Well, it Turns Out Black People CAN Get Lice

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I always looked forward to girls camp. It was a week-long summer camp for the young women at my church. But I’ll never forget the summer I learned about lice.

It was in the middle of the afternoon. We must have had a bit of down time. A friend and I went to our cabins and found a girl from another ward (local congregation of our church) on her bed, stripping off her pillowcase, bawling.

We asked her what was wrong and she told us another girl in her cabin had lice.

I had heard of lice before. My school had done screenings from time to time, but the nurses always brushed me off real quick, barely taking a glance at my hair.

I suspected it was a large bug you could spot by peeking at the top of one’s head.

“I have five brothers and sisters!” She choked out between sobs. “I can’t get it!”

I got a sinking feeling in my stomach as I listened and watched her cry. I hated not understanding the fullness of the “disease,” so I asked my burning question.

“Can it kill you?”

The friend I walked in with held back a laugh “NO!”

“Oh,” I sighed, relieved. “Then why is she crying?”

My friends brought me up to speed on the severity–yet not-so-severity of the situation. How lice in a family of 8 is misery, and seemingly endless. But not lethal.

For years I avoided the bug with ease. One nurse went as far as to tell me I couldn’t get lice. So I grew up thinking that was the case. Because of my hair type–Or the extremely oily amount of hair product my mom used in our hair, I thought I was immune.

And call it luck, or otherwise, I still haven’t caught it. *knock on wood*. But many years later, thanks to the invention of the internet and Google, I realized I was just lucky.

mommy and me curly hair

Last year I interviewed a woman who professionally extracts lice from kids heads (so you don’t have to) and she told me she had worked on a little black girl before, (yet again disproving my assumptions) and sent me home with some lice prevention spray and shampoo. I was (and still am, if I’m quite honest) horrified at the idea of one of my kids getting lice. It’s one thing washing and fine-tooth-combing straight hair. But oh man, what a nightmare that would be with the heads of hair my kids have. I even read a story about a woman who shaved off all of her kids’ curly hair because it was bothering them so bad.

I think that may have been an extreme case, because there are over-the-counter lice products that are safe and effective when used correctly. But I can also understand the dread of nit-picking and combing.

Tips for washing biracial hair

Here are some tips I’ve learned in case you catch it:

  • Look for lice-removal products with the active ingredients Permethrin or Piperonyl Butoxide and Pyrethrum Extract.
  • Important note: the very first time kids get infested they sometimes don’t get irritated (so no itching) for a few weeks so when you figure it out there are lots of lice.
  • If you’ve followed the directions and treated with OTC treatments 2 or more times and still have lice, two things need to happen: Work with the classroom on getting rid of lice and/or talk with your pediatrician.
  • Although the OTC pediculicides help it’s important to do a really thorough daily COMB to keep pulling out nits, etc.

Is your head itching yet? Great! But look on the bright side… It can infect us, but at least it can’t kill us.

Has anyone in your family had lice before?

lice infographic

This story was sponsored by the CHPA’s educational foundation KnowYourOTCs program. As always, all opinions are my own.

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  1. I’ve never heard that lice discriminated before. I know a few black people who has lice, so I knew anyone could get them 🙁

  2. Ugh.. my head itches just thinking about Lice.
    Such an awful thing to go thru..I always check the kids just to make sure they are ok.
    We also use shampoo& conditioner with Tea Tree Oil to help as well.

  3. Working in childcare, where communicable illnesses are all too common, lice has been my biggest fear! Almost every classroom I’ve worked in has been hit once of not more! I know it sounds silly, but you hit the nail on the head with how just the thought of trying to treat my own and my daughter’s curly hair gives me nightmares! We try to be proactive and use natural oils and products like tea tree oil, but I still freak out whenever I see her start to scratch after a day at school lol.

  4. I never really thought about whether you could get lice or not if you were black. Quite frankly, I never think about lice at all, really. Now, I’m knocking wood like crazy because I do not want to jinx myself, but I’ve never had lice, never knew anyone who had had it, and my son is in the 7th grade now, and he never has had lice. I can tell you, though, it would freak me the heck out. 🙂 You and your daughter are gorgeous, btw!

  5. My kids are mixed and at school they also told me that my kids won’t get lice. Geez, how wrong were they. My son, with his thick curly hair got it and freely shared it with my daughter big curls hair. It was 8 weeks of hell( because one egg left behind can start the torture all over again)but we manage to get rid of them. And don’t forget to clean the couch, the carseats, the bed(linnen) etc etc. One tip I got is to use tea tree oil mixed with water and sprits it in their hair to keep those terrible creatures away. 18 months down the road and my house is lice free!:-)

  6. I had lice as a child but (knock on wood) our kids have avoided it so far. I admit that I am a little paranoid about it. I can imagine with my daughter’s tangly hair, it would be pretty miserable.
    Here’s to us both avoiding it!

  7. We kept getting lice as kids. Over and over again for months. We’d be free of it for awhile and then it’s back. It was horrible. Us three girls all have straight hair, but two of us had THICK hair. (Mine’s not AS thick anymore. I blame the kids/pregnancies.) Finally, my mom had had it, and we all got our hair chopped. It was the summer of the Magnificent Seven (1996 USA Women’s Olympic Gymnastic Team), and I had a folder with them on it. We all got our hair cut like Amanda Borden. So, I was happy at the time. Looking back, not so much. 🙂

  8. My daughter had it twice and it was a nightmare. If you’ve been to my blog you will see pictures of her and aaaaallllllll her hair and trust I was very close to taking a scissor to it! And it’s not just the hair it’s the bed linen, the jackets, the stuffed animals everything in their room has to be throughly cleaned or thrown out. I had to throw away books, stuffed animals, movies because those things are sooooo tiny they get in everything. I say that and potty training were the worst parents of my parenting experience in twenty years. Protect that hair lol 🙂

  9. My daughter had lice when she was in preschool. It is definitely a nightmare! Aren’t you so glad to find out you aren’t immune?!
    P.S. Your daughter is gorgeous!

  10. What’s worse is being in a third world country like Afghanistan and getting it from preschoolers and not having lice shampoo there. Yes, Crazy, irritating and gross! Let’s just say I slept with vinegar on my head for weeks until I came back to US.

    But now there is a threat of super lice….yikes!

  11. Lice is annoying. I wish I could say we have never had the visit, but sadly we have. Two out of the four kids have gotten it from school at one point. blech

  12. I work an article on Kokoa Magazine on the subject. Some over the counter medications are not becoming treatment resistant so immediate doctor’s care in the case is needed to treat the problem. Unfortunately over the counter medications aren’t so effective anymore. I am African American and I nor my kids have gotten it and it is just a myth that African Americans can’t get lice. The hair textures makes is less likely that they will get it but there is a chance that they can. I like that my kids school check my girls hair as well.

  13. It seems like lice is always going around my son’s school. And he has this long Fabio type hair (his idea, not mine!), so I’m forever worried that he’s going to be flipping it around, showing it off as he likes to do, and flick it right into someone else’s lice covered head. If that happens, then goodbye, Fabio! Hello, Razor. =)

  14. I don’t think luck has anything to do with Black children not getting lice. Blacks have a different hair structure than every other race. Ive worked in schools for almost 20yrs in many different elementary schools. As you can imagine there have been many lice break outs. Not one time ever did any black child pop up with lice. In fact now when lice screenings are done the African american students don’t even have to come down to be screened. I personally don’t know of any black person who has ever had it. So it’s interesting to me that all of a sudden now Black kids can get it.

  15. Well my six year old caught it last October 2017, and just pulled two adults out of her hair April 2018. So yeah, African-Americans/ Blacks do get lice. I’m Trini and her father is Nigerian and she has long, thick curly hair and her head was infested! I have waist length locs and was terrified to get them. Even with grease and oiling her scalp she still got it. Getting them out her hair was a two day process nightmare but I did it naturally. Vinegar rinse, then coconut oil and conditioner overnight treatment, shampoo and conditioner, blow dry, flat iron in small sections and they were gone! Notified the teacher and school but no notice was sent out, I guess because when they checked her hair they were all gone! I learned a lot from this and it was very embarrassing but the truth is we do get it so just be cautious!!

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