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Does Permethrin Kill Scabies?

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Scabies, a skin condition caused by the Sarcoptes scabiei mite, is an itchy annoyance for many people worldwide. In the search for effective treatment options, one name often emerges: permethrin. But does permethrin kill scabies? Let’s delve into this topic.


Yes, permethrin does kill scabies. It is a synthetic chemical that works by affecting the nervous system of the scabies mites, causing muscle spasms, paralysis, and ultimately death. When used as a 5% cream applied topically to the skin, permethrin has been proven to be a highly effective treatment for scabies. However, it should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional due to potential side effects.

What is Permethrin?

Permethrin is a synthetic chemical belonging to the pyrethroid family of pesticides. It functions as an insecticide, used in a variety of ways to control insects, including on food and feed crops, ornamental lawns, livestock, and pets. It’s also used in structures, on clothing, and in places where food is handled.

It works by affecting the nervous system of insects. When they eat or touch permethrin, it causes muscle spasms, paralysis, and eventually death. Insects cannot break down permethrin as quickly as humans and dogs can, making it an effective pesticide. However, it’s important to note that permethrin is highly toxic to cats, fish, and other animals that live in either salt water or fresh water.

How Does Permethrin Work Against Scabies?

Permethrin is a neurotoxic synthetic pyrethroid that targets the eggs, lice, and mites. It affects sodium transport across neuronal membranes in arthropods, causing depolarization and resulting in respiratory paralysis of the affected arthropod.

When used to treat scabies, a 5% permethrin cream is applied topically to the skin, usually from the patient’s head to the toes. It’s important to apply it everywhere on the body, not just where the rash is. The cream is washed off after 8 to 14 hours and is often reapplied in the same way one week later.

Efficacy of Permethrin in Treating Scabies

Permethrin has been proven to be a highly effective treatment for scabies. In a study comparing the efficacy of permethrin and oral ivermectin for the treatment of scabies, it was found that treatment with two applications of permethrin with a one-week interval was effective in 96.9% of patients.

It’s important to note that even if permethrin kills all the scabies, the dead mites can still cause itching for up to 4 weeks after treatment. If the condition lasts or gets worse 2 weeks after treatment, it is recommended to consult a doctor.

Potential Side Effects and Risks

While permethrin is generally safe and effective, it can cause some side effects such as increased or new onset of itching, burning, or a stinging sensation. Some serious side effects that require immediate medical attention include trouble breathing, continued irritation of the skin, and infected or pus-filled areas of the skin.

As with any medication, it should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional, and any side effects or ongoing symptoms should be reported to a doctor.

Alternatives to Permethrin

There are other alternative treatments for scabies, including crotamiton, lindane, ivermectin, benzyl benzoate, sulfur ointment, and albendazole. While these alternatives can be effective, permethrin remains the first-line treatment option due to its safety and efficacy.


In conclusion, permethrin is a highly effective treatment for scabies when used as directed. However, as with any medication, it should be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional, and any side effects or ongoing symptoms should be reported to a doctor. Consult with a healthcare provider for the most suitable treatment option for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can permethrin be used on children?

Yes, permethrin can be used on children. However, it should only be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Is permethrin safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women?

Permethrin is considered safe for use by pregnant and breastfeeding women. However, like any medication, it should be used under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

Does permethrin kill other types of mites?

Yes, permethrin is effective against various types of mites, including those that cause scabies and lice.

How long does it take for permethrin to kill scabies?

The exact time can vary, but generally, permethrin can kill scabies within 24 to 48 hours after application.

Can permethrin be used to prevent scabies?

Permethrin is primarily used for treatment rather than prevention. However, if someone in your household has scabies, your healthcare provider may recommend treatment with permethrin to prevent the spread of the mites.

Can you buy permethrin cream over the counter?

In many countries, permethrin cream is a prescription medication and can only be obtained with a doctor’s prescription. However, regulations may vary, so it’s best to check with your local pharmacy.

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