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Does Hair Dye Kill Lice? The Answer Will Shock You!

Are you wondering if hair dye kills head lice? Look no further. We are gonna get to the bottom of this, right here, right now.

The image features a bright pink background with bold text questioning  How Does Hair Dye Even Work?  and prompts to read the article for those who color their hair at home.

Thankfully, I’ve never had the opportunity of coming across a client with lice in all my years in the hair industry (although I’ve heard horror stories). However, I do remember having lice in my own hair when I was in third grade.

I don’t remember much, but I do know that it was pretty miserable.

Naturally, I was excited for the opportunity to stay home from school, but the day quickly turned into a torturous experience. All I really remember was my mom combing through every single strand of my hair with a super fine-tooth comb.

So the question is: does hair dye kill lice? I mean, it would be pretty sweet if you could just kill two birds with one stone right? Let’s start by clarifying what head lice are…

What Are Head Lice?

The image displays a close-up of a lone head louse (Pediculus humanus capitis) isolated on a white background.

The Pediculus humanus capitus, aka the “head louse,” is a parasite that lives on the human scalp and feeds off human blood. It’s classified as an obligate parasite, meaning that it cannot complete its life cycle without a human host.

Since lice cannot fly, walk or jump, they must spend their entire life on a human scalp, unlike fleas.

The Pediculus humanus capitus species is exclusive to humans (even though other types of lice live on other mammals and birds). Although they are undesirable and can cause secondary infections in rare cases, they are typically harmless.

Head lice complete their lifecycle within 30 days from the time of hatching and are usually ready to mate after 10 hours.

They feed 4-5 times per day by injecting saliva with an anticoagulant into the skin and drinking the blood. Females lay their eggs close to the base of the hair shaft; the eggs hatch within 6-9 days.

Microscopic view of a head louse egg attached to the hair shaft.
Actual footage of a nit (lice egg) attached to the hair shaft.

How Do You Get Lice?

The easiest way to get lice is by sharing hair ties, combs, hats, etc. with someone that has lice. They can also spread from close head-to-head contact like hugging and taking pictures together.

They tend to be more commonly found in children and spread quickly through schools.

How To Get Rid of Head Lice:

So now that we know what lice are and how to get them, let’s talk about how to get rid of them. Since dandruff and other conditions can mimic head lice, you should first confirm that you have lice before going through the trouble of treating it.

Close-up Of Doctor Hand With Comb And Dermatoscope Doing Treatment Of Patient's Hair
  1. The first thing you need to do is kill the lice and eggs using an approved lice treatment (usually in the form of shampoo). This treatment is essentially a pesticide that is mild enough to be used on the scalp*
  2. After shampooing the hair with the lice treatment, all clothes, pillowcases, hair ties, etc. should be washed in hot water or thrown away. Only clean clothes should be used from this point forward.
  3. After the treatment is done, all eggs need to be removed with a “nit comb.” This is really just a fine-tooth comb designed for removing nits. This process may take many hours since every nook and cranny of the hair needs to be checked. This step is extra important.
  4. The shampoo part may need to be repeated within 8-12 hours; make sure to follow the instructions of the treatment.

*Even though lice treatments are mild, they are still toxic and should be handled with care, especially around children.

Types of Hair Dye

Hair color highlights done with foils.

Okay, I have to go off on one more tangent before I can answer the final question: does hair dye kill lice? I promise that this abundance of information is leading somewhere.

I just think it’s super important to talk about the different types of hair dye since they all do different things to the hair.

  • Temporary Hair Dye coats the hair shaft with pigment that will wash out with your next shower. It comes in the form of color rinses, chalks, crayons, sprays, etc. For more information about this, check out my post about temporary hair color.
  • Semi-Permanent Hair Dye will last a bit longer, but still eventually washes out. Although some of the color molecules will actually penetrate into the hair, you still don’t need to use a developer.
  • Demi-Permanent Hair Dye is the step between permanent and semi-permanent color. It uses developer to lift the cuticle and penetrate into the hair shaft, but will also wash out after six weeks. It can’t be used to lift hair to lighter shades.
  • Permanent Hair Dye will pretty much last until your hair grows out, although it might fade a bit. You do mix it with different volumes of developer (depending on how light or dark the starting color and target color are). This allows the color molecules to pack tightly into the hair.
  • Lightener aka “bleach” uses developer to oxidize and disperse color molecules in the hair. Its only purpose is to lighten hair and remove color.

If you want to read more about hair color and science, I suggest checking out my article about general hair knowledge (Hair 101) or the one about how hair color works.

Does Hair Dye Kill Lice?

Microscopic view of lice in the hair.

Now that you know everything about head lice and hair dye, we can finish strong with the answer to your question.

Yes, hair dye does kill lice. Sort of.

There really haven’t really been any tests done on this topic, so it’s all based on speculation and the word of other people. I would imagine that only permanent and demi-permanent hair colors, that use developer and ammonia, would be able to kill lice.

Spraying the little buggers down with temporary hair color would probably just make them colorful. Semi-permanent colors may kill some of the lice, but I wouldn’t trust it.

Additionally, hair dye has been said not to kill the nits; supposedly it can’t penetrate the hard shell of the egg. To put this in perspective, if even one nit survived, a whole infestation could be back on your head within a few weeks.


While certain types of hair colors do kill lice, it isn’t nearly as effective as traditional treatments that were designed for killing lice and nits. If you’re going through the trouble of treating lice, I would make sure to do it right the first time.

Additionally, since most lice infestations happen in children, hair color might not be the most suitable form of treatment. Furthermore, many chemicals found in color should be avoided with younger children.

Since I don’t have any direct experience with lice, I can’t give you a full recommendation on treatments. However, if I had to choose, I would either go for:

  • *RID Complete Lice Treatment Kit – This product comes with everything you need to kill the lice and nits and remove them from your hair. The downside is that it may be harsh on the hair and scalp.
  • *Lice Clinics of America Lice Remover Kit – This product is “Amazon’s Choice,” and has killer ratings. It’s non-toxic, safe, effective, and comes with everything you need sans the harsh chemicals. However, it does not kill the nits, so extra care needs to be taken to remove them.

*This post contains affiliate links meaning that I make a small percentage of money if you purchase the item through the link. I would only ever promote products I believe in and would purchase myself. Thank you for allowing me to continue doing what I love.

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