Difference Between Lice and Dandruff

If you have never had lice or seen them in person, you may wonder what is the difference between lice and dandruff. How can I tell which one I have? Do I need to go to the doctor? When can I send my child back to school if they have had lice? How can I prevent myself or my child from getting lice? Let’s talk…

Difference Between Lice and Dandruff

If you are like me, you are probably scratching your head even if you weren’t itching before beginning reading this. The thought of lice is pretty disgusting but did you know it is not as unusual as you may think? Lice live on dirty hair and in homes of dirty people. MYTH! Lice actually like clean hair!

What is Dandruff?

Dandruff is a type of skin problem that involves excessive shedding of dead skin. Dandruff also causes some damage to the scalp, leading to loss of hair in some areas. This can all result in a flaky, itchy scalp.

What is Lice?

Lice are parasites that live on the hair and feed on blood. They also cause itching of the scalp and loss of hair after laying eggs. Lice are usually transferred through close contact between people, but they can also be spread by using an infected person’s belongings.

How Can I Tell if I Have Dandruff or Lice?

It is important to know that having one does not mean that you also have the other; however, if your hair is constantly dry and itchy then it is best to visit a dermatologist for proper diagnosis and treatment. Lice are typically oblong, almost seed-looking whitish transparent pieces that are not easily removed from the hair. If you try to knock it off the strand of hair, it does not come off easily. The eggs are what you are actually seeing. They are sticky and usually appear a centimeter or so down from the scalp, not on the scalp itself. Because they are close to the scalp and usually in areas behind the ears and around the neckline, you will likely need help from a friend or family member to see if you have lice.

Dandruff, on the other hand, will move if you touch it because it is just dry, dead skin. Dandruff isn’t stuck to the hair.

Is it possible to have both dandruff and lice at the same time?

It is possible but it is not common. When you visit a dermatologist for head lice treatment, your doctor will always ask about any other symptoms you may be experiencing because these two conditions could be indicative of other problems like psoriasis or eczema.

What are the Symptoms of dandruff?

The most common symptom associated with dandruff is the flaking and shedding of dead skin from the scalp. Your head may also feel itchy and sensitive to touch especially in areas where it is more visible. You may also experience dryness, redness, and scaling of the skin.

If I have dandruff, what should I do?

If you have been diagnosed with dandruff then the first step to take is to avoid scratching your scalp as this will only aggravate the problem further.

Secondly, use a good anti-dandruff shampoo and conditioner to cleanse your hair regularly. You can also try a medicated shampoo.

Another option is to apply a mixture of coconut oil, olive oil, and lavender oil in equal proportions on your scalp. Rinse it off after an hour. Follow the procedure regularly for best results.

What are the Symptoms of Lice?

The symptoms of head lice include intense itching of the scalp, especially on the neck and behind the ears. The skin may also appear red, irritated, or swollen at points where the hair is infested with lice. You may also find the eggs of lice on hair.

If I have lice, what should I do?

The first step when you detect lice in your hair is to apply a medicated shampoo to remove eggs and lice from your hair. Follow up with nit removal comb to remove any remaining nits.

The next step is to treat your clothes and other personal belongings, such as pillows and bedsheets in the laundry machine at the highest temperature possible.

Home Remedies for Treating Lice

At home, you can use a mixture of coconut oil and tea tree oil to apply on the area where your head is itching. You should also opt for a natural shampoo that does not contain harmful chemicals or ingredients.

Caution: Avoid using essential oils directly on your skin as they may cause irritation. Instead, mix them with a carrier oil such as coconut oil or olive oil and then apply them to the affected area.

How can I prevent headlice?

Prevention is always better than cure.

There are certain ways to avoid getting lice infestation such as:

Avoid sharing combs, hats, scarves, and other personal belongings such as headphones with others. Avoid overcrowding at home, shared public spaces, and schools. Keep hair clean and neatly tied.

These are some tips that can prevent lice infestation in children as well as adults. Always remember to thoroughly check your hair for any signs of lice or nits after returning from places like college, school, camp, etc., where there is a high risk of getting lice.

Never hesitate to ask your dermatologist if there are any specific treatments that you should follow for dandruff or head lice.

Be sure to visit a dermatologist if you experience any persistent irritation, rashes, or redness on the scalp as this may be indicative of an underlying problem like psoriasis, eczema, or dandruff.

When Can I Send My Child Back to School After Having Lice?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children can return to school once they have been treated for lice. Lice eggs generally take about one week to 10 days to be hatched after hatching, which is why it is recommended that you do not send your child back until this time has passed since his or her last treatment.


Dandruff and lice are two different scalp problems with very different symptoms. Lice infestation causes intense itching of the scalp, loss of hair, and redness on infested areas whereas dandruff is characterized by flakes and itchiness without loss of hair.

By now, you know that it is best to consult a dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis of your condition. You can follow the tips mentioned in this article to prevent head lice infestation and treat dandruff at home.

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