Do You Know the Difference between Lice and Dandruff?

Many people do not know the difference between head lice and dandruff. While the two have a number of symptoms in common, they are very different and require different treatments. If you are suffering from a head lice infestation but use dandruff treatment because you do not know what the problem is, you are highly likely to be unsuccessful. On the other hand, if you try to get rid of dandruff using treatment for lice, you will fail. This is why it is important to know the difference between the two.

Head lice are small insects that live in the hair, and feed off blood from your scalp. They are very contagious, and are spread through sharing personal items such as combs and brushes, towels, hats and scarves. Dandruff, on the other hand, is a scalp condition that causes the scalp to be flaky or scaly. The medical term for dandruff is seborrheic dermatitis. Unlike head lice, it is not contagious. It can be caused by common skin yeast, excessively oily or dry skin, or genetic factors.

The reason why people confuse dandruff and head lice is the fact that lice eggs, known as nits, look like dandruff. However, they are more difficult to remove from the hair. Dandruff and head lice both cause scalp itchiness and white specs on the scalp. However, note that this is not always the case for dandruff. Dandruff only causes scalp itchiness if the scalp is very dry.

Differences in head lice and dandruff symptoms

  • If you have a head lice infestation, you will experience a crawling sensation on your scalp. This is because of the lice moving around on your head. For dandruff, there is no crawling sensation; just scalp itchiness.
  • As mentioned above, dandruff and head lice both cause white specs on the scalp. However, if you have dandruff, the white specs are flakes or scales on your scalp which come about due to dryness. If you have a head lice infestation, the white specs are due to nits. While the white specs caused by dandruff easily fall off when you comb or rub your hair, the nits usually stick to the hair shaft and are much more difficult to get rid of.

Head lice are treated using shampoos and lotions containing pyrethrin. These can be bought over the counter. There are also some prescription shampoos and lotions which contain other chemicals that help to get rid of lice. You only need to wash your hair with the shampoo or apply the lotion once, and then check your hair after about a week for signs of lice. If they are still there, you may have to use the shampoo or lotion again. It is not advisable to use more than one lice treatment at once. If the problem persists, seek help from your doctor.

Dandruff is treated using shampoos and hair oils that contain substances with anti-fungal properties to treat fungal infections which may be the cause of skin flaking. Shampoos with salicylic acid, selenium sulfide, coal tar and ketoconazole are also good for treating dandruff.


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