What should a Hair Stylist do if they find Head Lice?

Lice can be an embarrassing issue for many people, especially when it is discovered in a public setting. Discovering lice at your local hair salon could easily end the relationship between a regular client and their stylist due to embarrassment. To prevent this, the stylist should remain calm and collected so the client is comfortable with returning after the lice are removed.

The first step to handling a lice problem is to be sure that what you’re finding is indeed evidence of head lice.  Nits appear clear-ish/white on dark hair and will look like dark pepper flakes in very light colored hair. They are glued onto the hair strand about ½ inch from the scalp. Dandruff or product buildup can often easily be confused for lice or vice versa. The best way to test for a nit is by gently brushing off the possible nit with your finger. If it easily moves away, what you are finding is most likely dandruff. If it stays on the hair and must be pulled off between your fingernails, this may be a nit. Nits will usually be in abundance and are most often found behind the ears or nape of the neck. If you think you have seen one, check these areas for more. If you find an actual louse it is unmistakable and will usually match the color of the client’s hair.

Dandruff in hair
Dandruff is present in larger flakes and is easy to brush off. Usually if you brush the hair with a comb or hair brush more will be created or it moves away.
Nits on hair strand
Nits will be glued onto the hair strand and won’t move unless you pull them down the strand with a lice comb or your fingernails.  

If you think you have found lice but aren’t completely sure, ask a coworker for a 2nd opinion. Many hair salons have developed code words for lice so they can ask for another opinion without alerting everyone about a possible lice issue. Other indicators of head lice are sores from scratching on the scalp or a red/bumpy rash at the back of the neck. You can also ask the client if they have been feeling itchy recently.

If lice evidence is found and confirmed, pull the client or their parent to the side. This is a delicate conversation and everyone is different, but the best approach is to be kind and direct. Tell them “I can’t cut ____’s hair today because he/she has head lice.”  Offer to show them the evidence you were finding and be compassionate. You can say “I’m sorry I couldn’t finish their hair cut today but I’m happy to do it once he/she has been treated.” Below is an example of how to handle a lice situation from a hair stylist with 20 years of experience:

“Okay we have a little situation but before we go into it you need to know this is very common and please do not be embarrassed. As a professional I am trained to see this and thank goodness because now you can take the proper steps to handle this! I’m seeing lice/nits and our state’s cosmetology rules state I cannot begin service at this time, but once treated we’ll get you back in right away!”

Parents/individuals who have never experienced lice before may be shocked to hear this and may need to be calmed down. People will usually worry most about their home being infested but this is something they do not need to focus on. Assure them that their house is not the issue and once the child/person is treated the problem will be handled. Bedding should be washed on the normal cycle and hair brushes can be put in a zip-loc bag for 3 hours. Lice die in 24-48 hours without a host and will not live on furniture, car seats, pets, clothing, etc. Nits (eggs) will immediately die if they are not in the hair because they use heat from our scalp to incubate.

It may be helpful to keep business cards for local lice companies on hand for these scenarios. If you give your clients trustworthy advice and referrals for this stressful problem they are likely to come back and be thankful for your help.  Many children’s salons will sell lice prevention and treatment products in the salon for this reason. You may also consider keeping a head lice tip sheet on hand so you can send clients home with the information they need.