For decades, mayonnaise and Vaseline were treatments mothers used on children with head lice. Now, those mothers have many more options, more expensive than anything they used to buy at the drug store. Nit pickers, or delousing salons, are opening up across Chicagoland, promising to remove bugs from children's hair for a steep fee. Parents are paying big, and will continue to do so as kids return from Spring Break, when lice cases are known to spike. But whether such treatments are worthwhile or necessary is in question.
"I was ashamed," said one Lakeview mom who did not wish to be identified. "I felt like a bad parent, a bad mother." She doesn't want others at her child's school to know both she and her five year old were diagnosed with a lice infestation.
"I was embarrassed by it, and parents were talking and saying, 'Did you hear lice hit our classroom?' And I said, 'Oh no, that's awful.'"
Mother and daughter had been scratching their heads for weeks. Finally, it was a dermatologist who delivered the news. That doctor did so along with a prescription, but mom did not head to the pharmacy first. She called Hair Fairies, a professional nitpicking service, and within an hour, she was seated in the Lincoln Park salon. Both she and her daughter received the first of what would be two treatments.
Hair Fairy technicians say the treatments are spaced days apart, in accordance with the reproductive cycle of the actual bug.
"We remove everything that is visible on the first treatment, and on the second treatment, we remove all the residuals, anything that was microscopic they first time they are in," said Mayra Bautista, who is both a trained technician and oversees the L.A.-based company's public relations.
Hair Fairy technicians check for lice and for their eggs, known as nits. They then apply their own "Nitzapping Cleanz Cream," comb the hair, blow dry it, and then apply their brand name prevention oil and shampoo intended to damage the bill's reproductive systems. Each treatment can take up to four hours.
"We bill $95 an hour, and then it gets prorated, every 15 minutes after that hour is $23.75."
After two treatments for two people, the service cost the Lakeview mom more than a thousand dollars. Though you can seek reimbursement from your insurance company, the mom was denied. How did the bill get so high? The prevention oil, non-washable spray, shampoo and laundry additives that Hair Fairies recommends using for up to 14 days adds up.
Pediatricians warn against these products.
"I'm frustrated by the fact that you are hitting a vulnerable population willing to pay for something they perceive as very bad, but is really a nuisance process," said Dr. Kenneth Polin, M.D. of Town and Country Pediatrics.