MOUNT GREENWOOD — Jackie O'Connell and Katie Schickel are professional nitpickers.
The hair stylists opened Disentangle Natural Lice Removal on Aug. 6 at 11104 S. Kedzie Ave. in Mount Greenwood. The salon specializes in killing head lice and then removing the dead bugs and eggs from infected heads.
"When anyone leaves here, we always say, 'It was so nice to meet you. We hope we never see you again,'" said Schickel, a resident of suburban Evergreen Park.
Schickel is also co-owner of Tranquility Hair Salon in Beverly. O'Connell, a Mount Greenwood resident, works in the traditional salon at 9909 S. Walden Parkway, and the stylists would frequently field requests from parents asking for a "head check" of their children.
The requests sparked an idea, and this summer the pair acted on it. O'Connell and Schickel bought two AirAlle devices and underwent training in July. The FDA-approved machine uses hot air to kill all 99.2 percent of head lice and eggs in a single treatment.
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At Disentangle, customers receive a 30-minute treatment with the machine followed by a 30-minute "comb out." This procedure removes the dead lice and nits by finely combing a silicone solution through the hair. The two-part procedure costs $195.
"It's a one-shot deal," said Schickel, adding that all customers leave the salon with a 30-day guarantee.
When speaking of head lice, the new business owners brought up some little-known facts about the bugs, dispelled some home remedies and offered tips for concerned parents.
First, Schickel said head lice can only spread from head-to-head contact. The bugs cannot jump or fly from one head to another. Nor can they exist away from the human head for more than 24 hours.
The rise of selfies has actually led to increased cases of head lice, as pals typically touch heads when snapping a pic. Children who share iPads also are at greater risk as they too get close to view the screen.
Disentangle opened just as the arrival of super lice began to proliferate. This modified version of head lice is immune to the chemicals traditionally used to treat the infestation. Schickel said her hot-air method kills all varieties of the parasites.
As for the chemical treatments, the over-the-counter and prescription methods of soaking the hair and scalp have been increasingly criticized for using a mix of toxic chemicals. Schickel compared these lice shampoos to saturating your head with a can of Raid.
Not only do these harsh chemicals sit just outside of the brain but they are also placed dangerously close to the eyes, said Schickel, whose shop treats customers on an appointment-only basis.
The chemical treatments also aren't guaranteed. About half of the customers at Disentangle arrive at the salon having tried to remove lice with an over-the-counter solution only to have the nits return, Schickel said.
Those concerned about the chemical treatments often turn to home remedies. Schickel said she's heard of parents soaking their childrens' heads in olive oil, Listerine, Vaseline, mayonnaise and kerosene.
But O'Connell said the bugs can go without oxygen for tremendous periods — which is why lice don't die after a dip in the pool. And the nits or eggs are virtually impenetrable, living about a ½- or ¼-inch from the scalp.
Schickel said more girls than boys get head lice, and 85 percent of moms get lice when their children are infected. And as for the heads most tempting to lice, it's actually clean scalps that give off the best scent.
"Everyone has that stigma in their head that you are dirty if you have head lice," Schickel said.
A mom from Mount Greenwood brought her 10-year-old daughter into the shop on Monday morning. Both opted not to use their names in this article. The girl began itching two days earlier, and her aunt soon discovered the nits, the mom said.
This was actually her daughter's second infestation. The last time, her mom took her to the Hair Fairies Salon in Lincoln Park. This time, both were happy to stay closer to home.
"Every single person told us about this place," the mom said.
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