Don't Believe all You Read...The Head Lice Example

An article published by Reuters Health (April 21, 2000) states that Internet sites are peddling lousy lice treatment information. According to the article the Federal Trade Commission surfed through 28 websites that were selling over-the-counter head lice treatments and concluded that the sites may violate FTC regulations.

The FTC warns that companies making health claims for their products must verify those claims with scientific evidence. Catching the regulators' attention were claims that products "create an environment where lice can't survive'' or ''are 100% effective in killing lice and their eggs'' or "eliminate the need for combing." The FTC "urged site sponsors to examine their claims'' and warned that if the claims are not substantiated, legal action may be taken.

Head lice often invoke fear and emotionalism out-of-proportion to the harm they cause. Control is time consuming and frustrating. Thorough, careful and often repeated treatment with prescription or over-the-counter shampoos is needed to kill adult lice. Fine-tooth combing is necessary to remove nits (lice eggs attached to the hair strands).

Control failures are becoming more common. According to the National Pediculosis Association, Inc. insecticide resistance is a problem. But they are equally concerned about insecticide toxicity to children (and particularly disapprove of the use of lindane and malathon) and warn about the lack of safeguards for alternative products.

The FTC "warns parents to exercise caution" before buying products that may be either unsuitable for children's hair or ineffective at wiping out lice. It also recommends that consumers seeking reliable health information visit the federal government website for consumer information at

This article originally appeared in the May 5, 2000 issue, p. 46.


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