One (horrifying) word: lice.
Claudia Alvarez, manager at Hair Fairies in La Jolla (858-459-5423; hairfairies.com) told me that the best treatment was careful removal by hand and comb.
“Lice need the scalp to live. They feed every four to five hours, and they usually can’t survive past 48 hours outside their environment. And nits [lice eggs] can’t survive without the warmth of the scalp.”
But even if you know what you’re looking for, you may not see all of it. Ideally, said Alvarez, “Parents would be able to remove every single thing out of their child’s hair,” lice and nits both. “But usually they can’t because they don’t have the experience.” She offered two solutions: a home kit and salon treatments. Both involve Hair Fairies’ line of products, “which are natural and nontoxic.”
The home kit ($60–$80, depending on what is needed) usually consists of a cream and a shampoo. The cream loosens the gluey grip of the nit on the individual strand of hair while the shampoo “disrupts the louse’s nervous system so that it doesn’t lay as many eggs. Usually, it lays about four to five per day. The plan involves 14 days, shampooing every day to keep the life cycle from starting up again. Usually, the parent will spend three or four days extracting.”
If that proves overwhelming, you can let the salon handle things. “First, we encourage everybody in the household to come in and get checked, to reduce the risk of reinfesting one another.” Infested family members then get treatments ($95/hour), which “can take two to four hours, depending on the level of infestation and the thickness of hair. We’ll use the cream to loosen the nits, and then we use a nit comb.” Alvarez noted that because Hair Fairies is a clinical salon, clients can often get partial reimbursement through their health insurance and they can use their healthcare savings account to pay for products and services.
Wendy Beck at Lice Doctors (858-939-9202; licedoctors.com) will come to you. “You don’t have to bag things or worry about stuffed animals,” she counseled. “It’s really the hair that is the concern. I tell everybody to wash the sheets once. Also, get a good lint brush and pick up loose hairs on the couch.
“If one person has lice,” she explained, “generally, someone else will — and it’s usually the mom. So we go to people’s homes and remove all the nits and bugs from the whole family. We don’t use any pesticides or special products. The over-the-counter shampoos such as Nix and Rid don’t kill all the bugs. We use olive oil. It suffocates the lice. It always works, it’s natural, and it’s a good conditioner for your hair.”
To start, she said, “We’ll put it in your hair and then go through your hair with a nit comb to get the dead bugs out. After that, the hair is washed and dried — you can use a little Dawn to cut the grease — and we pick through the hair by hand to get the nits. The comb won’t get all of them; we grab them with our nails and slide them up and off the hair. Finally, we give you a follow-up treatment plan, which basically entails sleeping with olive oil in your hair.”
For how long? “It depends on the particular case. What we’re trying to do is cover the whole life cycle of the lice. We try to get all the nits when we comb through, but if there’s just one left and it hatches, the cycle can start over again.”
Beck said, “It usually takes about two hours to do a whole family. We charge $100 an hour. We guarantee our work. We’ll come back if there is a problem, but that’s never happened.”
Elizabeth Cook of Headlice Patrol (760-613-1858; headlicepatrol.com) also makes housecalls.
“When we arrive, we check the whole family. Once we’ve figured out who doesn’t have lice, we start in on the ones who do. We use an essential oil, and we manually comb through the hair and remove all the bugs and nits. After that initial visit comes the patrol phase. I come back three times to recheck. I want to reassure the family: ‘By the third visit, you’re good.’ We charge $95 for the first hour, $30 for each 15 minutes after.”