Bugs in Dreads: Prevention Tips & What To Do if You Have Them

Bugs In Dreads
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This is probably not the most desirable topic to discuss but I think it needs to be addressed at some point or another. Writing this post alone made my head itch from paranoia haha but I’m not writing it to freak you out…I just want you to become informed. 🙂  

I remember sitting in my Loctician’s chair as she was dreadlocking my hair when I asked her about what I could do if I got lice in dreads. Her response? She never heard of anyone who got lice in their dreads, and she has been in the business for well over 10 years! That was awesome news for me but I went ahead and did a little more digging on the web…it turns out lice are as common in dreaded hair as they are in undreaded hair. Lice don’t discriminate between hair types- or anything else for that matter. 

Contrary to popular belief, dread heads are no more prone to getting head lice than anyone else with loose hair. Dreads or no dreads, bugs can make themselves feel at home in your head if you’re not careful.

So what can you do about this? Do you have to shave your head off if you have bugs in your hair? Luckily, no!  

In this post, I’m going to discuss how to prevent and treat lice mainly but the same precautions and treatment methods should work for other types of bugs as well.

There are several things you can do to effectively treat an infected head of hair (that doesn’t include having to cut off your locs)…YAY!

How to prevent head lice (and other bugs)

Having lice does not mean you’re a dirty person so it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You can get them from surface to surface contact, so coming near someone or an object with lice is all it takes.

Keep up with weekly maintenance

There are plenty of stories floating around the internet stating that people have had to shave their locs due to an infestation of spiders or maggots laying their eggs within the dreads. While this could be true for a select few, it’s not a common occurrence. I’ll admit- the second day I had dreads I felt a spider crawling at the base of my neck and I freaked out. I have never found a bug or spider in my hair since, but it’s not the end of the world if you do. Have you ever woken up with a spider bite? It’s the same idea here. It can happen but it’s rare.

If you keep up with your weekly maintenance (daily moisturizing spritzer and weekly washing routine) and a few other precautions, you are less likely to get bugs stuck in your hair.

I should note that contrary to the stereotype, dreadlocked hair is NOT a “bug” haven. Bugs like to be free. Your hair doesn’t provide them with the freedom they want (nor deserve).

– Choose handshakes over hugs

It’s not that I don’t approve of hugging because I do! But when lice is going around it’s wise to prevent heads from touching. If your hair comes into contact with someone who is currently infected, the lice can jump onto your head.

– Sharing is not always caring

Don’t share personal or fabric items with someone who is infected with lice. These items can be headphones, helmets, jackets, clothing, a bed or hair accessories like hats, scarves, headbands, hair ties, brushes, and combs.

– Don’t trust all second-hand shops

Don’t try on hats or suspicious clothing from thrift stores.

– Be a wise traveler

Take extra precautions when traveling. Make it a habit to cover your head when you’re on an airplane, long-distance bus or train and especially if you’re sleeping in hotels or hostels (think bed bugs!). These are places where a lot of people come through and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Also, keep in mind that bug infestations may be more rampant in third world countries where health care is not as accessible as it is in first world countries. Orphanages, slums, etc are places where you should take extra precautions. Don’t go to the extreme and become a paranoid person, but just be wise in protecting your hair.

– Use head wraps and bandanas

Cover your head with a head wrap or dread sock if you’re a parent with an infected child or you spend a lot of time with kids. Lice is most prevalent in young school children. If you have kiddos attending daycare or public school, inspect their heads often.

– Use essential oils in your hair

One of the most popular natural insect deterrents is tea tree essential oil. Other essential oils include rosemary, peppermint, eucalyptus, and lavender. Add a few drops of these oils to your shampoo and daily moisturizing spray. My daily moisturizing spray doubles up as a great bug repellent. You can find that recipe here!

– Use a lice repellent shampoo

Fairy Tales Repel is a great shampoo that has worked well for many families. If you have kids in public school, I recommend you wash their hair with it as a way to prevent them from catching lice, especially if there’s an outbreak at their school. Alternatively, you can add the essential oils previously mentioned to your regular shampoo.

– Perform monthly check-ups

If you spend a significant amount of time around people, you’re prone to getting lice. It’s a good idea to check your family’s heads periodically and have an adult inspect yours. If someone complains of an itchy scalp (itchier than usual), check their head right away. The following tips will give you an idea of what to look for when you’re checking for nits and lice.

How to identify bugs in dreads

Lice can sometimes be confused for dandruff, and vice versa. Obviously, there are major differences between the two so this is a mistake you don’t want to make! This is what you need to look out for:

– Nits

Nits (lice eggs) are about 1 millimeter long and resemble the appearance of the white bulb at the root of the hair follicle. They are white/ light yellow in color. You can tell them apart because they will seem like they are cemented to the hair, whereas dandruff flakes come off easily and the white bulb of a hair follicle is only attached at the very tip of the hair. Another way to identify them is by shining a black light on the head. If there are nits present, they will glow.

– Nymph

A young louse (the singular version of lice) is about 1.2 millimeters in length and white/ light yellow in color. They’re considered nymphs until sometime between day 9 or 12 when they become mature adults.

– Adult lice

They grow to about 2 millimeters and look like sesame seeds. They are tan colored. They can be easily identified in a couple of ways: 1. Touch one and it will start crawling. 2. Try to remove them and you’ll notice they won’t let go. Lice have six claws that they use to firmly grip onto the hair so they’re nearly impossible to shake off unless they’re dead.

How to get rid of bugs in dreadlocked hair

** I should note that I have never gotten bugs in my dreads (God forbid I ever do). You might feel the urge to disregard my advice for “lack of experience” but I assure you that the treatments I’m about to mention are based on hours and hours of research. I only recommend what sounds reasonable and effective. I’ve found that the following treatments successfully solved this major problem for other people with dreads.

At the same time, here is the disclaimer that I am in no way liable if a treatment doesn’t work for you or someway happens to go wrong. For the sake of your health and safety, before applying any treatment to your head apply a little of it on a patch of skin (such as the inside of your arm) to make sure you don’t get an allergic reaction or worse.

1. Treat your hair and scalp

Adult lice can live on your head for about a month. Every day a female louse will leave between 3 to 6 eggs, which will hatch sometime between a week to 12 days. It takes a little over a week for those newly hatched babies to start laying their own eggs.

Getting rid of head lice requires an aggressive approach to the treatments because they can live for a long time and multiply quickly. The good news is that they don’t carry disease but they can leave a person with a tender/ injured scalp as well as overall discomfort (not to mention, embarrassment). An open wound in your scalp due to continuous itching can lead to bacterial infections that may require prescription treatment.

There are several methods that are effective for killing lice so you can use whichever one seems best for you. The most important thing for any treatment is to be diligent and repeat the process every 3 days to make sure you suffocate any hatching lice before they’re old enough to produce more babies. 

– Delacet

Delacet is an herbal treatment with no harsh chemicals. It’s one of the best natural solutions for killing lice. Applied it generously throughout the hair root and scalp. Then, cover your head for at least three hours. When the time is up, wash it off with your dreadlock shampoo of choice and repeat the process every 3 days until every one of the nits has died. You can find Delacet on Amazon here.

– Rubbing alcohol and ACV rinse

A quick warning: rubbing alcohol will produce a burning sensation on your scalp but will disinfect any bite and scratch wounds. Apple cider vinegar will burn too because it’s undiluted. Make sure your skin is able to withstand it before applying it on. For the best results using this method, you should follow both steps 1 and 2.

  • STEP 1: Isopropyl alcohol is a very effective solution since it suffocates the lice. The fumes are extremely potent so it’s not the preferred method for children or those with asthma/ breathing problems, but it works wonders. Use 70% alcohol or higher.

    Start by putting your hair up in a bun. Position yourself in a backward bend (I know, it’s a bit uncomfortable but you don’t want it getting into your eyes) and pour it gently starting at the forehead hairline and working your way to the back and sides of the scalp. Another application method is by using a spray bottle. Get it all over your roots and the first couple inches of hair. Once your head is soaked entirely, massage your scalp with your fingertips and put your hair in a bag, plastic wrap or shower cap. Make sure you seal as much of your scalp as possible, especially around the neck.

    Most people say to leave it on for half an hour but I recommend going the extra mile and leaving it for one to two hours (it may seem excessive but you really want those suckers dead- no pun intended). Re-saturate your scalp after the first hour if necessary. When the time is up, rinse the alcohol off your head. At this point, you should have killed all the nymphs and lice successfully. In order to take care of the nits, you have to go on to step 2!
  • STEP 2: For this step make sure you’re using raw unfiltered and undiluted apple cider vinegar (with 5% acidity). Just like you did with the rubbing alcohol, pour the ACV all over your scalp and roots and let it sit for a minimum of 15 minutes- again if you want to go the extra mile, try to leave it on for 30 min. This process helps to kill the eggs and dissolve them so you don’t have to go in with tweezers and pluck them out yourself.

    When you’re done with step 1 and 2, wash your hair as usual. Repeat this process every 3 days for the next two to three weeks- basically, until you’re positive that all the nits, nymphs, and lice have died. Better to be absolutely sure than to have one little survivor causing another invasion in your head.
  • TIP 1: Do this treatment outdoors or in a well-ventilated area to dissipate the alcohol fumes and vinegar stench.
  • TIP 2: Have water handy. If you get any alcohol or vinegar in your eyes, you’ll need to wash them out right away.
  • TIP 3: There’s a strict “NO smoking” or “getting near a flame” policy until you’ve washed the alcohol off your head. Alcohol and fire is a recipe for a guaranteed disaster.
  • TIP 4: Alcohol is very drying to your locs. Apply a moisturizing treatment to your hair afterward, such as aloe vera or add neem oil to your shampoo.

– Lice lifters

Lice Lifters is a non-chemical solution treatment that eliminates lice during all stages of their life. Like most other treatments, it needs to be used every 3 to 4 days for a minimum of 4 applications. Make sure all the nits and lice are dead before you stop treatment. Lice Lifters can be purchased on Amazon here.

– Pharmacy lice treatment

If nothing is working for you and you’re looking for a last resort option, try an over the counter treatment from your local pharmacy. This is the least recommended method because the product ingredients aren’t recommended for dreadlocks since it may leave them sticky and with residue. If you choose to go this route, do a deep cleanse on your locs after you’re positive that all the buggers and eggs are dead.

– Include essential oils in your treatments

Tea Tree Essential Oil has also been used effectively for killing insects, including lice and fleas. Mix tea tree oil (as well as rosemary, citronella, peppermint, eucalyptus, and/or lavender essential oils) with your lice treatment of choice for an extra “bug eradicating” boost!

2. Remove dead lice and nits from dreaded hair

People with loose hair have it easy when it comes to lice. They can kill them and brush them out. Unfortunately, all the folks who want to keep their dreadlocks intact don’t have the option of brushing the bugs out. The removal process may seem a bit more grueling, but find someone to help you and get it done.

– Oil and vinegar

Lice hang on to hair for dear life so you have to loosen their grip. Apply olive oil, coconut oil or apple cider vinegar (with a 5% acidity level) to the affected areas to help loosen the lice from the hair strands. The oils will make your hair very greasy (obviously) making it possibly a little more difficult to remove afterward. The apple cider vinegar, on the other hand, may loosen your dreads a little bit and it’s smelly, but it really is worth it. Either way, these options will help to get the dead lice unhooked from your hair which is the most important issue at hand.

– Shake them off

After all the lice have been killed, shake your head over a bathtub or sink. If you have a loving friend or relative who is willing to help you, have them remove the remainder buggers that may be difficult for you to reach or find.

– Let them dry and dissolve

Nits have a sticky substance that basically glues them to the hair shaft. If they dry out and die before they hatch, they will eventually come off like dandruff flakes. A few washes will get rid of them so you don’t necessarily have to pick through your head to get them out. Many people noticed that their nits dissolved after several applications of ACV.

3. Treat everything else

Lice thrive in your scalp because they feed off of your blood (yuck, I know!), but unfortunately, they don’t just live there. They can live for up to 24 hours in bedding, clothing, towels, and upholstered furniture. It’s vital that while you’re treating your head for lice, you’re also doing a thorough job of cleaning your house and all the other places where your head hangs out the most.

  • Wash all clothes, bedding, and towels in hot water (above 130 degrees F) and dry on high heat.
  • Any delicate item of clothing that cannot be washed in hot water should be left to soak in a container of warm water mixed with laundry detergent for a minimum of 3 hours.
  • Seal clothing, bedding, towels and pillows inside a tightly-sealed bag for at least 3 days, but longer if possible.
  • Soak all hair accessories (such as brushes, clips, and combs) in hot water (over 130 degrees) or rubbing alcohol for a minimum of 15 minutes.
  • Thoroughly vacuum any item that can’t be washed (such as furniture, toys, and mattresses). Get rid of the vacuum bag or clean out the container right after!
  • If you spend a lot of time driving, inspect your car seats and headrest for possible stragglers.
  • If your pets have fleas, make sure you treat them as well as their bedding and toys. You are less likely to get fleas in your hair but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. 

What about lice in dreadlock extensions?

Lice don’t care what kind of hair you have- whether it’s all real or partially synthetic. They will take over your scalp if given the chance. When it comes to getting rid of lice in dreadlock extensions, I recommend the following steps.

1. Remove the extensions.

2. Kill the nits and lice completely (using the methods described above). This process may take up to three weeks.

3. Inspect the extensions and brush out any lice or nits. You can leave them sealed in a plastic bag for three or more days so the bugs suffocate.

4. Once you have taken care of the problem completely, reapply the extensions and carry on!

Any kind of bug infestation is awful to experience. I can only imagine the desperation people may feel after realizing that they have a new ecosystem growing in the precious hair they have nurtured and put so much effort into. 

Although the easiest solution for some people might be to shave their entire hair off, I think I would take that option as the last resort.

I hope these tips were helpful and that they prevent or solve your bug problem. Anyone can get lice- it’s really nothing to be ashamed of. You must act upon a treatment option quickly if you’re one of the unlucky ones.

Have you successfully gotten rid of lice (or other bugs) in your dreadlocks? I’d love to hear your comments and tips below!

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  1. Thanks for this article. I just found out what the white dots stuck at the tip of the hair are, finally.

  2. I have dreadlocks almost 12inches long. At least twice i noticed the itching and the yellowish something in my hair. i had to ask goggle why, then i landed here on your page. The treatment advice and tips are just so helpful. Thanks.

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