How to Treat Crabs (Pubic Lice)

Three Parts:Preparing to Treat CrabsTreating Crabs YourselfKeeping Lice Away

If you've noticed uncomfortable itching in your genital region, you may have crabs (pubic lice). Crabs are usually sexually transmitted, with the risk of infestation from sexual skin to skin contact at more than 90%. They also spread through contact with clothing, towels and bed linens used by an infected person. Learn how to deal with crabs, understand the types of medications available, and prevent future outbreaks.

Part 1
Preparing to Treat Crabs

  1. Image titled Treat Crabs (Pubic Lice) Step 1
    Know what crabs look like. Pubic lice are small parasites commonly seen in the genital region. They have three pairs of legs and peculiar claws on four of their legs. They get the name crabs from their resemblance to crabs. The nits or eggs of pubic lice are shiny, oval, and stick to the base of pubic hair.[1]
    • The eggs usually hatch into ‘nymphs’ in 8-10 days. These mature into adults in about two weeks. Adult pubic lice are smaller and broader than hair lice. They only live in humans and need blood to survive. They may feed up to five times a day.
  2. Image titled Treat Crabs (Pubic Lice) Step 2
    Determine if you have crabs. You'll see nits attached to your hair or lice crawling in your genital area. Pubic lice bite to feed on blood, so you'll notice itchiness that could cause inflamed skin. The biting can lead to tiny bruises in the genital area and severe itching. You may also notice small blood spots in your underwear. Sometimes, you'll have skin lesions that fill with pus from a bacterial infection. They do not however transmit any diseases.
    • In unusual cases, pubic lice have also been found in the eyebrows, eyelashes, and in the armpit region. This can cause itching, red eyes, and inflamed eyelids.[2][3]
  3. Image titled Treat Crabs (Pubic Lice) Step 3
    Purchase an over the counter medication. Look for 1% permethrin or pyrethrin lotions or shampoos. These lotions are insecticides and neurotoxins to lice. You can purchase them at any supermarket or drugstore. Permethrin or pyrethrin lotions kill only live lice and not the eggs, so you'll need to do a second treatment about a week after the first treatment. This will kill newly hatched lice.[4][5]
    • If you are pregnant, talk to your doctor to make sure that you are getting the best, safest treatment.
    • Avoid home remedies like taking hot baths or shaving the area. These won't actually kill the pubic lice.[6]

Part 2
Treating Crabs Yourself

  1. Image titled Treat Crabs (Pubic Lice) Step 4
    Wash the infested area. Before you apply any treatment, you should make sure that your pubic region is clean and dry. Use soap and warm water to completely clean the area infested by crabs. Use a clean towel to dry the area.
  2. Image titled Treat Crabs (Pubic Lice) Step 5
    Apply the lice-killing product that you have selected. Read and follow the package instructions carefully to get the most benefit from the product that you have chosen. Remember to ask your doctor if you have any questions about how to use the product.[7]
  3. Image titled Treat Crabs (Pubic Lice) Step 6
    Pay attention to how much time you should leave the product on your pubic area. Shampoos may only need to be left on for about 10 minutes, but lotions and creams may need to be left on for 8-14 hours. Note the time when you apply the product and set a timer or watch the time.[8]
  4. Image titled Treat Crabs (Pubic Lice) Step 7
    Rinse off the medication and dry your pubic area well. After you have left the product on for the indicated amount of time, rinse it off with warm water. Rinsing away the product will help to remove dead nits and lice from your skin. It is important to rinse the dead parasites away because they may lead to hygiene problems if left on your skin.[9]
    • Be sure to separate the towels you used from your other clothes and linens. Wash the towels separately to avoid cross-contamination to other clothing and linens.
    • In some cases where nits stays in the base of the hair, you can just remove them using your fingernails or a fine toothed comb.
  5. Image titled Treat Crabs (Pubic Lice) Step 8
    Use a comb to remove any nits. You need a special nit comb designed to catch the tiny nits and remove them from your hair. A regular hair comb won’t work. Carefully comb through your hair, section by section. Dip the comb in a solution of hot, soapy water to get rid of the nits as you go.
    • When you're done, sterilize the comb by washing it with hot, soapy water. Rinse the pubic area to remove dead lice or nits.
    • You can also use clean tweezers to carefully pluck away the nits.[10] This will prevent them from hatching, causing another outbreak of pubic lice a few weeks later.
  6. Image titled Treat Crabs (Pubic Lice) Step 9
    Treat lice in eyelids and eyelashes. These lice are treated using a special grade of petroleum jelly that is safe to apply on the eyes. It is available only by prescription, so if you see signs of lice in the eye area let your doctor know. Apply the medication to the margins of your eyelids 2 to 4 times a day for 10 days.[11]
    • Don't use the regular lice shampoos near your eyes. Instead, your doctor might prescribe a special medication or you could pluck the lice using tweezers.[12]
  7. Image titled Treat Crabs (Pubic Lice) Step 10
    Know when to see your doctor. If you try an over-the-counter treatment and the lice won’t go away, see your doctor to get a prescription for stronger medication. See a doctor if you have any of the following:[13]
    • severe redness due to itching
    • persistent infestation that won’t go away after treating with OTC medication
    • pus formation from secondary bacterial infection
    • red and itchy eyes
    • fever over 100 degrees

Part 3
Keeping Lice Away

  1. Image titled Treat Crabs (Pubic Lice) Step 11
    Put on clean underwear and clothing. To prevent further infestation, put on clean clothes and underwear following treatment. Any clothes that you were wearing prior to treatment should be washed right away.
  2. Image titled Treat Crabs (Pubic Lice) Step 12
    Wash all of your clothing, bedding, and linens. Once you've treated crabs, wash any clothing, bedding, and linens that you used in the past month. Lice and nits in bedding, towels, and clothing must be killed by machine washing and drying. You must use hot water when machine washing. You should also use the hottest setting on your dryer for at least 20 minutes.[14] Repeat this process after each treatment. Continue until all of the lice are gone from both your body and your belongings.
    • Store the items in sealed plastic bags until they're washed. If you can't wash them, you can store them sealed in plastic bags for 2 weeks. By this point, all the lice should die.[15]
  3. Image titled Treat Crabs (Pubic Lice) Step 13
    Monitor the treated area. Watch the area over the next few weeks for signs of lice. If you see more lice or experience itching and redness, follow the same process to retreat the area within a week of the first treatment.
    • Some creams only kill live lice, not the nits, so you'll definitely need to retreat the area once the nits hatch.
  4. Image titled Treat Crabs (Pubic Lice) Step 14
    Inform your sexual partners and abstain from sex. Tell all of your sexual partners from within the previous month that you have pubic lice. You and your partners may be more likely to have gonorrhea or chlamydia which are common in people with pubic lice. You and your partners should be evaluated and tested for the full range of STDS.[16] In the meantime, avoid any sexual contact until you no longer have pubic lice.
    • Using condoms does not prevent the spread of pubic lice, since it spreads on close skin to skin contact


  • Dogs, cats, and other pets do not play a role in the transmission of human lice.


  • Pubic lice found on the head or eyelashes of children may be an indication of sexual exposure or abuse.

Article Info

Categories: Stings Bites and Burns | Reproductive Health