Head Lice vs. Dandruff: How to Tell the Difference

Head lice and dandruff are two completely different things, yet people often mistake one for the other. Head lice are parasites that feed on human blood, and are spread through contact with others. Their bites cause an itchy scalp and occasionally an allergic reaction. Dandruff is a skin condition on the scalp that causes flaking of the skin and a slightly itchy scalp. Here's how to tell the difference between the two.

Head Lice

Head lice are small, brown parasites with six legs about the size of a sesame seed. They have elongated bodies, with small, oval shaped heads. They move around a lot, so they can be spotted that way. The females lay eggs called nits, which are small and white, off-white or clear. The eggs are smaller than the lice, and are oval shaped. They are commonly found close to the scalp. Unlike dandruff, these eggs aren't easily removed or picked off.


Dandruff is essentially dead skin cells from the scalp. Flaky layers of skin shed off and appear in the hair in small or larger pieces. The skin is usually flat and white or grayish in color. It may be found on the clothes or skin as well. The scalp may be irritated and red. The flakes will come off easily when you pull them out, as opposed to lice.

Do an inspection with a mirror and use a comb to pull out the flecks. If they are close to the scalp and don't come off easily, it may be lice, and they should be treated to prevent spreading.

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