Taking a selfie with your friends seems innocent enough. After all, you’re just putting your heads together to pose for a pic—what can possibly go wrong? Apparently…plenty.
When your head touches someone else’s for a selfie, lice can crawl into your hair from their head, using their nasty little claws to grab onto your hair strands, says Claire Roberts, CEO of the Lice Clinics of America. Yup, we’re talking about those lice.
And Roberts says selfies are becoming one of the top reasons why lice infestations are increasing as summer is approaching, making us reconsider whether we really need another pic with our BFF in front of the sunset. Who actually wants to call in sick to work for contracting tiny parasites that school kids get?
While head lice are mostly known as an issue for kids, Roberts points out that anyone can get them. “The primary way you can get head lice is when your head comes in direct contact with the head of an infested individual,” she explains. “Head-to-head contact like that doesn’t guarantee that the infestation will spread, but it gives lice the best opportunity to move from the hair of the infested person to your hair.”
And head lice can crawl pretty quickly, says Roberts, so it doesn’t take long for them to hitch a ride onto your noggin and make their way to your scalp.
Is there anything you can do to protect yourself? Roberts recommends trying to avoid activities that involve head-to-head contact…like joint selfies.
If you do get head lice—from a selfie or something else—you’re not totally screwed. While Roberts says it can take up to six weeks to experience symptoms like itching, you can try OTC pesticides, silicone-based oils like dimethicone (just keep in mind that they only kill the lice themselves, not the eggs), combing through your hair with a special lice comb and physically removing the lice and eggs, or visiting a clinic to get treatment with an FDA-cleared medical device called the AirAllé, which is more than 99 percent effective at killing lice and their eggs with heated air. “The process takes about an hour and is guaranteed to work,” says Roberts.
Above all, don’t panic. Lice are, well, lice, but you can get rid of them. Also, maybe lay off the joint selfies for now, just to be safe.