I’ll admit: When I walked into the Hogeboom Avenue office of Tanya and Chris O’Brien of Lice Avengers, I started to feel itchy. I couldn’t help it. As a mom of two kids under the age of 5, I know lice are bound to find me eventually. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that anywhere from 6 million to 12 million people get head lice each year in the United States. Although it’s most common among elementary and middle school kids thanks to the easy way they share personal space, adults can become infected, too.
The thought of an infestation makes my skin crawl. As I walked out of the Lice Avengers office about an hour later, however, I was breathing easy. Not only is Eau Claire now home to two knowledgeable professionals who can help you and your kids become lice-free in a single treatment (and stay that way), the treatment is chemical-free. Whew!
“Our daughter got lice when she was 14,” recalled Tanya, who is a registered nurse. “She had long, thick, curly hair, and it took hours to go through her hair. But I had been exposed to head lice doing lice checks in schools and at summer camps, and I knew what I was looking for. I used natural products, self-treated, and I thought I did a great job. I did it on a Friday and checked her on a Saturday – and found a live bug. I wanted to cry.”
Even almost three years later, Tanya and Chris remember the frustration and worry they felt as they packed their daughter into the car and drove to Minneapolis to the closest lice treatment facility they could find. The facility used a device called the AirAllé, which is an FDA-cleared medical device that blows heated air through a comb-like applicator along the scalp and hair shafts at a flow that’s higher than a hair dryer but not as hot. The treatment worked, and they returned home with a lice-free daughter – and an idea.
“I remember turning to Chris and saying, ‘We should do this,’ ” Tanya said. “This was a service that we needed, and had I known about it the day before, I wouldn’t have spent $100 on other products and hours of my own time, not to mention the frustration and worry of whether or not I did it right.”
Tanya and Chris are now one of 127 lice treatment facilities in the U.S. that use the AirAllé. They opened their first location in Glenwood City in 2014, and have been so successful that Chris, who has a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and a master’s degree in management, joined Lice Avengers full-time in February.
The fact that the AirAllé device offers nontoxic treatment is important to the O’Briens. As Chris explained, the ingredients in the over-the-counter and prescription treatments that make topical lice treatments work are neurotoxins, which can get into your own children’s systems as easily as they get into the lice. Indeed, one prescription chemical called lindane has been banned from use on cattle or crops in the U.S. since 2006 but it can still be used for lice treatment. Lice Avengers offers nontoxic conditioner and shampoo as well as a preventative mint spray.
“The toxicity levels of (over-the-counter) products are scary, and they don’t always work,” Chris said. “ ’Super lice’ are resistant to over-the-counter and a lot of the prescription medications. They’re a real thing; they are actually genetically changed lice from the overuse of the medications.”
Their three-step process of screening, diagnosis, and treatment leaves individuals with infestations with two options: They can be treated in the clinic with the AirAllé device and an all-natural oil conditioner for $159, or they can be sent home with all-natural topical treatments that start around $30, plus a lice comb and plenty of instructions. Whatever method you choose, Tanya and Chris will work with you to ensure that every one of your household members is lice-free, not just the individual on whom the infestation was found. Plus, they’ll make sure you have the knowledge you need to stay that way.
“We’re really big on education,” said Chris, who conducts open houses and speaks about lice and lice prevention at schools in the area. “We want to make sure that everyone has the same base knowledge, and that they’re empowered so that this never happens again … and if it does, they know what to do and where to go.”
Emily Kuhn is a writer and mother of two in Eau Claire.