Lice vs. Dandruff – How do i know if i have nits or flakes?

Lice vs. Dandruff – How do i know if i have nits or flakes?


Lice vs. Dandruff



Has your scalp been itchy lately? Are you confused about whether you have dandruff or if you have a case of lice on your hands? You’re at the right place if you want to find out.


Read on to know more about Lice Vs. Dandruff and determine which one of them you have.

Both lice and dandruff are common scalp conditions that cause itching and scalp aggravation.

It can be extremely difficult to tell the difference between lice eggs and dandruff as the flakes caused by dandruff look extremely similar to lice nits.

Here are the key differences between lice and dandruff, and the best treatments for tackling these scalp issues.



Lice vs. Dandruff – How do i know if i have nits or flakes?



Head Lice Vs. Dandruff – Differences

Head lice, or pediculosis, is a parasitic infestation.

They are small, wingless, parasitic insects that infest the scalp and feed on blood. When left untreated, the infestation grows rapidly and can cause intense itching and scalp aggravation.

The infestation can spread from person to person through close contact. This is why it is predominantly common among children attending preschool and elementary school.


Acquiring head lice is not an indicator of a bad lifestyle of poor hygiene, it simply means that you were in close contact or shared personal belongings with a host.



Dandruff, on the other hand, is a common inflammatory skin condition that affects the scalp. It causes flaking, itching, and scalp aggravation. These flakes are white to yellowish in color and can form on both dry and oily scalps.

The skin cell turnover process in the scalp where the skin continuously replaces itself by pushing aging cells out and replacing them with new cells normally takes up to 30 days. However, when a person has dandruff, this process is pushed into overdrive, causing excessive skin shedding and flaking.



Lice Vs. Dandruff – Key differences in between lice and dandruff


Pediculosis, Pediculosis Capitis, Head Lice, Nits Seborrheic Dermatitis, Seborrheic Eczema, Seborrhea, Pityriasis Simplex Capillitii, Cradle Cap, Scurf
What It Is Parasitic infestation A common scalp condition that can be caused due to various factors.
Prevalence More common in children aged 3-11. Head lice is an extremely common parasitic infestation. However, it tends to spread more rapidly among children attending preschool and elementary school, and also among their close contacts. Head lice infestations are also more common in women than in men. Extremely common. Dandruff affects almost half of the population regardless of sex, age, or ethnicity.
Symptoms Intense and uncontrollable itching, lice on the scalp, lice eggs or lice nits on the hair shafts. Itching, flaking skin, dryness, oil and grease buildup, scaly skin on the scalp, redness, white and yellow flakes in hair, and hair loss.

Causes of and risk factors for lice and dandruff


Causes of Head Lice

Head lice usually spread through personal contact; here are some of the ways you can acquire head lice:

  • Head to head contact with a host, i.e., someone who already has a parasitic infestation on their scalp.
  • An infestation can also spread if a host shares their personal belongings such as hats, scarves, caps, headphones, combs, or hair accessories with another person.
  • You can also acquire head lice from furniture, pillows, clothing, towels, and blankets. However, this is rare as lice cannot survive for more than 24 hours without a human host to feed on.


ALSO READ: Types of dandruff, how to stop them


Lice crawl from one head to another and the transfer of one female parasite is enough to cause a full-blown infestation within a week or two.

Risk Factors

  • As girls and women generally tend to have longer hair, it is much easier for them to acquire head lice than it is for males.

Causes Of Dandruff

There are many factors that can cause dandruff. They include:

  • An extremely dry/oily scalp.
  • An increase in the Malassezia fungus that naturally occurs on the scalp.
  • Genetic predisposition to dandruff.
  • Extreme weather conditions.
  • Hair products and exposure to chemicals.
  • Dandruff medications such as ketoconazole. (This is why Head & Shoulders does not work for everyone.)
  • Stress and fatigue.

Risk Factors

  • Dandruff is more common in men as they have larger sebaceous (oil-producing) glands on their scalps.
  • An unhealthy diet and nutrient deficiencies.

How to determine whether you have lice or dandruff

So, how do you know if you have lice or dandruff? It can be hard to tell the difference between lice and dandruff as they both cause itching and leave white, tan, or brown specks on the scalp, but here’s a guide to determining which of the two issues you have:


  • Look at your hair

While it might be hard to determine whether you have lice just by looking at your hair, examine your hair and scalp in front of a mirror for a couple of minutes.

If you notice any movement and find white/tan specks attached to your hair shafts, it is likely that you have lice.

If you notice oily or scaly flakes that easily fall from your hair, you have dandruff.


  • Wash your hair

Thoroughly washing your hair will help eliminate flakes. If you have dandruff, the specks will wash away. However, if they remain attached to your hair shafts even after you wash your hair, it is likely that you have a lice infestation.


  • Comb your hair with a lice comb

Sit on the floor or stand in front of a sink in a well-lit area. Untangle your hair and flip it over to the front. Start combing your hair from the nape of your neck towards the front.

Examine your comb after every stroke. If there are nits or lice in your hair, they will be caught in your comb.


  • Go by the feel

If your scalp feels extremely dry or oily and you notice flakes coming away when you itch your scalp, you probably have dandruff.

Lice crawl on your scalp and their saliva can cause intense irritation. If you feel something crawling on your scalp and you cannot stop scratching, you probably have lice.


  • Dandruff Itch Vs Lice Itch

The itchiness that results from a lice infestation is often way more intense than the itchiness caused by dandruff.

This is because the insects’ saliva irritates the scalp, resulting in uncontrollable itching.

If you have an oily scalp and dandruff, your scalp will feel suffocated and your nails will come away with grime under them. A dry scalp produces scaly flakes.


  • Get a friend or family member to help you look

Another person will have a better view of your scalp than you do.

Get a family member or a friend to examine your scalp in sections to determine whether you have lice or dandruff. Ask them to focus on the hairlines, nape, and ear area when they are looking.


  • Get a professional screening done

If none of the methods mentioned above work for you and you are still confused, it is best to consult a professional screener. Get an appointment at your nearest lice treatment salon to get a screening done.


How to treat lice and dandruff

Once you’ve determined the cause of the itching, you can treat the issue yourself at home. Listed below are the different methods to treat head lice and dandruff.


How do you treat lice?

The best way to treat lice is with a medicated shampoo. While it is recommended to consult a professional and get a prescription shampoo, you can also buy a non-prescription shampoo from your local drugstore for this method.

You will need

  • Medicated shampoo
  • Lice comb

Treatment Time

As mentioned on the box.


  1. Rinse your hair until it is completely wet.
  2. Apply the shampoo onto your hair and work it into a lather.
  3. Leave it on for the recommended amount of time.
  4. Rinse the shampoo out of your hair and let your hair dry.
  5. Once your hair is dry, use the lice comb to remove any nits, dead lice, and stunned lice.

About The Author

Lilian Osigwe

Osigweh Lilian Oluchi is a graduate of the University of Lagos where she obtained a B.A (Hons) in English, Masters in Public and International affairs (MPIA). Currently works with 1stnews as a Database Manager / Writer.

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