Coconut oil and apple cider vinegar are not proven remedies for lice

FactCheck November 7, 2019

The Statement

AAP FactCheck examined a Facebook post from October 17, 2018 by an Australian user which claims coconut oil and apple cider vinegar can be used to treat lice.

A Facebook post from October 17, 2018 claims coconut oil and apple cider vinegar can be used to treat lice.

The post reads, “For future reference~~ Coconut oil + apple cider vinegar to treat head lice. … Coconut oil dissolves the lices outer skeletal shell instantly. So once you put it on someone’s head you can have them shower and rinse it off right away and all the lice will be killed and gone.” The text is underneath an image of a young girl having her brushed with a comb. 

The post has been shared more than 21,000 times and has attracted more than 290 reactions and five comments. 

The Analysis

NSW Health lists head louse as a “parasitic insect that can be found on the head, eyebrows and eyelashes of people. Head lice feed on human blood several times a day and lives close to the human scalp, but are not known to spread disease”. 

NSW Health recommends two treatments options

* mechanical removal using a lice comb and conditioner.

* chemical removal using a lice comb and chemical treatment containing synthetic or natural insecticides that kill head lice (talk to your local pharmacist to identify the treatments containing insecticides). 

For treating lice, NSW Health recommends removal by using a lice comb and conditioner.

In 2018 US news website WUSA investigated the Facebook post and found the claim was false. Scientists at the University of California found no evidence home remedies worked to “kill, control or suffocate” lice. 

Associate Professor in Biology at the University of South Australia Craig Williams, told AAP FactCheck the remedy listed in the post was not proven as an effective treatment but coconut oil had some mild benefits by repelling head lice. 

“I wouldn’t put it in the effective basket, it’s definitely not as good as other treatment options, however some research papers have found lice don’t like coconut oil.

“I’ve done my own research and seen some lice walk away from the hair shafts that is coated in coconut oil, so there are some mild effects, but there are a number of better treatments people should go to initially.”

Prof Williams said there was no published evidence to support apple cider vinegar as a treatment against lice.

He told AAP FactCheck he had never come across a product that “dissolves lices outer skeletal shell”, nor one that claimed it could guarantee all lice would be killed upon contact. “Some of the naturally-derived treatment options you can buy actually perform the best, tea-tree oil is a bit of a gold standard.”

University of Sydney’s clinical lecturer and medical entomologist Cameron Webb said lice eggs are resilient and recommended that home remedies be applied with caution in case of irritating the scalp or skin. 

“In terms of treating head lice nothing is considered really effective when getting rid of eggs,”  Dr Webb told AAP FactCheck. 

“Eggs get attached by almost a superglue-like substance by the louse, and this becomes incredibly difficult to dislodge. There seems to be an endless stream of urban myths about what works and what doesn’t, this claim is a step too far.”

Dr Webb said registered nit treatments come under the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which meet certain standards. 

Both experts said the safest and most effective treatments for head lice were in line with the NSW Health guidelines.

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck has found the post to be mostly false. The post states that “coconut oil dissolves the lice’s outer skeletal shell instantly,” and that “all the lice will be killed and gone.” Two experts told AAP FactCheck that were no products available to guarantee this remedy. While Professor Craig Williams said there was some evidence to show coconut oil repelled head lice, both experts said there were more effective treatments. There has been no proven studies to suggest apple cider vinegar works as a treatment. 

  • Partly False – The claim of the content is a mixture of accurate and inaccurate, or the primary claim is misleading or incomplete. 

 First published November 7, 2019, 13:54 AEDT

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