A study of Welsh schoolchildren found that nearly 4/5th of head lice become resistant to all treatments including organophosphates (malathion) and pyrethroids (permethrin and phenothrin), which are used to act on the nervous system for eradication.
These are both available as over the counter preparations, with pyrethroids the most widely used, because they require shorter application time and have a less strong smell than malathion.
The authors used nit combs on a random sample of almost 300 000 primary schoolchildren at 31 schools spread across the five health authorities of Wales.
Around 80% of 316 lice tested were resistant to the treatment, equating to resistance to four out of five head lice affecting primary schoolchildren in Wales, say the authors.
Whether this pattern is reflected elsewhere in the UK will depend on how head lice treatments are used, they add.
But they suggest that where resistance develops, a newer silicone based lotion might be a suitable alternative.