An experimental device kills head lice by blow-drying them to death, offering a potential alternative to chemical treatments and tedious combing.

As lice have become resistant to chemical shampoos, scientists have been trying new approaches (SN: 8/20/05, p. 116: Available to subscribers at Comb over Chemicals: Tool may rid heads of pesticideproof lice).

Researchers tested several blowers against lice and their eggs, or nits, on 169 children with head lice. The scientists randomly assigned the kids to get treatment with one of several devices, including a bonnet-style hair dryer, a hand-held hair dryer, a wall-mounted hair dryer, and an experimental high-volume blower that has a special rake that lifts hair into the strong air stream. All devices blew warm air.

Applied for 30 minutes to the scalp, each device killed at least 88 percent of the nits, the researchers report in the November Pediatrics. But the high-volume blower also slew 80 percent of the lice. The bonnet dryer, handheld blow dryer, and wall-mounted dryer killed 10, 55, and 62 percent of the lice, respectively, says Dale H. Clayton of the University of Utah and Larada Sciences in Salt Lake City, a university spin-off company that plans to commercialize the new device.

While it’s unclear how the lice die, Clayton suspects that the air dries out their breathing pores. His team is now testing the device, called the LouseBuster, against shampoos in a head-to-head trial.

More Stories from Science News on Health & Medicine