White Nits vs. Brown Nits (2024)

White or clear nits mean lice have hatched from their eggs. Brown nits may mean the lice are ready to hatch, but they may also be dead, depending on how far away from the scalp they are.

Head lice are tiny parasitic insects about the sizes of sesame seeds. They live in human hair and feed from the scalp.

Female lice lay up to 10 eggs per day. These eggs and their empty casings are called nits. Depending on your hair color and the hatching cycle, nits can appear clear, white, tan, or dark brown.

Nits usually get stuck firmly on the hair shaft quite close to the scalp. They’re tiny, about the sizes of knots in pieces of thread. People may confuse them easily with dandruff, hair product droplets, dirt, or sand. But unlike other debris, nits get stuck firmly on the hair shaft like head lice do and aren’t easy to pick out.

If you or your child receive a diagnosis of head lice, know that the infestation is common and treatable. Lice don’t spread very easily or transmit other illnesses. A doctor may recommend treatment with a two-step lotion or shampoo and a combing routine to kill lice and remove nits.

Empty egg casings left behind after lice hatch appear white or clear, especially against dark hair.

You can find these hatched nits during or after an active head lice infestation.

If you or your child find only white or clear nits on the hair after a thorough check (no active lice or brown nits), your head lice infestation may have resolved. This is most likely if you’ve completed treatment and the nits are more than 1 centimeter (cm) from the scalp surface.

Left alone, hatched nits can remain firmly attached to the hair shaft for months, but they’re harmless and can’t cause lice reinfestation.

Unhatched head lice eggs appear yellow, tan, or dark brown. The larvae inside can be living or dead.

You can find these nits during or after an active head lice infestation.

If you find brown nits, carefully check the rest of the scalp, especially the hair behind the ears and at the back of the neck. Look for live lice and any nits within 1 cm of the scalp surface. Use a bright light, a fine-tooth nit comb, and the wet comb-out method.

Are nits dead if they’re brown?

Not necessarily. The larvae inside these unhatched eggs can be living or dead.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), nits more than 1 cm from the scalp are usually dead.

But when nits are closer to the scalp, it’s impossible to determine whether the lice could still hatch.

The AAP generally recommends treatment when nits are within 1 cm of the scalp.

Was this helpful?

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. In a study from 2001, researchers carefully examined a group of school-aged children who had nits alone and found only 18% developed active head lice.

For this reason, the AAP doesn’t recommend “no-nit” school exclusion policies.

Medicated shampoos and creams can effectively kill lice but generally won’t kill all nits with a single application. A doctor may recommend repeat treatment 7–10 days after an initial treatment to kill live nits and lice that have recently hatched.

After treatment, the AAP recommends manually removing dead nits from the hair. You can do this by wetting the hair with water and using a fine-tooth nit comb to carefully comb through each section from the scalp to the ends. The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends repeating this combing daily for 2 weeks after treatment.

The AAP doesn’t usually recommend chemical nit-loosening solutions. Some may cause irritation or interfere with the action of medicated lice shampoos and treatments.

Shaving your head can also remove lice and nits, but it isn’t necessary.

Why do I have white nits but no lice?

First, check that you truly have nits. Unlike other white or clear residues from dandruff or hair care products, nits stick firmly to the hair shaft and don’t easily come off.

You can find white nits on the hair shaft for months after lice treatment. These empty egg casings could be from a previous infestation, especially if you’ve had treatment and the nits are more than 1 cm from the scalp.

But if you find white nits very close to the scalp, examine the scalp for other signs of lice infestation.

Can I have brown nits but no lice?

Yes, finding brown nits but no active lice could mean either an active or recent lice infestation.

Diagnosing head lice requires finding at least one active louse. But lice can crawl fast to avoid light, and there are typically fewer than 10 on the scalp at any given time. So, it can be much easier to spot nits than live lice!

If you see brown nits, check the scalp carefully. If you still don’t find lice but see brown nits within 1 cm of the scalp, they may be live eggs. Consult a doctor about treatment and wet combing for nit removal.

If you have no symptoms, no active lice, and the nits are all farther than 1 cm from the scalp, they’re probably from a previous infestation and may not need treatment. You can remove nits with wet combing and continue to watch closely for any new signs of infestation.

Will hatched or dead nits fall out?

Nits stick firmly to the hair shaft and don’t easily fall out on their own.

White or clear-colored nits are usually eggs that have hatched.

Brown nits are unhatched eggs. The lice inside may be alive or dead — you can’t tell for sure based on color alone. But the farther nits are from the scalp, the less likely they may be viable. Nits more than 1 cm away from the scalp are most likely dead.

Because dead and hatched nits stick to the hair for a long time, finding nits alone doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an active lice infestation. Talk with a doctor to discuss your findings and any recent symptoms or exposures.

White Nits vs. Brown Nits (2024)

FAQs

White Nits vs. Brown Nits? ›

If you think you have lice and see a small, oval blob on a strand of hair, it's probably a nit. If nits are yellow, tan, or brown, it means the lice haven't hatched yet. If the nits are white or clear, the lice have hatched and just the egg remains. Lice eggs hatch within 1 to 2 weeks after they're laid.

Are nits dead if they are white? ›

White or clear nits mean lice have hatched from their eggs. Brown nits may mean the lice are ready to hatch, but they may also be dead, depending on how far away from the scalp they are. Head lice are tiny parasitic insects about the sizes of sesame seeds. They live in human hair and feed from the scalp.

What Colour are nits eggs before they hatch? ›

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.

Why do I have white nits in my hair but no lice? ›

There are many reasons why you could find nits but no lice on a scalp. It's possible to experience this satiation in the very early stages of an infestation. It's also possible to have nits leftover from a prior outbreak.

Is lice brown or white? ›

Appearance. Head lice have six legs and are usually grayish-white or tan. However, they can camouflage, so they may appear darker or lighter to match different hair colors.

Do nits still pop when 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.

Do dead nits eventually fall out? ›

Nits may remain after lice have gone. They are empty eggshells and stick strongly to hair. They will eventually fall out. If you prefer, a fine-toothed 'nit comb' can remove them.

Are dead nit eggs white or brown? ›

Eggs that still contain a louse embryo are brownish in color, while the empty egg shells are white to grey. As the hair grow approximately 1cm a month, eggs that are about 1cm from the scalp are more than likely to have already hatched or to contain a dead embryo.

How to remove dead nits from hair? ›

Wet-combing

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.

What color are active nits? ›

Nits are firmly attached to the hair shaft and are oval-shaped and very small (about the size of a knot in thread) and hard to see. Nits often appear yellow or white although live nits sometimes appear to be the same color as the hair of the infested person.

Why do I keep finding nits after treatment? ›

Treatment Didn't Work

Over-the-counter lice treatments and prescription ones kill live lice and their eggs (nits), but they might not catch all of them. Because of the life cycle of lice, over-the-counter and prescription treatments may require two treatments, 7-9 days apart.

Why are my nits white? ›

If nits are yellow, tan, or brown, it means the lice haven't hatched yet. If the nits are white or clear, the lice have hatched and just the egg remains. Lice eggs hatch within 1 to 2 weeks after they're laid.

Are nits itchy or just lice? ›

Nits (eggs) are tiny white specks attached to hairs close to the scalp. Unlike dandruff or sand, nits can't be shaken off the hair shafts. Best places to look for nits: behind the ears and along the hairline at the neck. Itching of the scalp is the main symptom.

What color are super lice? ›

What do Super Lice look like? There may be the assumption that super lice must be supersized, but in fact, super lice look just like normal head lice. You won't find a cape, or an 'S' on their back, and you will not find any wings either. Head lice are tan to greyish in colour.

Why don't adults get lice? ›

The reality is that any adult who has hair can get head lice. However, it is incredibly rare for adults without children to get head lice. One of the major reasons for this is that people typically do a good job of controlling head lice.

What do freshly laid nits look like? ›

(Some experts use the term "nits" only to talk about empty egg casings, but most often "nits" refers to both eggs and empty shell casings). Nits are oval shaped and tiny, about the size of a knot in thread. They may appear yellow, white, or brown (sometimes the same color as the child's hair).

How can I tell if nits are dead? ›

Nits that are attached more than ¼ inch from the base of the hair shaft are almost always non-viable (hatched or dead). Head lice and nits can be visible with the naked eye, although use of a magnifying lens may be necessary to find crawling lice or to identify a developing nymph inside a viable nit.

Can you have dead nits and 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.

How do you get rid of white nits? ›

Use a nit comb to remove the nits. Metal ones work best. Combing can take more than an hour, depending on hair length and the number of nits. You may have to pick out the nits with gloved hands if other methods do not work.

Are white lice eggs empty? ›

Nits (eggs) that are over ½ inch (1 cm) from the scalp are empty egg cases. They are very white in color. Off the scalp, nits (eggs) can't survive over 2 weeks. Adult lice survive 3 weeks on the scalp or 24 hours off the scalp.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Carmelo Roob

Last Updated:

Views: 5842

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (45 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Carmelo Roob

Birthday: 1995-01-09

Address: Apt. 915 481 Sipes Cliff, New Gonzalobury, CO 80176

Phone: +6773780339780

Job: Sales Executive

Hobby: Gaming, Jogging, Rugby, Video gaming, Handball, Ice skating, Web surfing

Introduction: My name is Carmelo Roob, I am a modern, handsome, delightful, comfortable, attractive, vast, good person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.