How to Tell Head Lice from Dandruff

Head lice attach their eggs, or nits, to strands of hair on the infected person's head. Head lice are most common among young children because this age group tends to share more personal products and interact in closer capacity. Nits can look like dandruff, and because both items are very tiny, it is sometimes difficult to determine what is really in the hair. Differentiating between dandruff and head lice is important because the treatments for each affliction are dramatically different. Treating dandruff as head lice exposes individuals to unnecessary, possibly harmful chemicals, and treating head lice as dandruff does not solve the head lice issue.

Check the scalp. After you discover a suspected nit or dandruff flake, examine the scalp. A healthy scalp is pinkish to white. Comb through the hair with a fine-tooth comb. A dry scalp looks grey, with obvious flakes of skin possibly attached to the head. If the scalp looks healthy, the spot may be a nit. If the scalp is flaky and dry, the spot is more likely to be dandruff.

Inspect the suspected spot. If the spot is easily brushed away from the head, it is dandruff. If the spot does not move after brushing, it may be a nit. Remove the spot with tweezers. Check the colour of the spot. Nits are oval-shaped, and white, off-white or clear. Dandruff is flat, and can be white or grey. If the suspected spot is an odd shape, it is dandruff. Nits are almost always oval-shaped, and if there are many nits, they are uniform. One dandruff flake is not the same shape or size as another.

Check the location of the spot. Nits are usually located close to the root of the hair and do not change their location. Dandruff can be located near the scalp or throughout the hair, and will move with a shake of the head.

Things You'll Need

  • Fine-tooth comb
  • Tweezers
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About the Author

Rebecca Mayglothling has worked directly with toddlers and preschoolers for more than three years. She has published numerous lesson plans online as well as parenting and teaching advice. She continues to keep ahead of parenting methods and is eager to share them through her professional writing.