Elyse Kolender and Suzanne Gendelman have had a lousy summer. And they know with school starting up soon, it will only get worse.
The sisters-in-law are lice experts with their own line of products to treat infestations of the all-too-common pest. With children coming home from summer camps and getting back to school, they are prepared for an influx of itchy heads and frazzled parents.
“October is actually our worst month. The kids catch it at camp and they don’t know they have it,” said Kolender. “They have sleepovers, they’re back to class and it just spreads.”
Kolender and Gendelman are known around Metro Detroit as the “Lice Sisters,” the name of the business they started 10 years ago after their own children, Zoe and Sam, contracted a particularly nasty case of lice while on a family trip.
After dealing with the stress of multiple at-home lice treatments and cleaning her house every day for weeks, Kolender vowed to come up with a better way to help families dealing with similar experiences.
Through trial and error and with the help of her husband, a doctor, and a chemist, she created her own non-toxic lice treatment line that can take care of the problem in one go.
“I had this passion for the products. I was like a mad scientist,” said Kolender, who lives in Bloomfield Hills. “I became obsessed with finding a better solution.”
The trouble with lice is they’re found in three forms. First are the eggs and nits, which are the hard-to-see leftover shells from hatched lice. They are laid by a mature louse near the scalp and attached to the hair follicle with a glue-like substance.
Then there are the nymphs, the just-hatched lice, and finally full grown lice, which are still only about the size of a sesame seed and often blend in with a person’s hair color.
Kolender’s product works to dissolve the glue on the nits as well as kill the lice in 10-15 minutes. With a thorough combing, a boy can be free of lice in 20 minutes and girls with longer hair between 45 minutes to an hour.
She and Gendelman sell the products online and at a few camp stores, but they also operate “lice salons” out of their homes to provide treatment and give worried parents peace of mind and an education on lice prevention.
“I think people are so relieved to have the option,” said Kolender.
“It’s comforting,” added Gendelman, a West Bloomfield resident. “A lot of kids have this intimidation factor when walking into a salon.”
Seeking peace of mind
When Debbie Berke saw the early signs of lice in her daughter Jordyn’s hair while doing a routine check, the Bloomfield Hills resident immediately called the Lice Sisters. She’d been through the process before and wanted to avoid the stress.
“She had it when she was 5 for three months,” said Berke. “I took her to the dermatologist, the school, everyone missed it.”
This time, her 10-year-old was lice-free within hours.
“It was so much easier,” she said.
Michelle Gilbert of Farmington Hills took her children to the lice sisters earlier this summer. It was their second time getting them, and the first time was a horrible experience, said Gilbert.
“The first time, I didn’t know about professional services, so my kids went through treatment four or five times to get rid of it,” she said. “At the end of it, their hair was completely destroyed and I spent 4-6 weeks every single night combing them out and vacuuming our whole house.”
She got a recommendation from her hairdresser to call the Lice Sisters and two hours later, they were lice-free.
“To have the privacy, the peace of mind, it was worth every penny,” she said.
The Lice Sisters’ product kit costs $45-$50 and lice removal treatment typically costs about $100 per head, with the cost of the products included. They also teach parents how to clean their homes to prevent re-infestation and how to prevent it from happening again.
“It’s not as easy as you people think to get lice. You need that close head-to-head contact,” said Gendelman. “Sharing brushes, selfies, sleepovers have all been great for this business.”
Pests become harder to treat
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reliable data on how many people get head lice each year in the United States is unavailable. However, an estimated 6-12 million infestations occur each year in the U.S. among children ages 3-11. Some studies suggest that girls get head lice more often than boys, probably because of more frequent head-to-head contact.
Over time, the lice have evolved to become resistant to some of the over-the-counter and prescription medications, which has made it harder to treat, says Dr. Eric Ayers, the director of the Med Peds program at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine.
He says he’s seen more outbreaks over the last four years.
“We’ve had changes with legislation, so we have not been able to use as aggressive of chemicals to treat them,” said Ayers. “And parental treatment of the lice, sometimes that is one of the problems. They aren’t using it until all the lice are removed from the body. The eggs they leave behind need to be treated.”
As the number of cases increase, the stigma surrounding lice seems to have died down over the years, said Ayers, who has been practicing medicine for 27 years.
“I remember when I first started, people thought of those who were of ill health or disheveled. Over time, we’ve seen that lice doesn’t know any socioeconomic or color barrier,” he said. “They only know they want to live. I think that has caused the stereotype to break down.”
The sisters-in-law have seen the same thing.
“Lice does not discriminate,” said Gendelman. “The ewwww factor is not as great as it used to be and people are more proactive about it.”
“I think people just realize how rampant it’s become,” added Kolender. “Lice have endured and they’ve become resistant to the over-the-counter treatments.”
Now 17, Zoe helps her mother and aunt occasionally when they are called to do checks at summer camps and schools. Their husbands also help sometimes. Recently, they added a third Lice Sister, in Grand Rapids, who had come to get her child treated and liked the concept so much she wanted to do it herself. And as they wait for the product line to be patented, Kolender and Gendelman have high hopes for expanding their company to more states and their products to more stores.
“We’re just trying to make the experience of having lice nice,” said Kolender.
Tips on back-to-school lice prevention and detection from the Lice Sisters:
- Avoid hanging coats in communal areas
- Classrooms should avoid having dress-up clothes or lounge chairs and bean bags
- Avoid sharing computer monitors
- Encourage schools to institute lice checks at the beginning of the school year
Signs your child may have lice:
- Redness down the back of the neck
- Itching, but not always
- Swollen glands
- Visible eggs, nits or full-grown lice when parting hair
- Girls are most likely to get lice in the area between the ears and nape of the neck
- Boys usually have lice on the top of their heads or wherever their hair is the thickest