Lice vs. Dandruff: What’s the Real Culprit of Your Itchy Scalp

  • Lice are common among kids and children who spend time with other kids.
  • Lice and dandruff are both relatively harmless issues that can be treated at home.
  • There are at-home natural remedies to handle lice and dandruff, such as baking soda and lavender oil.
  • To eliminate lice, use medicated shampoos and a lice comb. For dandruff, purchase an anti-dandruff shampoo and oils.

It isn’t uncommon for people not to  know the difference between lice and dandruff. In essence, lice can be described as a temporary occurrence, while dandruff can be a chronic condition of the skin.

The CDC states that 6 to 12 million children between the ages 3 and 11 get lice yearly. Luckily, both conditions can be easily and effectively treated at home.

How to know if you have lice or dandruff? Below, we’ll explain the differences between dandruff vs lice and the most effective treatment and prevention methods.

Lice vs. Dandruff: Differences and Similarities

man having dandruff in the hair

As a skin condition, dandruff isn’t contagious, while head lice can easily spread. When it comes to dandruff vs lice, it’s important to know that children are the most at risk of catching lice, as are people that spend time with children, such as parents, teachers, daycare staff, and so on.

Even though the difference in appearance in lice vs dandruff isn’t noticeable at first, after reading this guide, you’ll know exactly what separates them—from appearance to symptoms.

What Do Lice Look Like vs. Dandruff?

Lice are six-legged parasites that can be black, brown, or tan. They are often found close to the scalp, grasping the hair shaft.

In essence, dandruff is the result of very dry skin that is prone to severe flaking. In terms of color, dandruff can be white or yellowish. Compared to lice, dandruff is bigger and can leave an oily residue.

How Do You Check for Lice vs. Dandruff?

If you’re wondering how to check for lice on yourself, part the hair and take a really close look at the scalp. When dealing with dandruff, the scalp will look oily or really dry. There would be flakes all over the scalp and near the roots of the hair; the dandruff flakes should be easily combed away.

To check for lice, it’s best to use a magnifying glass near the scalp, as that’s where lice lay eggs. Due to the microscopic size of the eggs, as well as their color, it can be really difficult to spot them with the naked eye. As opposed to dandruff, lice can’t be brushed away with a regular comb but a special lice comb.

How Big Is Dandruff vs. Lice?

Dandruff and lice are fairly small, and it can be really challenging to distinguish the two. Adult lice are as big as a sesame seed, while their eggs are much smaller. On the other hand, dandruff flakes are bigger than lice and are mostly oily.

What About Nits?

So, what is a nit? Lice eggs, also known as nits, are shaped like a little teardrop and are either off-white or yellowish. They are generally laid about a quarter inch from the scalp and can be really difficult to spot since they can blend in with the hair and the hair shaft.

Signs and Symptoms of Lice and Dandruff

man suffering from itchy scalp

In a nits vs dandruff scenario, you might be struggling to tell either apart. The staple sign of lice is constant and irritating itching. The itching is the body’s allergic reaction to the bite of the adult lice. Often, having lice is connected to experiencing a crawling sensation in the hair. When asked, kids say that they feel their hair tickle.

In the case of dandruff, a person can also feel the urge to itch, but it’s not as intense as lice-related itching. In general, the more dehydrated the scalp, the greater the chances of developing dandruff.

Here are some common symptoms of lice:

  • Intense itching on the scalp
  • Teeny black spots on the scalp or in the hair
  • Constant head-scratching
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Irritated scalp due to scratching.

Here are some common symptoms of dandruff:

  • Very dry or very oily skin flakes
  • Itchy scalp
  • Yellowish or white flakes on clothes
  • Inflamed (reddish) patches on the scalp
  • Symptoms worsen during dry weather or in winter.

Treatment and Prevention

Dandruff can be successfully treated at home using different over-the-counter shampoos in combination with a dandruff comb. To treat dandruff, shampoo your hair twice a week using a special anti-dandruff shampoo. For best results, lather your hair and keep the shampoo on for up to 10 minutes.

When it comes to lice, the condition can be treated at home with non-prescription medicated shampoos. Also, comb your hair using a special lice/nit comb.

Natural Remedies for Lice and Dandruff

Here are some natural remedies for lice:

  • Adding tea tree oil to your shampoo or conditioner
  • Rinsing hair with vinegar
  • Massaging lavender/olive oil into the scalp.

Here are some for dandruff:

  • Using yogurt as a hair mask
  • Rinsing hair with lemon juice
  • Using baking soda and mint oil as a hair mask.

Lice and Dandruff in Children

Children are the most prone to lice and describe the feeling as ticking in the hair. In fact, lice in children is a very frequent occurrence, especially in children that spend their days with other children (daycare, kindergarten, etc.)

Misdiagnosis and Common Mistakes

Most commonly, dandruff, hair casts, hair spray residue, and different scalp issues are mistaken for lice. Eczema is also often misdiagnosed as lice.

Proper lice diagnosis includes detecting a living nymph or adult louse either on the scalp or in a person’s hair.

When to See a Doctor

man seek for a medical assistance for his hair

If there are lice or nits in your eyebrows or eyelashes, consult a doctor. If you’re already using anti-lice shampoos with no results, or feel crawling even after lice treatment, consult a doctor.

The same goes for dandruff treatment – visit a dermatologist if your condition doesn’t improve after an extensive use of anti-dandruff shampoo or other remedies.


The main difference between lice eggs vs dandruff is that the former causes an itchy scalp, while the latter leads to greasy hair. Also, lice aren’t a chronic condition, while dandruff can be.

Treatment methods for lice include medicated shampoos, a specialized comb, or even shaving.

You can get rid of dandruff using an anti-dandruff shampoo and by keeping your scalp moisturized at all times.

Lice and Dandruff FAQs

Can lice or dandruff lead to other health problems?

Whether dealing with lice or dandruff, don’t worry about diseases. They’re usually a temporary condition that goes away easily.

Can lice or dandruff affect people of all ages?

Yes, but children stand most affected.

Can lice disappear on their own?

Lice cannot disappear on their own and must be treated appropriately.

Is lice more itchy than dandruff?

Yes, lice is generally itchy, while dandruff not so much.

Can you brush out lice with dry hair?

Yes, you can comb out lice from both dry and wet hair.

About the Author

Medical Disclaimer

The information provided on this website is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. The content on the website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical diagnosis, treatment, or advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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