Lice vs. Dandruff: Spot the Difference, Stop the Infestation.


You can easily ignore white specks on your child’s scalp. After all, children run around getting dirty all day, so a little dandruff may not surprise you. But when you see an abundance of white flakes on their scalp and even their clothes, how do you make sure that these are dandruff and not lice? Before crisis mode sets in & you speed to the pharmacy to buy every chemical and treatment in the store, let’s determine the differences between lice and dandruff. After all, education is half the battle when it comes to combating and preventing lice infestation.


While they may look similar and cause similar symptoms, Dandruff and Head Lice couldn’t be more different. They both cause dry scalps, itchiness, and leave residue in your hair and clothing; however, Dandruff comes from your own body, and parasitic Head Lice are beings of their own who feed off your scalp.  Your body produces dandruff as a fungal response, resulting in a dry and itchy scalp. This result generally leaves fleeting flakes of skin on your shoulders and longer strands of hair. On the other hand, the parasitic louse—most commonly found in children—tends not to fall off as easily since it survives by sucking blood from your scalp. Lice will often move, and more importantly, they will scatter when provoked, like any other insect. Usually light-colored, lice may not look quite white up close, having some clear striations on their body that indicate other colors. Additionally, Lice lay eggs in the hair, commonly called Nits. These typically appear bunched together, and clumps of nits are more often mistaken for Dandruff than adult lice.


Nits are lice eggs. When an adult louse or group of lice enter the hair of a new host, they soon lay eggs along the shaft of the hair. While the head louse looks like a small, browning, or grayish bug, the eggs are whitish in color and attach to the shaft of the hair. While quite small, nits are typically visible to the naked eye, though they can be harder to spot in very light-colored hair. Typically found close to the scalp, though not on it, nits need to attach to hair. A louse remains in the nit stage for six to nine days before hatching and entering the nymph stage. The nymph stage lasts approximately another seven days before becoming a full-grown louse, which is about the size of a sesame seed. As long as an adult louse remains on the head of the original host or transfers to another host, it can live up to about a month, during which it will lay as many as eight eggs per day.


In short, both conditions lead to small and white spots in your hair. Most people will see specks on their clothes or in their hair and assume their scalp is too dry when there are actually critters shuffling around up there. Just because these conditions get confused easily doesn’t mean you should take either situation lightly. Luckily, you can spot lice—the more serious condition—more easily Dandruff. If you know some tricks and what you’re looking for, you can begin to tell which is which. Lice, after all, are insectoid, so there is a little bit of a bulge and a darker presence at the front where the eyes and head reside.


The first thing to do when testing to  see if white specks are lice or Dandruff is to use a brush or a comb and attempt to wipe them away from where you see them. But this isn’t for personal grooming. It’s instead to force movement from the object, independent of your brushstrokes. You don’t want to declare it a safe zone after just one wipe that causes no visible movement, you want to keep brushing for anywhere from 2-5 minutes to be thorough. Remember, if you’re not careful, you’ll end up contributing to the spread instead. If you see movement,  you’ve found lice. If you see a dead falling flake, it’s simply dandruff. If, however, there are white specks that don’t either budge or cling then you might have Nits and lice eggs present. Lice will move in a very specific way while dandruff will float—sort of like a leaf falling in the wind.


Dandruff isn’t the end of the world. It simply indicates that your scalp skin could be in better condition. With some slight adjustments in hair care you should be able to easily overcome it. The First & Easiest Solution: Shampoo More Often. When your scalp builds up too much oil, it inevitably dehydrates & the pores on it clog up. This build-up cakes and crusts, eventually falling off—and we know this falling residue as dandruff. So if you wash your hair more often & more thoroughly, your scalp should stop overproducing oils and the pores in your scalp will no longer clog up, ridding you of dandruff. We recommend calling a doctor or at least a hair specialist about what kind of solution will work best for you and your hair before blasting your scalp with the latest fad. Overwashing can also damage your scalp, but rinsing and cleaning more often than you currently do stops dandruff in most circumstances.

The Link Between Diet & Dandruff

Certain dietary patterns cause dandruff in some, so if washing more doesn’t help, try an elimination diet to pinpoint the source.  Making some of these changes may help:
  1. Restrict red meat and alcohol
  2. Cut back on processed foods high in sugar and saturated fats
  3. Avoid fried foods
  4. Try cutting out gluten
  5. Eat more fruits and vegetables
  6. Eat more foods rich in omega fatty acids (nuts, seed, salmon, sardines, avocados)
  7. Consume foods rich in zinc (oysters, crab, pumpkin seeds) and biotin (eggs, yogurt, tomatoes, carrots)
While a direct link between diet and dandruff has not yet been found, research suggests that diet plays a role in seborrheic dermatitis—or dandruff. A diet heavy in potatoes, meat, and alcohol could be the culprit.  Yale Dermatologist Alicia Zalka, MD, relays that “in [her] 18 years of clinical practice, a connection [between diet and dandruff] seems to be emerging.” She mentions that diets high in processed foods with excessive sugar and saturated fats lead to spikes of insulin which cause hormone imbalances and may trigger oil production. Restricting these as well as fried foods and gluten may lessen flaking from dandruff.  See a dietitian to see what’s right for you, but these simple changes along with consuming more fruits and vegetables could help you see changes. Hair restoration doctor Alan Bauman tells us that “sweets and yeast-containing foods like beer, bread, and whine encourage fungal growth,” so you may find that restricting these benefits you. Some dietitians also suggest that including more healthy fats aid in maintaining healthy skin, so try incorporating some foods rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, such as salmon. Lastly, you could try supplementing for zinc and biotin, a mineral and b vitamin that may also help with flares of dandruff.

Home Remedies for Dandruff

Some topical treatments can soothe your scalp & help with dandruff as well. While you’re in the kitchen adjusting your next meal, let’s see if there’s anything in your pantry that may help.
  1. Apple Cider vinegar– Highly acidic, it degrades built-up oil on your scalp more quickly than some shampoos. It’s also been shown to prevent certain types of fungus from growing in a test tube.
  2. Tea Tree Oil– This ingredient often pops up in products like beard moisturizer or face creams. Since it has antimicrobial properties, a study found that a solution with about 5% tea tree oil can reduce dandruff. Mix it into a carrier oil or your shampoo before applying.
  3. Aloe Vera– This versatile plant might be the most commonly grown in homes, and rubbing some of its pulp onto our scalp or blending it into a butter and applying it mixed into your shampoo can help with dandruff.


First thing’s first: don’t panic. Let’s start by answering 3 questions:
  1. Where are the lice?
  2. How did they get there?
  3. When should I call a professional?
  WHERE IN YOUR HAIR ARE THE LICE? Start with locating the lice in your hair, a vital step. Nits tend to reside close to your scalp but not directly on it; after all, most animals don’t sleep where they eat. You’ll want to search for two things: whether you have nits, & how many you have if you do. Finding scattered nits few and far between means lice haven’t been crashing on your scalp for very long. If that’s the case, you could possibly resolve the issue yourself with some diligence. However, if you find nits everywhere, this prominence makes it hard to determine how long they’ve been living rent-free in your hair. If it’s a false alarm, hooray! Otherwise, nits have infested your head and you want to treat it. First however, isolate yourself or whoever’s infected and check their clothes, shoes, backpacks, etc.


The parasitic louse acts as a passenger—like most parasites. You generally contract lice from someone who’s already infected. But don’t ask how the first louse got into someone’s hair. As far as we know, these bloodsuckers have been walking from head to head since they first evolved. So we’ve determined that these pesky critters are parasites, but what else about their nature determines how lice behave? Well, lice in particular are insectoid-parasites. This brand of parasite fends for itself in the cold, cruel world without the safety of another animal’s insides protecting it. Lice therefore opt for hiding in their habitat for protection. Since we know they enjoy soft flesh within hair/fur, we need to look at items that are close to the skin but also fur-like (i.e., clothing). Because of this preference, lice commonly hide in shirts with collars, buttons, and sleeves, since we wear these close to our heads-the preferred habitat of the louse. Sometimes, these bothersome parasites find their way into shorts, jeans, and other clothes worn farther from our heads, but let’s not dwell too much on that possibility. No one wants to picture tiny bloodsucking insects close to their, well, more sensitive areas. So check your clothes, but also take a look at backpacks and coats in case any lice managed to make the journey to more outer layers of apparel. For more severe infestations, check pets, towels, beds, and couches as well in the event that a few lice with more wanderlust than most decided to travel a bit farther.


No one ever enjoys dealing with a lice infestation. It rather overwhelms nearly everyone who experiences it. We often recommend trying to treat it on your own if it’s early enough, but you can only be sure treatment will truly work by calling a professional. If your phone falls in water & you put it in rice for a quick fix, it may work for a couple more weeks—but ultimately, it will most likely stop working once again. At this point, it’s time to call a technician. Treating your own lice is akin to putting your phone in rice—it only works temporarily. Call our emergency line, available 24/7, if you need a consult and want to know which course of action will work best for your individual situation. Feel free to call or email us, and we’ll help you straightway.   Editor’s Note October 26, 2020: At Lice Troopers, we strive to always provide the most up-to-date and useful information for our readers. For a more accurate and full picture, we’ve added some sources for our dandruff home remedy options and included the most recent information available regarding a possible link between dandruff and diet. We hope you find these updates enlightening.