The real cost of removing head lice


At the time, I believed the task ahead was simple: buy a treatment, apply the treatment and use the comb supplied to dislodge the tiny critters. End of story.

I was wrong. It turns out treating lice is not simple nor quick. It is a time consuming, imperfect exercise which only works with the right technique and the right equipment.

In the month following the day we first caught sight of nits, we spent a rather tidy sum of money on a variety of treatments and equipment.

That brings me to the part where this column becomes about money and not merely a health or parenting concern.

In the month following the day we first caught sight of the nits, we spent a rather tidy sum of money on a variety of treatments and equipment.

I spent hours and hours applying each product in a bid to beat the lice.

I trawled the internet for product ratings and winning techniques and, eventually, spent hours painstakingly removing the eggs by hand.

Time pressures

The fact it happened over the Christmas break was fortunate because, while treating nits wasn’t the recreational activity I pictured enjoying while on holidays, the usual time pressures associated with work and school were moot.

Fast forward to the day before school returned this year and a quick inspection after noticing, with dismay, a certain person scratching their neck turned up another egg, the time pressures suddenly were in play.

It was back to the chemist to outlay more money in search of a better treatment.

I begged the pharmacist for the wonder drug — the one product he could guarantee would work — and he was frank: while the products are more or less the same, it’s the technique in application which really matters.

‘Hit and miss’

“I’m not saying you didn’t do it properly but it’s actually quite hit and miss,” he said.

“I am a rookie at nit-removal, so this is my first rodeo,” I admitted. “No offence taken.”

After returning home, I set about treating all three kids — while two of them had shown no signs of a problem, it’s a precaution I knew needed taking.

Later that night, as I crossed my fingers and hoped I had finally nailed it, I did a quick calculation of what I had spent, in time and in money, to exterminate the unwelcome bugs.

Ask the experts

The treatments cost more than $150! I had spent between $20 and $30 each for five different products over five weeks, as well as two sets of combs worth about $20 each.

However, the kicker was that I had spent upwards of five hours on the task of applying the products and attempting removal.

At this point it dawned on me that there must be experts out there who could help make this exercise more efficient. A quick Google search proved the point.

From salon chains, including Lice Clinics Australia, No More Nits and The Halo Clinic, to mobile service providers like No Nits Now and Nit Free hair, it seems there is no shortage of options for professional help.

Next time, I’m turning to professional help immediately. What it will save me in time will easily cover the cost.

I called Deborah McIntyre, who started her mobile service, No Nits Now, in 2011.

It now turns over about $100,000 a year, with the help of three contractors, for providing advice.

Unsurprisingly, given the timing, being the first week back at school, she was already fully booked but spent 10 minutes offering me some practical advice free of charge.

Part of her service is teaching parents the right technique, so they know what to do when they next return.

The exact price between services varies but spending in the vicinity of $100 seems fairly standard, from my research.

My final attempt at extermination appears to have been successful. All subsequent inspections have turned up nothing and there has been no itching.

However, if I had outlaid $100 at the first sign of headlice, I would have ended up further ahead.

I’m not looking forward to the time the nits return but, next time, I’m turning to professional help immediately. What it will save me in time will easily cover the cost.

Georgina Dent is a journalist, editor and TV commentator with a keen focus on women’s empowerment and gender equality.

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