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New Treatment Offers Easy, Non-Toxic Solution to Head Lice
(Beyond Pesticides, September 9, 2004)
A dermatologist in California has developed a treatment for head lice that does not use toxic chemicals, and does not require nit removal. The new method kills lice by suffocating them with a lotion that dries on the scalp. In early studies, the treatment, called Nuvo lotion, proved as effective as standard insecticide lotions.

In a paper published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dale Pearlman, M.D. said that with his method, nits (the lice eggs) did not need to be combed out of the hair first. The lotion was massaged onto wet hair and scalp and then blown dry to form a shrink-wrapped, airtight invisible film that completely covered the hair shafts and lice. The lice then suffocated. "Lice have portholes on the side of their bodies, which they breathe through. If you plug up all those portholes, they die," Dr. Pearlman told Reuters Health.

The lotion must be left on for at least eight hours and then should be shampooed out. The process is repeated at one-week intervals for a total of three treatments. In the journal article, Dr. Pearlman notes that all of the ingredients in the lotion are "generally recognized as safe" by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Nuvo lotion is composed of stearyl alcohol, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, cetyl alcohol, water and other ingredients.

In two separate studies involving a total of 133 children with confirmed head lice infestation, the overall cure rate was 96 percent. These results are "comparable or superior" to results achieved with the standard neurotoxin-based head lice treatments, Dr. Pearlman emphasized. Conventional lice treatment shampoos contain insecticides such as permethrin, malathion, and lindane, all of them with serious health concerns for children. Permethrin is a possible carcinogen and a suspected endocrine disruptor. Endocrine disruptors interfere with normal hormone function and can contribute to breast and testicular cancer, birth defects, learning disorders, and other problems. Animal studies also indicate that small amounts of permethrin may cause immunotoxicity, or corruption of the immune system.

Malathion has been shown in to affect not only the central nervous system, but the immune system, adrenal glands, liver and blood as well. Malathion is mutagenic in humans and animals. It has also been associated with birth defects in domestic and laboratory animals. Lindane is a carcinogen, and can cause seizures or even death when absorbed through the skin. In the past few years, over 500 cases of adverse impacts from lindane-containing products have been reported. Additionally, children in general are more vulnerable and susceptible to the harmful effects of pesticides because they have developing organ systems that are more vulnerable and less able to detoxify toxic chemicals. Low levels of pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child's neurological, immune and endocrine systems.

In addition to the health effects associated with these insecticides, research suggests that lice and their eggs are increasingly resistant to the over-the counter shampoos recommended by most pediatricians and school administrators, making lice more and more difficult to kill. (See Daily News Story). According to Dr. Pearlman, resistance is not an issue with his treatment.

This new Nuvo lotion is currently only available for research. Dr. Pearlman, who holds the patent on the lotion, told Reuters Health that he is "scrambling around to find a partner -- a company, government agency, or foundation -- to help with controlled studies, marketing, and regulatory actions."

TAKE ACTION: Even though Nuvo lotion is not on the market yet, there are other non-toxic alternatives to insecticide treatments, such as enzyme treatments (Not Nice to Lice, and Lice-B-Gone). Another plant derived product is Planet Solutions. Using a nit comb and coconut oil can also be effective. For more information, see our Head Lice Factsheet or Getting Nit Picky About Head Lice or contact Beyond Pesticides/NCAMP for a information on controlling head lice without toxic chemicals.