Treatment of head lice has relied mainly on the use of topical insecticides. Today, conventional topical pediculicides have suffered considerable loss of activity worldwide. There is increasing interest in the use of natural products such as essential oils for head louse control, and many of them are now incorporated into various over-the-counter products presented as pediculicides, often without proper evaluation. The aim of the present study was to assess the in vitro efficacy of five essential oils against adults of Pediculus humanus capitis using a contact filter paper toxicity bioassay. The chemical composition of the essential oils from wild bergamot, clove, lavender, tea tree, and Yunnan verbena was analyzed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. All treatments and controls were replicated three times on separate occasions over a period of 11 months. In all, 1239 living lice were collected from the scalp of 51 subjects, aged from 1 to 69 years. Clove oil, diluted either in coco oil or sunflower oil, demonstrated the best adulticidal activity, reaching > 90% mortality within 2 h in lice submitted to a 30-min contact. Yunnan verbena oil diluted in coco oil showed also a significant efficacy. Other essential oils showed a lower efficacy. The oil's major component(s) differed according to the tested oils and appeared chemically diverse. In the case of clove oil, the eugenol appeared as the main component. This study confirmed the potential interest of some of the essential oils tested, but not all, as products to include possibly in a pediculicidal formulation.
Keywords: Bioassay; Contact; Essential oils; Filter paper; Head lice; Pediculus humanus capitis.