Salons Make Business of Head Lice Removal

Getting the bugs out means bigs bucks for delousing salons.

ByABC News
February 18, 2009, 4:33 PM

Jan. 11, 2008 — -- In Chicago's tony Lincoln Park neighborhood, a new upscale salon has set up shop alongside the rows of uber-chic restaurants, cafes and boutiques. But at Hair Fairies, they don't cut hair. Instead of removing split ends and flyaways, they remove something much more unsightly.

Head lice.

"Business has been stupendous. It's been nonstop," said Damaris Rodriguez, manager of Hair Fairies' Chicago salon, which opened last month and has served more than 300 clients.

Sara Salzman recently brought her two daughters, ages 7 and 11, to Hair Fairies after six frustrating weeks of failed treatments. Salzman used everything from over-the-counter medications to homespun remedies such as vinegar, olive oil and mayonnaise. Nothing worked, until she brought her daughters to Hair Fairies.

"It was a huge relief, and they were a really big help," said Salzman. "They give you a sense of calm and really set your fears at ease."

Though head lice have been around seemingly forever and pose no serious medical threat, the number of delousing salons and in-home services has multiplied in recent years. Many have colorful names such as the Texas Lice Squad and LouseCalls.

"We're growing steadily," said M. Evan Parker, director of communications for Lousey Nitpickers, a California-based in-home service. "A lot of it is word-of-mouth."

Business is booming partly because the pesky parasite has grown increasingly resistant to at-home chemical treatments that used to allow folks to handle the problem on their own.

"Lice have really remarkable adaptive abilities," said Russell Robertson, director of family medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. "And some of the chemical treatments themselves have the potential to be not only toxic to the lice but toxic to the individual."

At Hair Fairies, they nitpick. Literally. After a visual inspection, technicians use special combs and rinses to manually remove lice and louse eggs from hair. They then apply an herbal shampoo, which is billed as an organic, nontoxic treatment that inhibits lice breeding. To make the experience more pleasant, there are video games, large flat-screen TVs and portable DVD players to help distract the clients, many of whom are kids.