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Lice - Medications

There are both over-the-counter medicines and prescription products to treat head lice and pubic lice. Most products come as a shampoo, creme rinse, or lotion (topical treatment) that is applied to the affected areas, left on for a period of time, and then rinsed off. Doctors sometimes prescribe a pill to treat lice when two or more approved topical medicines have not worked.

If lice infest the eyelashes, your doctor may prescribe an eye ointment for you.

Because body lice live in clothing, not on the body, medicines are generally not needed unless the person is severely infested. The most common way to kill body lice and eggs is to wash clothing and bedding in hot water [130 °F (54.5 °C) or higher] in a washing machine.

Medicine choices

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that are recommended for head or pubic lice include:2

  • Permethrin creme rinse 1% (such as Nix), which is a common first choice for treating head lice. It kills lice and their eggs for 2 weeks or more after it has been rinsed off.
  • Shampoos containing pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide (such as Rid), which are left on the hair for 10 minutes and then rinsed out. A second treatment is needed 9 days after the first to kill newly hatched lice.

There are other OTC products for lice, but not all of them have good evidence that their benefits outweigh the side effects and other risks. Check the product label slideshow.gif. Be sure to follow the directions about proper use and safety. And talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether these products are safe for young children.

Prescription medicines that are recommended for head or pubic lice include:2

  • Benzyl alcohol 5% (Ulesfia), which is used to treat head lice. It is applied to the hair on the head, left on for 10 minutes, and then rinsed off.
  • Malathion lotion (Ovide), which is used to treat head lice. It is applied to hair on the head, left on for 8 to 12 hours, then rinsed off. If lice are still present 7 to 9 days later, a second treatment must be done.
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