So You Think You Might Have Lice?
If you’ve caught yourself or your kids itching and it’s been going on for a couple days, it’s time to do a lice check. If your friend circle has also been talking about head lice, it’s definitely time to start looking.
Lice Checking Options
You have two options when it comes to diagnosing a lice infestation: do it yourself or hire someone.
You can check yourself and your family using a professional quality lice comb or just poking around the scalp with your fingers and a good light. We have instructions in our article How to Check for Lice. Doing a very thorough check takes some skill, but mostly time. To be sure you have to check the entire scalp and that can take a professional 10-30 minutes, on average. The thicker, longer, kinkier, and coarser the hair the longer and potentially more uncomfortable it will take. Checking your kids is fairly easy. Checking yourself is very difficult and you are better off getting checked by a professional.
Professional lice checks are a great way to get the peace of mind of knowing for sure whether or not your family is dealing with lice or if the treatments you’ve previously tired worked. Most lice clinics, salon, or other services will charge a flat or hourly rate to do a head check with prices ranging between $10-$30 depending on your location.
Turns Out It Was Lice After All
Well, at least you know for sure now and can start taking action to get rid of them.
The best first step is deciding how much time and effort you want to spend on lice.
To be frank, getting rid of lice on your own is not a small task. There is no silver bullet that will eliminate the problem in one easy step. Many methods will work, but they all require multiple treatments, checks, and hours of combing on each person. If you are willing to give up your evenings and hours on the weekend to fight lice, more power to you.
But… unless you value your time at less than $15 an hour or are absolutely sure only one person has it and they don’t have a lot of hair or much chance to spread it, you are better off hiring a professional to get it done. I’ll explain why next.
Lice Treatment Pricing
The cost of hiring a professional lice service can range from as low as $135 for a single treatment to nearly $1000 based on how much work is needed and how urgently. Kits found at drugstore locations such as CVS, Walgreen, or Walmart cost from $15 to $50, but expect to need multiple kits and be prepared for multiple sessions of hours of combing. If price is an issue, consider using a kit, combing your family with a quality lice comb, and then getting checked by a service to see if that took care of the issue.
It can take a professional about 60-90 minutes to treat someone with shoulder length hair. An amateur can expect it to take anywhere from 2-4 hours to go over the entire head in one session. For a family of four you will have to do at least three sessions per person to have a reasonable chance of getting rid of them all, which adds up to 16-48 hours of combing. Even after all that, if your technique is not perfect and you miss one fertilized female or two nits, you might find your family itching again in 2-4 weeks.
Now for some math.
If you value your time at $15 an hour, 16 hours of combing for three sessions of coming on one person equals $240 and for four people that is 48 hours of combing which equals $720. That is 16-48 hours of your free time after work or on the weekends that you are losing to head lice treatment.
The industry average is $250-$500 to treat a family of four in a single sessions, but some places require two treatments, so keep that in mind. However, compare that to the pain of amateur lice combing, the evenings and time to yourself you are sacrificing, and the stress on your family and yourself of not being sure they are really gone and you can see why trying to do it yourself might not be worthwhile.
Lice Salon, Clinic, Service, Center… What’s the Difference?
Nothing. It’s just a name and behind that is a marketing strategy. All of those places can get rid of lice.
In-Home or Mobile vs Retail
In-home lice treatment is absolutely the best choice for everyone. Treatments for a family of four may be as short as two hours, but they can be five or more. Most people don’t want to spend that much time in a lice treatment location away from their home and all the comforts in it. It can be very hard for parents to keep their kids fed, happy, and entertained for that long without a temper tantrum or full-on public meltdown in a crowded lice salon. If your child has special needs and struggles with over stimulation, the home is a much safer and more soothing place to help them through what can be a challenging new experience.
- Head Lice Diagnosis and Treatment. Mayo Clinic.
- Head lice infestation – Diagnosis. Wikipedia.
- Pediculosis capitis: new insights into epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment. Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis. 2012 Sep;31.
- Wet combing for head lice: feasibility in mass screening, treatment preference and outcome. J R Soc Med. 2002 Jul;95(7):348-52.
- Lice – Head Lice – Diagnosis. CDC.
- Head Lice Symptoms and Signs. Parents.com.