3 Reasons Head Lice May Be More Attracted to Clean Hair

3 Reasons Head Lice May Be More Attracted to Clean Hair

I remember getting head lice for the first time. It happened in the sixth grade a couple days before 6 grade camp. What a drag! I remember how embarrassing it was and the fact it happened right before 6 grade camp made it worse. I was able to go to camp, but only after the nurse cleared me to go. So embarrassing. The embarrassment comes from the stigma about having lice, that you got lice because you’re a dirty person. What makes this even worse is that lice infestations are primarily found among children. Unfortunately, children can be cruel and poke fun at those with lice. The discussion about whether or not head lice are attracted more to dirty hair has been going on for ages.

Common questions include:

  • Do lice prefer clean or dirty hair?
  • What hair type is more susceptible to lice?
  • What kind of hair are lice attracted to?

A very common and widely spread “thought” is that dirty hair attracts head lice. It has been known that some parents even tell their children, something like “If you have dirty hair you will get lice”. Perhaps parents simply say this to get their children to bathe, but is the statement accurate?

Are head lice attracted more to dirty hair or could it be that head lice are more attracted to clean hair? Here are 3 reasons head lice could be more attracted to clean hair.

1.  This Type of Lice Species Does Not Live In Soil.

Louse (plural: lice) are from the Ectoparasites species and a member of the Phthiraptera order, which contains nearly 5,000 types of wingless insects. The name Phthiraptera is derived from the Greek “phthir” meaning lice and “aptera” meaning wingless. Louse are more accurately part of the Anoplura (sucking lice), because they suck on the blood of their host.

Louse are obligate parasites and only live externally on “warm-blooded” hosts. They primarily live on birds and mammals, including humans. Louse can’t survive more than 24 hours if they are separated from their warm-blooded host. Unlike body lice, head lice need to feed often, so they never leave their warm-blooded host. They feed a few times a day.

Head lice do not live (can not live) in the soil, grime or filth, where there is no live host. They are not attracted to dirt, filth or even dead hairy carcasses. They are attracted to warm-blooded hosts. They are not known as “dirty” species.

This tells us the environment that head lice are seeking and prefer is where they can access warm blood by biting through a thin layer of skin.

2.  Clean Heads Are Better Than Dirty Heads For Lice.

The human scalp is where lice feed. In essence, it is both their table and food. When lice need to feed they travel around the scalp close to the skin searching for a suitable vein to feed from. Once they find a spot on the scalp suitable they then puncture the skin with their mouth and suck out blood. They also add saliva to the punctured area to stop the blood from clotting while they feed. 

Since their goal is to bite through their victim’s scalp, oil and debris on the scalp would get in their way of feeding. Head lice are not known to clean up the area they are going to feed in, so it would seem they will avoid soiled areas on the scalp and find clean areas to feed.

Furthermore, since lice have no wings, they have to crawl around on their host. So, the question is, would they rather crawl around on clean scalp or dirty scalp? Not only are lice traveling on the scalp to find a place to feed, lice are traveling from hair strand to hair strand to lay their eggs.

3.  Clean Hair Is Better For Nits & Louse.

Adult louse that are seeking to lay their eggs (called nits) crawl around hair strands searching for a suitable place to lay their nits. Once they find a suitable spot on the hair shaft (very bottom of the hair strand) they will lay their nits there. The adult louse glue their nits directly to the hair shaft and once they do this it is very difficult to remove the nits. Nits are always glued to the hair of the host and are never found on the scalp. The nits will stay stuck there even after lice hatch. 

Since the goal of the adult louse is to find a suitable place to glue their nits, grime, oil and debris on the hair would get in their way. Again, head lice are not known to clean up, so they are not going to clean up an area on the hair that is dirty. They will avoid soiled areas on the hair and find clean areas to lay their nits.

Also, adult lice have very strong claws, which allows them to hold on tightly to the hair strand and on to the scalp when feeding. This is why it’s so challenging to pull lice off. It would seem louse would prefer a clean scalp and hair for themselves and their eggs over dirty or oily hair. 

The phrase “nitpicking” derives from the meticulous effort it takes to remove nits from hair.

One of the most common questions asked about Nits is, “How do you get rid of nits in your hair?” No matter what type of Lice Removal or Lice Treatment you may use, the factor to remember is how strong the Nits are attached to the hair strands.

Closing Thoughts About Whether Head Lice Prefer Dirty Hair or Clean Hair.

There is no evidence that head lice are more attracted to dirty hair and there is no evidence they are more attracted to clean hair. Lice are not known to be picky about what head of hair they live in. The one factor we do know is, they are attracted to a head that has warm blood for them to feed on.

Infestation of head lice is not a sign of poor personal hygiene or dirty surroundings. Louse are no respecter of persons. Rich or poor, clean or dirty, ethnicity or race, louse only care that humans provide them warm blood.

The myth that head lice prefer a dirty head of hair is false. If anything, they prefer a clean head of hair.

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