Lice. It’s a word that can strike fear in just about any hair lover. Whether you’re battling a lice outbreak at your child's school or have discovered nits in your dark brown hair, the thought of having lice can send anyone into a tailspin. The good news is lice never hurt anybody—but that doesn’t make it any less embarrassing.
If you’re looking to get rid of lice once and for all, you’ve come to the right place. We sat down with Yoni Harel, a lice specialist at Lice Busters based in New York City, to get the scoop on everything you’ve ever wanted to know about lice including how you get it, how to avoid it, and how to get rid of it.
How do you get lice?It’s easy to think lice is hiding behind every corner ready to strike at any moment, but the truth is it’s much harder to get than you think.
“Normally you get it from someone you’re very close with like a best friend or a family member,” Harel explains. “Lice only goes from head to head contact. They can’t fly; they can’t jump.”
To get lice, you first have to know someone who unknowingly has lice and your heads have to touch. That means you can’t get lice while riding the subway, walking down the street, or from a stranger—unless you get really comfortable with said stranger.
Even though direct head-to head contact is the most common way to get lice, you can also get it through sharing a pillow, hat, or fabric movie theater seat. Just keep in mind these are very unlikely ways to get lice!
Can you prevent lice?
There is no lice vaccine, so there is no way to 100 percent prevent lice. However, there are a few tips and tricks you can follow to lower your chances. Because the most common way to get lice is head-to-head contact, try your very best to limit the amount of time your head spends in contact with others. It may sound silly but just think about all of the selfies and hugs that cause you to press your head right up against your loved ones.
If you have a loved one like a child or partner who you don’t want to limit your contact with, be sure to be vigilant about the state of their hair. If you notice any unusual scratching, check for lice ASAP.
The next tip you should follow is this: never ever share your hair tools. You should never share your brushes, combs, hair ties, and accessories with anyone, but it’s especially important if you’re trying to avoid lice. You can share hot tools like flat irons, curling irons, and blow dryers, but be sure to keep them as clean as possible.
If you have long locks, Harel suggests styling your hair in a braid, bun, or ponytail as often as possible.
“The best lice prevention is just keeping your hair up in a ponytail or braid,” he explains. “It’s less likely to touch a friend's hair when they give them a hug.”
Lastly, there isn’t a particular season for lice, but Harel says the business sees a slight uptick in customers during and after the holiday season.
How do you identify lice?
The first signs of lice vary for everyone. Harel says some people begin itching right away, while others can go weeks—sometimes months—with thousands of lice in their hair and not feel a thing (we’ll give you a moment to recover from that). Whether or not your scalp feels itchy, you should be able to see both lice bugs and eggs with your naked eye, although you may need to enlist the help of a magnifying glass.
“The bugs are very hard to see because they take the same color as the hair...the eggs look very similar to dandruff, but if you touch them or try to flick them, they won’t move,” he explains. “They’re like glued in.”
If you’re having a hard time differentiating between lice and dandruff, Harel has a little trick you can use.
“If you put it against something white like your fingernail or a napkin, the eggs will turn brown or black,” he says. “Dandruff will stay white or yellow.”
How do you get rid of lice?
There are several DIY and over the counter methods people swear by to get rid of lice, but every single technique requires you used a lice comb to comb the nits and bugs out of your hair. At Lice Busters, they believe in skipping the gimmicky creams, lotions, and chemicals, and going straight to combing the nits out. Harel says it’s the only 100 percent proven method of getting rid of lice.
“Even with the over the counter stuff that has those chemicals that are supposed to kill everything, they still want you to do the combing,” he says. “If it worked, we wouldn’t be in business and they wouldn’t tell you to do the combing afterward.”
An appointment at Lice Busters will run you anywhere from $150 to $250 depending on the length of your hair and the severity of the lice infestation. If you’re concerned about price, Harel says many of their clients are reimbursed by their health insurance for the lice removal.
When it’s time to remove the lice, a Lice Buster specialist will begin by coating your hair in conditioner. Coating the hair in conditioner works by making the strands easier to comb through while the thick consistency makes it harder for the lice to move around. Then the specialist will use an all-metal lice comb to comb all of the bugs and eggs out of your hair. This process takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.
Once your specialist and their colleges have double, tripled, and quadruple checked all of the lice are removed from your head, you’re good to go! In very rare or severe cases, Lice Busters may ask you to return for a follow-up appointment, but most clients are free to go home and return to their regular hair care and styling routines.
Ready to be rid of lice? Get out the comb and go to work—we're rooting for you!
Interested in more personalized advice about how to deal with lice? Use our salon locator to book an appointment at a salon near you.