Lice vs. Dandruff

Lice vs. Dandruff - What are the differences between lice, lice eggs (nits) and dandruff?

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Lice vs. Dandruff - Key Differences Between Head Lice and Dandruff

While Lice vs. Dandruff doesn't sound like a fun showdown, it's a very real question and comparison on a lot of peoples’ minds! It's quite easy to confuse dandruff with lice if you don't know exactly what you're looking for. Instead, when you see little white flakes and feel an intense sensation to itch, you worry and wonder— lice or dandruff?

Every year, it is estimated that six to twelve million people in the United States get head lice. So it’s only natural that when your head starts to itch and you peer into your scalp and see curious white flakes sprinkled throughout your hair, your mind jumps to lice!

So just how can you tell the difference between lice and dandruff? Here at Lice Choice, we've treated thousands of people for lice and are experts in telling the difference between dandruff and lice. We’ve also had hundreds of people who were sent to us by hairdressers and health care practitioners who diagnosed head lice when they actually had dandruff! So we put together this handy guide to help you determine the difference yourself, so you don’t mistakenly think it’s lice when dandruff is the real problem! 

So What Is Dandruff and Why Do I Get It?

The scientific term for dandruff is seborrheic dermatitis. It is a skin condition affecting the scalp, causing the top layer of the skin to shed rapidly. This shedding of skin creates a dry, itchy, and flaky scalp. Dandruff can also cause inflammation of the skin. Dandruff is a very common condition that isn't serious, and it's certainly not contagious. Signs and symptoms can be mild to severe and usually worsen during times of stress and anxiety, as well as during cold and dry seasons.

Dandruff can affect other areas than just the head, such as the eyebrows and facial hair like mustaches or beards. Treatment is usually a gentle medicated shampoo with a small number of specific ingredients meant to target dandruff. It can take several weeks to get rid of dandruff, or even longer depending on the severity of your condition.

Dandruff is a skin condition that causes flakes of skin to appear, which is most often accompanied by itching. You don’t get dandruff from bad hygiene, and it’s not contagious, so you don’t catch it from anyone. You simply get dandruff due to a skin condition, or from a slight allergic reaction to a product you're using. The allergic reaction could trigger a skin sensitivity, which could cause the sloughing of skin. 

Dandruff vs. lice

So What Is Head Lice And How Do You Get It?

Head lice are tiny parasites that live on the human scalp and feed on blood drawn through the skin of the scalp. Head lice can technically live in the eyebrows or facial hair as well. (However, it’s worth noting that in the thousands of lice treatments we’ve done in our offices, we never saw lice in facial hair, even in the most extreme infestations.) Lice are transmitted from head-to-head contact, and from items that have been in contact with a lice infected person's head, such as pillows, hats, and combs. 

If you need help learning how to spot lice, read our article by clicking HERE.

Lice are only about two to three millimeters long, which is approximately the size of a sesame seed. They have six legs with claws attached to the end of each leg. The claws allow lice to tightly adhere to hair shafts. Lice eggs - also called nits - are even smaller! In fact, a nit is smaller than a pinhead. Nits are “glued” to the hair shaft, placed very close to the scalp for warmth during their incubation period, which usually lasts seven to ten days. When they do hatch, their shells are left behind. Empty nit shells are white.

Since nits (lice eggs) can appear in a range of colors - ranging from clear to white to beige to dark brown - they can be hard to spot! The color of the nit changes, depending on what stage of development it is in. When it’s first laid, the nit is completely clear. As the nit develops, it gets darker and darker. Right before it hatches, it is a dark brown, almost black, color. And after it hatches, the empty shell is white. When nits are whitish in color, they often are the most easily confused with dandruff. Who knew that lice eggs vs. dandruff is the real question!

Lice vs. Dandruff

Lice Eggs Vs. Dandruff

While you might not have realized that lice eggs vs. dandruff was a big question to consider, we're here to outline how lice eggs and dandruff are different, to help you spot the disparity between the two. There are key variations and characteristics that make lice eggs and dandruff distinctly different!

Lice Eggs vs. Dandruff: How Easily Does It Move?

Dandruff flakes off easily when you shake or tussle your hair or vigorously move your hand along your scalp to stimulate flaking. Dandruff also rests on top of the hair and isn’t attached to the hair; it’s more like snow. That means dandruff can be combed or brushed out of the hair. 

Lice eggs—nits—stick to hair like glue. They won’t fall out of the hair when shaken, tousled, or even when powerfully scratching the scalp. In fact, nits can’t be washed, combed, or brushed out of hair. Without using a Lice Choice Terminator Nit Comb, or another fine-toothed lice-removal comb, nits won’t come off the hair and scalp region, as they’re securely adhered to the shafts with a sticky secretion from the female louse who laid them. The only way to remove nits without a comb is to carefully and tightly pinch a nit between two fingernails and slide it all the way down the entire strand of hair.

Difference between lice and dandruff

Lice Eggs vs. Dandruff: What Is The Shape and Size?

Dandruff comes in all shapes and sizes and is irregularly shaped. No two pieces of dandruff really look the same. While some dandruff flakes are tiny in size, others can be quite a bit larger. Generally, dandruff flakes are lumpy, jagged, and have uneven edges.

Difference between dandruff and lice


On the other hand, nits are uniformly shaped. When on a strand of hair, they may appear ovular, circular, or teardrop-shaped. After removal, you'll notice that lice eggs are always in the shape of a teardrop. They are not abnormally shaped or jagged around the edges at all. Moreover, nits are all the exact same size. As we mentioned earlier, nits vary in color (depending on what stage they are in), but they do not vary in shape and size!


Lice or dandruff

Wait, But What About the Differences Between Dandruff and Lice? 

Alright, back to how can you tell the difference between lice or dandruff— not just nits! Our experts at Lice Choice wanted to share how important it is to spot the differences between lice eggs and dandruff, as they are more commonly and easily confused! The information below will pertain to how lice and dandruff are different and how you can spot all the telltale signs to know if you have lice or dandruff.

Lice vs. Dandruff: Where Exactly Do You See It?

Lice are most often found very close to the scalp, and they tend to migrate to the warmest and darkest parts of the head. Lice also need to lay their eggs close to the scalp so their eggs can incubate and stay warm.

Lice in hair vs. dandruff

Dandruff can be found anywhere in the hair, as it moves through the hair like snow. Since dandruff originates from the skin of the scalp, dandruff is also located very near to the scalp. Be that as it may, dandruff easily shakes out and can be seen on clothing. When in doubt, consider putting on a black shirt and tousle— or scratch—the scalp vigorously for ten seconds. If white flakes start to fall out, especially on the shoulders of the shirt, then you are dealing with a dandruff problem and not a lice problem!

How to know if you have lice or dandruff

Lice vs. Dandruff: Does It Move? 

Dandruff is dead skin. While dandruff can easily move when blown, brushed, combed, or tousled, it cannot move on its own. While it may sound like common sense, dandruff isn’t alive. It’s an inanimate object and won’t do anything at all without human stimulation and interaction.

Lice, on the other hand, are quite active. Lice are tiny, blood-sucking, six-legged parasites that will move on their own accord. Do you feel a creepy, crawling sensation on your head? That is lice moving. Some people also describe it as a burning sensation. Also, when you are able to remove lice from your head, you will notice that they crawl around. That being said, lice eggs are inanimate until they hatch, so they won’t be going anywhere! That’s why knowing the difference between lice eggs and dandruff is so important! 

What Is The Difference In Symptoms Between Lice and Dandruff?

It’s true that dandruff, like lice, can cause severe itching, so it’s essential to know the difference between the two conditions. Dandruff is not contagious and is a common scalp irritation that causes the skin of the scalp to become dry, flaky, and itchy. It is the itchiness combined with the flakes that often confuse and even alarm people.

While the main symptom of lice and dandruff are the same - itchiness - there are some other symptoms to be aware of that can help show the differences between dandruff and lice. 

Lice vs. Dandruff: Symptoms

Dandruff symptoms:

  • Itchy scalp
  • White or slightly yellowish flakes found on the scalp, in the hair, and falling off the head
  • Pink or red skin 

Lice Symptoms:

  • Intense itching (or burning sensation) of the scalp
  • The presence of lice and/or nits
  • Visible tiny red bumps (the size of a pinhead) anywhere on the scalp
  • A tickling sensation or feeling like something is crawling on the scalp
  • Insomnia can occur as the feeling of lice crawling on the scalp paired with the excessive itchiness can prevent sleep
  • Irritability can occur from lack of sleep and intense itching sensations 

Lice vs. Dandruff: How Do Treatments Differ?

To treat dandruff, it’s usually as simple as switching shampoos! There are lots of over-the-counter shampoos for you to find the right one that works for you. Usually, zinc pyrithione is a go-to ingredient to reduce inflammation, itchiness, and the flakiness on the scalp. However, we've had friends and family members who have had good luck with tea-tree oil-based shampoos and tar-based shampoos. It all depends on you and your scalp.

To treat lice, there are certainly many products on the market, both over-the-counter and prescription-grade. However, these products are chock-full of harmful ingredients that can be found in garden pesticides and industrial-grade insecticides. Namely, the active ingredients in over-the-counter products are pyrethrins and permethrin. In prescription lice treatments, the main active ingredient is lindane. To learn more about these harmful ingredients and why they are bad for your health and bad for treating lice, click HERE.

However, there is a better way to treat lice— the Lice Choice Way! Our patented product’s formula is all-natural, derived from organic sources, non-GMO, and hypoallergenic. It is safe to use on anyone and everyone’s scalp! Also, our products are enzyme-based, which means we use lice’s own DNA to rapidly speed up their life cycle, taking their life-span from one month down to seconds. We also have a deeply penetrating Lice Spray that is a chemical-free, organic, natural way to unglue nits from the hair so they can be safely and effectively removed. Unlike over-the-counter and prescription lice treatment products, all our Lice Choice products are supremely effective against Super Lice. What are Super Lice? Click HERE to learn all you need to know about them! 

Final Thoughts on the Differences Between Lice and Dandruff

While many things can lead to an itchy scalp, now you know the critical differences between lice eggs and lice in hair vs. dandruff. Once you know what to look for, they are easy to tell apart. Lice and dandruff may look similar at first glance, but armed with your new knowledge and a closer inspection, you can now tell the differences between lice and dandruff for yourself! Congratulations!

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