should be treated at the same time. This stops lice being passed around again.
Further help & information
Further reading & references
- Head lice; NICE CKS, February 2015 (UK access only)
- Head lice: Evidence-based Guidelines based on the Stafford Report; Public Health Medicine Environmental Group, 2012
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.
Dr Tim Kenny
Dr Mary Harding
Dr Laurence Knott