What Do Nits and Adult Lice Look Like?

Nits are the eggs laid by lice. They are small, yellowish-white oval-shaped eggs attached at an angle to the side of a hair shaft. Female lice use a kind of glue to fasten each nit to one side of a human hair shaft — initially about one fifth of an inch from the scalp (until the hair grows). 

As a result, an unmagnified view can make nits look like hair follicle “casts,” knotted hair, globs of dried hair spray, dandruff or “exploded” hair segments caused by excess hair drier heat.

What do Adult Lice Look Like?

Head lice are clear in color when hatched, but quickly turn brownish red. They are found most often behind the ears and at the nape of the neck. Head lice are about the size of a sesame seed and have six legs. Head lice feed on the scalp but lay their nits (eggs which resemble minute pussy-willow buds) on the sides of the hair near the skin, especially around the ears and neck.

Adult lice range in color from dirty white to grayish black. Nits start out yellowish white and gradually become coffee-colored. All types are small, with adults ranging from 1/16th to l/8th of an inch in length. A louse is a long, rather flat, wingless, white insect with a body about one tenth of an inch long, or approximately the size of a flea.

How Can You Tell the Difference Between Head Lice and Dandruff? 

The lice eggs, which can resemble dandruff at first glance, cannot flake off or shake off because the nits are firmly attached to the hair shafts; they must be picked off individually (hence the term “nit picking”) or removed with a specially engineered comb designed for this purpose.

Also with lice, the itching is very intense, and dandruff does not leave the red marks described above. A close examination of the itchy head, particularly at the base of the skull, behind the ears and around the crown, will reveal tiny oval white ‘nits. ‘

The nits or eggs laid on the hair shaft by lice bear an uncanny resemblance to dandruff. However, it’s not hard to distinguish between the two since louse nits can’t be brushed or blown away like dandruff.