Live vs. Dead Lice Eggs (2024)

Lice eggs that die in their casings before they hatch are usually brown or black. But that color can also mean they are close to hatching. Dead eggs may be further away from the scalp.

If you suspect that head lice are causing an epidemic at your child’s school, camp, or playground, you’re probably right. The CDC estimates that roughly 6–12 million lice infestations occur annually in kids ages 3–11 years in the United States.

Even the most scrupulous louse sleuth may find it hard to tell the difference between living and dead nits (lice eggs).

In this article, we explain what living and dead lice eggs look like and how to get rid of them.

Live lice move swiftly and can be difficult to see. Lice eggs remain in place, making them more visible.

Lice eggs are around the size of sesame seeds and slightly oval in shape. Nits are sometimes confused for dandruff flakes. But unlike dandruff, you can’t easily remove them or flick them off. Each lice egg is “glued” onto an individual hair shaft at its base on the scalp.

Living nits that are incubating in their shells can be white, yellow, beige, or pale brown, depending on their age. The darker a nit, the closer it is to hatching.

Once a living nit hatches, it becomes a louse. An empty shell, called a casing, is left behind. The casing may be situated 1/4-inch or farther away from the scalp, making it easy to spot in the hair. Empty nit casings are white, gray, or translucent.

If a nit dies in its shell before it hatches, the dead louse egg darkens in color. As your child’s hair continues to grow, dead lice eggs may be located anywhere along the hair shaft.

What color are dead lice eggs?

Unlike empty casings, dead lice eggs are nits that didn’t hatch. These nit shells contain a nonviable louse embryo inside. Dead lice eggs are typically brown or black.

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If not removed, dead lice eggs can stay in your hair for a long time.

Like living lice eggs and empty casings, dead lice eggs are anchored onto the hair shaft with a type of glue. The female louse secretes this glue-like substance when she lays her eggs to protect them until they hatch.

The glue hardens upon secretion and does not dissipate when a nit dies. For that reason, dead lice remain cemented onto the hair shaft until you manually or chemically remove them or the hair grows out.

Even though dead lice eggs can’t hatch or cause itching, they may be upsetting to find in hair.

Dead lice eggs can’t move from one person to another. But their presence may make it hard for your child to return to school or their usual activities. For these reasons, it’s probably helpful to remove dead lice eggs.

You can remove dead nits manually with a lice comb. Since they’re no longer viable and won’t spread or reproduce, chemical treatments are not needed.

However, medications that kill eggs (ovicidals) will dissipate the glue that keeps dead lice eggs stuck to hair. If this is more comfortable for you, or you’re not entirely sure that the eggs are dead, to be safe, use a prescription or over-the-counter treatment that kills lice eggs.

Keep in mind that some lice treatments, such as pyrethrin and permethrin, only kill live lice, not their eggs. Natroba (spinosad) is a topical ovicidal that kills lice eggs as well as live lice. It’s available by prescription only.

Is it possible to have lice eggs but no lice?

Lice eggs take 8–9 days to hatch. It’s possible to have lice eggs without live lice during this early incubation period.

If you use a lice treatment that kills live lice but doesn’t harm their eggs, you may also have an eggs-only situation but not for long.

Do lice eggs pop when dead?

If you squish a living lice egg, you may feel it “pop” when flattened and killed. Nits that are dead may already be slightly deflated and may or may not “pop.”

Will dead lice eggs fall out?

No. Dead lice eggs remain glued to the hair shaft until you remove them.

Living lice eggs, or nits, range in color from white to light brown. Dead lice eggs are darker and can appear brown or black. The casings left behind by nits that hatch are typically translucent.

You can use a lice comb to get rid of lice eggs that are either living or dead. Medications designed to kill lice eggs (ovicidals) can also be used.

Live vs. Dead Lice Eggs (2024)


Live vs. Dead Lice Eggs? ›

Living lice eggs, or nits

Pediculosis is an infestation of lice from the sub-order Anoplura, family Pediculidae. Accordingly, the infestation with head lice is named pediculosis capitis, while this with body lice, pediculosis corporis. › wiki › Pediculosis
, range in color from white to light brown. Dead lice eggs are darker and can appear brown or black. The casings left behind by nits that hatch are typically translucent. You can use a lice comb to get rid of lice eggs that are either living or dead.

How to tell if lice eggs are dead or alive? ›

Head lice eggs are oval, and the size of a pinhead. They are firmly attached to the hair shaft and cannot be brushed off. (A live egg will make a 'pop' sound if you crush it between your fingernails.) The easiest and most effective way to find head lice is to use the conditioner and comb treatment weekly.

Do dead lice eggs still stick to hair? ›

After elimination of the lice, the dead eggs and empty eggshells (nits) remain firmly fixed to the hair.

Why do I keep finding lice eggs but no lice? ›

Can someone have nits but no lice? It may be possible to have nits but no lice. If a person cannot find any nymphs or adult lice in the scalp and the nits are more than a quarter of an inch from the scalp, these may be dead and from an old infestation. However, the lice could be in hiding.

Do nits pop when they are dead? ›

Head lice eggs are small (the size of a pinhead) and oval. A live egg will 'pop' when squashed between fingernails. Dead eggs have crumpled sides and hatched eggs look like tiny boiled eggs with their tops cut off. To optimise treatment remove as many eggs as possible.

Will dead lice eggs eventually fall out? ›

How long can dead nits stay in hair? Nits stick to the hair shaft. Hatched casings and dead nits can stay on the hair shaft for months, even after curing the lice infestation, unless you remove them manually. Because of this, finding nits alone doesn't always mean there's an active lice infestation.

How to remove dead nits from hair? ›

Combing wet hair with a fine-toothed nit comb may remove lice and some nits. Studies show that wet-combing results vary. Start by wetting the hair and lubricating it with hair conditioner or olive oil. Comb the entire head from the scalp to the end of the hair at least twice during a session.

How do I know lice are gone? ›

Generally, if no live crawling insects are seen three weeks after the treatment, it's safe to assume that they are gone. Nits would have hatched by that time if they were alive. Nits and their shells may remain in the hair for some time but won't be viable.

What happens if you leave lice eggs in your hair? ›

If all nits are not removed, they may hatch into live lice. The hair will be re-infested and you will have to start the treatment process all over again.

What will dissolve lice eggs? ›

Does anything dissolve nits in hair? Permethrin may be effective at dissolving nits in your hair. Researchers in a small 2019 study tested several treatments and found that compounds like isononyl isononanoate in a watery gel application were effective at dissolving nits, too.

What happens if you don't comb out dead nits? ›

If you do not comb out all the remaining nits, they will hatch and restart the cycle in 7-10 days from that point. That's why we recommend 3 treatments over a 12-day period of time. This stops the life cycle of lice. These are nits at different stages and a louse.

Can you tell how long you've had lice? ›

You can roughly calculate how long you've had lice through observation. If you see no live lice and very few nits, you may have an early infestation of 1–2 weeks or less. The location of the nits is key. If they're flush to the scalp, they're newly laid.

Can you pull lice eggs out with your fingers? ›

Use your fingernails to pull off the nits from the hair or use a head lice comb (metal ones work better than plastic). Repeat daily until there are no nits. Separate hair into sections then pick up a few strands at a time to remove nits.

What color is a dead nits? ›

Takeaway. Living lice eggs, or nits, range in color from white to light brown. Dead lice eggs are darker and can appear brown or black. The casings left behind by nits that hatch are typically translucent.

Why do adults not get lice? ›

Once lice is in the home, it doesn't discriminate based on age. So, lice can infest parents as easily as siblings of the child with lice. However, moms typically get lice more often than dads. This is because lice does discriminate based on hair length and hormone levels of the host.

Do dead lice eggs sink or float? ›

If you removed nits, they will float; if you removed dandruff flakes, they will sink. Heated air is an effective form of lice treatment.

What color are lice eggs when they are alive? ›

Here's what to look for: Lice eggs (nits). These look like tiny yellow, tan, or brown dots before they hatch. Lice lay nits on hair shafts close to the scalp, where the temperature is perfect for keeping warm until they hatch.

How do you tell the difference between lice eggs and dead skin? ›

Lice eggs are usually about the size of a pinhead and are white or yellow in color, and are attached to the hair shafts with a glue-like substance that can be difficult to remove. Dandruff, on the other hand, is a scalp condition caused by excessive flaking of dead skin cells.

What looks like lice eggs but isn't? ›

Dandruff. Dandruff can look similar to head lice eggs and also causes the scalp to itch. Dandruff is a scalp condition in which dry skin comes away from the scalp in white flakes. Dandruff lies on the scalp and comes away easily, whereas nits stick to the hair.

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