Lice (pubic)


Lice (pubic)


Pubic lice (Phthirus pubis) are tiny parasitic insects that live on coarse human body hair, such as pubic hair.

They spread through close body contact, most commonly sexual contact. 

After you get pubic lice, it can take several weeks before symptoms appear. The symptoms include:

itching in the affected areas

inflammation or irritation in the affected areas caused by scratching

black powder in your underwear

blue-coloured spots on your skin where the lice are living, such as on your thighs or lower abdomen (these are caused by lice bites)

tiny blood spots on your underwear or skin

As well as being found in pubic hair, the lice are also sometimes found in:

underarm and leg hair

hair on the chest, abdomen and back

facial hair, such as beards and moustaches

eyelashes and eyebrows (very occasionally)

Pubic lice are sometimes called crab lice because they look similar to crabs. Adult lice are about 2mm long and are yellow-grey or dusky red in colour. The lice attach their eggs (or nits) to the base of hairs.

The lice do not transmit HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but a sexual health check-up is always recommended if you have pubic lice.

Pubic lice are not the same as head lice and do not live in the hair on your scalp.

How do you get pubic lice?

Pubic lice are not linked to poor personal hygiene. They are spread through close body contact with someone who has them.

The lice crawl from hair to hair, but cannot fly or jump. They need human blood to survive, so generally only leave the body to move from one person to another.

They are most commonly passed on during sexual contact. Condoms will not prevent them being passed to another person.

It is also possible for pubic lice to be spread through sharing clothes, towels and bedding.

When to seek medical advice

If you think you may have pubic lice, go to your GP or your nearest sexual health clinic, also known as a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic, for a check-up as soon as possible.

It is usually easy to diagnose pubic lice by examining the affected area. The doctor or nurse may use a magnifying glass to look for signs of the lice, such as pale-coloured eggs or the lice themselves.

If you have pubic lice as a result of sexual contact, you should be tested for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Find your local sexual health services.

Treating pubic lice

You can treat pubic lice yourself at home by using a special type of lotion, cream or shampoo. Your doctor or pharmacist can advise you about which treatment to use and how to use it. It's important to follow this advice.

The treatment is applied to the affected area and sometimes the whole body. It usually needs to be repeated after three to seven days.

If the treatment doesn't work, you may need to use another type. This is because pubic lice can sometimes develop resistance to certain treatments. Your doctor or pharmacist can advise you on suitable alternatives.

It's also important to treat anyone you have had close body contact with, including current sexual partners and household members.

Complications of pubic lice

A pubic lice infestation can sometimes lead to minor complications, including skin and eye problems.

Skin problems

If you have pubic lice, your skin may become irritated from scratching.

Scratching can cause scratch marks on your skin, or it could lead to an infection such as impetigo (a contagious bacterial skin infection) or furunculosis (boils on the skin).

Eye problems

Eye infections, such as conjunctivitis, and eye inflammation, such asblepharitis, can sometimes develop if your eyelashes have been infested with pubic lice.

See your doctor if your eyes become sore.




Pubic lice are about 2mm long and live in coarse human body hair 


Sexual health advice

You can call the Sexual Health Line on 0300 123 7123 for confidential advice and support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you are under 25, you can also call Brook on 0808 802 1234, Monday to Friday, 11am to 3pm, for free and confidential information on STIs, contraception, pregnancy, and other sexual health matters.

Symptoms of pubic lice 

After you come into contact with pubic lice, it can take several weeks before symptoms appear. Some people don't have any symptoms, or may not notice them.

The symptoms of pubic lice are the same for both men and women, and include:

itching in the affected areas, which may be intense

inflammation and irritation in the affected areas caused by scratching

black powder in your underwear

blue-coloured spots on your skin where the lice are living, such as on your thighs or lower abdomen (these are caused by lice bites)

small spots of blood on your skin that are also caused by lice bites


Itching is the most common symptom of pubic lice. However, it can take several weeks after the first infestation for you to notice any itching.

The itching is not caused by the lice biting you – it's an allergic reaction to the louse saliva.

The itching is usually worse during the night, when the lice are more active.

Pubic lice and eggs

Adult pubic lice are very small (about 2mm long) and difficult to see. The lice are yellow-grey or dusky red in colour and have six legs.

Two of the legs are larger than the others and look like the claws of a crab. The lice use these to grasp onto hairs.

The lice lay their eggs (nits) in sacs that are firmly stuck to hairs and are a pale brownish colour. When the eggs hatch, the empty sacs are white.

Although pubic lice and lice eggs are very small and not easy to see, they may be visible in coarse hair anywhere on your body (apart from the hair on your head).

You may also find empty white eggshells on your hairs, although this does not necessarily mean that you still have an infestation of pubic lice.


Lice (pubic)