Smarter Living: Chemical Index
Lindane is a hazardous insecticide used to treat head lice and scabies.
Lindane is a hormone disruptor and is toxic to the nervous system. The EPA also has evidence suggesting that it is carcinogenic. Furthermore, lindane has a number of side effects, most commonly skin irritation, numbness, dizziness, headaches, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. More severe side effects, such as seizures and death, also have been reported.
The production of pharmaceutical lindane requires the use of a persistent organic pollutant called hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH), which resists breaking down and travels great distances in the air. HCH has been found in the bodies and breast milk of people in the Arctic and in wildlife all over the world. In animals, lindane and other forms of HCH are suspected hormone disruptors and have been associated with reproductive harm and immune suppression.
Where it is Found
Lindane is used in prescription shampoos and topical treatments for head lice and scabies.
Establish whether you are dealing with head lice. To the untrained eye, nits associated with head lice are hard to recognize. If you aren't sure, seek the advice of a health care professional.
If a doctor recommends that you or someone in your family use lindane to treat head lice or scabies, request a safer alternative.
Follow the step-by-step guide to treating head lice without chemicals in "When the Treatment is Toxic" (PDF).
The danger lindane poses to health and the environment is well documented, and many safer alternatives for the treatment of head lice and scabies do exist. The EPA has banned the agricultural use of lindane, and California has banned lindane in pharmaceuticals after finding lindane contamination in wastewater. (That ban has brought down contamination levels dramatically and also reduced the number of accidental lindane poisonings.)
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that lindane not be used in children. However, the FDA has so far refused to pull the drug from the market, and some physicians still prescribe it to treat head lice. NRDC is continuing to press the FDA to ban lindane, and some states are taking action to follow California's lead. The United States government should also support the international Stockholm Treaty on persistent organic pollutants to eliminate the global spread of lindane and other toxic chemicals.
ATSDR Toxicological Profile for Hexachlorocyclohexane, August 2005,
E. Humphreys et al. Outcomes of the California Ban on Pharmaceutical Lindane: Clinical and Ecologic Impacts. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2008;116(3):297-302.
last revised 12/28/2011