Treatment of head lice has relied mainly on the use of topical insecticides. Today, conventional topical pediculicides have suffered considerable loss of activity worldwide. There is increasing interest in the use of natural products such as essential oils for head louse control, and many of them are now incorporated into various over-the-counter products presented as pediculicides, often without proper evaluation. The aim of the present study was to assess the in vitro efficacy of five essential oils against adults of Pediculus humanus capitis using a contact filter paper toxicity bioassay. The chemical composition of the essential oils from wild bergamot, clove, lavender, tea tree, and Yunnan verbena was analyzed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. All treatments and controls were replicated three times on separate occasions over a period of 11 months. In all, 1239 living lice were collected from the scalp of 51 subjects, aged from 1 to 69 years. Clove oil, diluted either in coco oil or sunflower oil, demonstrated the best adulticidal activity, reaching > 90% mortality within 2 h in lice submitted to a 30-min contact. Yunnan verbena oil diluted in coco oil showed also a significant efficacy. Other essential oils showed a lower efficacy. The oil’s major component(s) differed according to the tested oils and appeared chemically diverse. In the case of clove oil, the eugenol appeared as the main component. This study confirmed the potential interest of some of the essential oils tested, but not all, as products to include possibly in a pediculicidal formulation.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Bagavan A, Rahuman AA, Kamaraj C, Elango G, Zahir AA, Jayaseelan C, Santhoshkumar T, Marimuthu S (2011) Contact and fumigant toxicity of hexane flower bud extract of Syzygium aromaticum and its compounds against Pediculus humanus capitis (Phthiraptera: Pediculidae). Parasitol Res 109(5):1329–1340. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00436-011-2425-1
Bakkali F, Averbeck S, Averbeck D, Idaomar M (2008) Biological effects of essential oils—a review. Food Chem Toxicol 46(2):446–475. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2007.09.106
Barker SC, Altman PM (2010) A randomised, assessor blind, parallel group comparative efficacy trial of three products for the treatment of head lice in children—melaleuca oil and lavender oil, pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide, and a “suffocation” product. BMC Dermatol 10(1):6. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-5945-10-6
Barker SC, Altman PM (2011) An ex vivo, assessor blind, randomized, parallel group, comparative efficacy trial of the ovicidal activity of three pediculicides after a single application—melaleuca oil and lavender oil, eucalyptus oil and lemon tea tree oil, and a “suffocation” pediculicide. BMC Dermatol 24:11–14
Burgess IF (2009) Current treatments for pediculosis capitis. Curr Opin Infect Dis 22(2):131–136. https://doi.org/10.1097/QCO.0b013e328322a019
Choi HY, Yang YC, Lee SH, Clark JM, Ahn YJ (2010) Efficacy of spray formulations containing binary mixtures of clove and eucalyptus oils against susceptible and pyrethroid/malathion-resistant head lice (Anoplura: Pediculidae). J Med Entomol 47(3):387–391. https://doi.org/10.1093/jmedent/47.3.387
Chosidow O (2000) Scabies and pediculosis. Lancet 355(9206):819–826. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(99)09458-1
Di Campli E, Di Bartolomeo S, Delli Pizzi P, Di Giulio M, Grande R, Nostro A, Cellini L (2012) Activity of tea tree oil and nerolidol alone or in combination against Pediculus capitis (head lice) and its eggs. Parasitol Res 111(5):1985–1992. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00436-012-3045-0
Durand R, Bouvresse S, Berdjane Z, Izri A, Chosidow O, Clark JM (2012) Insecticide resistance in head lice: clinical, parasitological and genetic aspects. Clin Microbiol Infect 18(4):338–344. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-0691.2012.03806.x
Falagas ME, Matthaiou DK, Rafailidis PI, Panos G, Pappas G (2008) Worldwide prevalence of head lice. Emerg Infect Dis 14(9):1493–1494. https://doi.org/10.3201/eid1409.080368
Gallardo A, Mougabure-Cueto G, Vassena C, Picollo MI, Toloza AC (2012a) Comparative efficacy of new commercial pediculicides against adults and eggs of Pediculus humanus capitis (head lice). Parasitol Res 110(5):1601–1606. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00436-011-2668-x
Gallardo A, Picollo MI, González-Audino P, Mougabure-Cueto G (2012b) Insecticidal activity of individual and mixed monoterpenoids of geranium essential oil against Pediculus humanus capitis (Phthiraptera: Pediculidae). J Med Entomol 49(2):332–335. https://doi.org/10.1603/ME11142
Gonzalez-Audino P, Vassena C, Zerba E, Picollo M (2007) Effectiveness of lotions based on essential oils from aromatic plants against permethrin resistant Pediculus humanus capitis. Arch Dermatol Res 299(8):389–392. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00403-007-0772-7
Gonzalez-Audino P, Picollo MI, Gallardo A, Toloza A, Vassena C, Mougabure-Cueto G (2011) Comparative toxicity of oxygenated monoterpenoids in experimental hydroalcoholic lotions to permethrin-resistant adult head lice. Arch Dermatol Res 303(5):361–366. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00403-010-1110-z
Henley DV, Lipson N, Korach KS, Bloch CA (2007) Prepubertal gynecomastia linked to lavender and tea tree oils. N Engl J Med 356(5):479–485. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa064725
Heukelbach J, Oliveira FA, Speare R (2006) A new shampoo based on neem (Azadirachta indica) is highly effective against head lice in vitro. Parasitol Res 99(4):353–356. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00436-006-0146-7
Heukelbach J, Canyon DV, Oliveira FA, Muller R, Speare R (2008) In vitro efficacy of over-the-counter botanical pediculicides against the head louse Pediculus humanus var capitis based on a stringent standard for mortality assessment. Med Vet Entomol 22(3):264–272. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2915.2008.00738.x
Koch E, Clark JM, Cohen B, Meinking TL, Ryan WG, Stevenson A, Yetman R, Yoon KS (2016) Management of Head Louse Infestations in the United States—a literature review. Pedriatr Dermatol 33(5):466–472. https://doi.org/10.1111/pde.12982
Meinking TL, Villar ME, Vicaria M, Eyerdam DH, Paquet D, Mertz-Rivera K, Rivera HF, Hiriart J, Reyna S (2010) The clinical trials supporting benzyl alcohol lotion 5% (Ulesfia): a safe and effective topical treatment for head lice (pediculosis humanus capitis). Pediatr Dermatol 27(1):19–24. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1525-1470.2009.01059.x
Mougabure Cueto G, Picollo MI (2010) Response of Pediculus humanus humanus (Pediculidae: Phthiraptera) to water or 70% ethanol immersion and determination of optimal times for measuring toxic effects. Parasitol Res 106(6):1503–1506. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00436-010-1833-y
Priestley CM, Burges IF, Williamson EM (2006) Lethality of essential oil constituents towards the human louse, Pediculus humanus, and its eggs. Fitoterapia 77(4):303–309. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fitote.2006.04.005
Williamson EM, Priestley CM, Burgess IF (2007) An investigation and comparison of the bioactivity of selected essential oils on human lice and house dust mites. Fitoterapia 78(7-8):521–525. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fitote.2007.06.001
Yang YC, Lee HS, Clark JM, Ahn YJ (2004) Insecticidal activity of plant essential oils against Pediculus humanus capitis (Anoplura: Pediculidae). J Med Entomol 41(4):699–704. https://doi.org/10.1603/0022-2585-41.4.699
Yang YC, Lee HS, Lee SH, Clark JM, Ahn YJ (2005) Ovicidal and adulticidal activities of Cinnamomum zeylanicum bark essential oil compounds and related compounds against Pediculus humanus capitis (Anoplura: Pediculicidae). Int J Parasitol 35(14):1595–1600. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpara.2005.08.005
Yones DA, Bakir HY, Bayoumi SA (2016) Chemical composition and efficacy of some selected plant oils against Pediculus humanus capitis in vitro. Parasitol Res 115(8):3209–3218. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00436-016-5083-5
The protocol was reviewed and approved by the Comité de Protection des Personnes (institutional review board) of the ethics committee CPP-Ile-de-France X (2017-02). Informed consent was obtained from all patients.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Candy, K., Nicolas, P., Andriantsoanirina, V. et al. In vitro efficacy of five essential oils against Pediculus humanus capitis . Parasitol Res 117, 603–609 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00436-017-5722-5
- Pediculus humanus capitis
- Head lice
- Essential oils
- Filter paper