Israel With Kids / No More Mr. Lice Guy

A mother of two recently opened a hair salon that specializes in treating children with lice, where parents can get some reprieve as the creepy crawlers meet certain death.

How many times has this happened to you? You're sitting at the breakfast table just about to send the kids off to school, a full day of meetings and work ahead, when out of the corner of your eye you notice someone diligently scratching his or her head.

And there goes your day.

Anyone who's raised kids in Israel knows that lice are part of the package. Blame the warm Mediterranean climate or the tendency of Israelis to disregard the need for personal space and get literally in one another's hair, but those creepy crawlers that have a thing for children's scalps just seem to thrive here. If you're a working parent (and even if you're not), that can be a problem. Getting the treatment and administering it can take a few precious hours out of your day -- and even more if you're not dealing with a particularly cooperative child. And then there are all the siblings whose heads have to be checked and all the sheets and towels that have to be laundered and changed.

Keren Friedman, a mother of two from Tel Aviv, has been there as well. But not long ago, she heard from friends about a network of hair salons in the United States that specializes in treating children with lice. “I figured that if the idea took off in America, it would certainly succeed in this lice-infested country of ours,” says Friedman, who in July opened Wish & Wash, a kid-friendly hair salon for treating lice right on Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.

The morning we happened by the telephone was ringing non-stop. As she washed a child's head, holding the phone to her ear with her shoulder, Friedman explained that the night before, her salon had been featured on a special Channel 10 business program. The next available appointment, she told a customer on the other end, was at four in the afternoon. “I thought people would be embarrassed to come to a place like this,” she says. “But it turns out I was wrong. I guess desperation gets the better of them.”

Like the hair salons in the United States that inspired her own business, Friedman uses only natural products. The whole treatment, which entails two visits, costs NIS 150 (about $37.50).  On the first visit, the hair is washed with the special lice-killing shampoo, which stays on for about 20 minutes. After it's washed out, Friedman uses a fine-toothed comb to get rid of the dead lice that are still stuck in the hair, as well as their eggs.  The entire session takes about an hour. The same treatment is done four days later to make sure no eggs have meanwhile hatched.

Neutral ground

The truth is that most of us can do the same thing at home for much less money. Friedman says her advantages are a neutral face and a friendly atmosphere. “When a kid has to deal with a parent, there's built-in tension, and it becomes an unpleasant experience,” she says. “Here with me, the kids behave differently. I'm gentle with them, and they tell me it doesn't hurt here. Also, there are very few moms who have the patience to go through the hair like I do with the fine comb.”

The salon itself is definitely inviting. Scenes of happy whales swimming in the sea decorate the walls, toy animals are scattered on the floors, and there are three flat-screen TVs in the room to distract the children while they wait for the shampoo to take effect and have their hair combed out. For those who prefer more interactive diversions, Friedman also has an iPad on hand.

As she wipes off a fine-toothed comb on a white towel, the child being treated (who incidentally does let out the occasional “ouch” as her hair is being pulled through it) asks to see what a dead louse looks like. Friedman pulls out a magnifying glass to give the little girl a better view. Meanwhile, some curious passersby have begun to peek in through the glass door, and one even lets herself in. “Kudos to you,” she tells Friedman. “It's about time someone opened a place like this here.”

Wish & Wash may be a first of its kind in Tel Aviv, but not in Israel: Several years ago, the Rosh Nakki Clinic, based on a similar concept, began operating in Jerusalem.

For busy parents, Wish & Wash provides the added benefit of being located on a block of bustling cafes. While their kids are watching children's programs on the TV inside, they can step out for an hour to meet colleagues and clients for coffee or at least catch up on emails.

Friedman, who ran a design studio before she found her calling in life, is more than happy to share tips with her customers and shatter some prevailing myths. “No, lice do not jump from one head to another, nor do they infect children in swimming pools,” she insists.

A helpful piece of advice we got from her for lice-prevention: Secure long hair in a bun and cover the head with gel. “The lice have a hard time finding the scalp when there's gel on the head,” says Friedman.


Basic Info:

Address: 11 Malkhey Yisrael St. Tel Aviv


Sunday through Thursday, 10 P.M. - 8 P.M., and Fridays, 9:30 P.M. to 2:30 p.m.

Phone number for appointment: 077-5406178

Cost: NIS 150 for two treatments.

Getting there: Any bus line that gets to Rabin Square will get you there. There's also nearby parking at the Gan Ha'ir parking lot.