Banishing lice from a child's head can be a long, frustrating endeavor

Hair Fairies pampers children in a variety of ways.

As any parent who has endured it will tell you, banishing lice from a child's head can be a long, frustrating endeavor.

It can take multiple treatments - slathering on smelly shampoos and painstakingly combing the nits and lice out of the hair - to get rid them.

Even then, a few pesky creatures may still make an appearance.

With over 12 million cases of head lice a year, entrepreneur Maria Botham saw a need for professional nitpickers.

"I thought if I could come up with a methodology that works, I could have a successful business," says Botham.

With that in mind, she created Hair Fairies, full-service salons dedicated to removing head lice in a kid-friendly, fun environment. The first Hair Fairies opened eight years ago. There now are three salons in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Manhattan. Two more are opening soon in San Diego and Chicago, and there are plans to open franchises around the country.

"We kind of want to be the Starbucks of head lice,"Botham says.

Head lice is one of the most common - and most dreaded - issues for children and their parents. Lice spread from one child's head to the other through contact with an infested person's clothing, brushes or other belongings. Children with lice may have an itchy scalp, and may feel a sensation like something is moving in their hair. They may also have red sores on their scalp caused by scratching.

Lice make their home in human hair, nourishing themselves with blood from the scalp, holding onto the hair with hook-like claws found at the end of their six legs. The average number of lice on a child's head is about 10. In addition, there usually are hundreds of tiny eggs, called nits, that cling to the hair shaft.

"Getting rid of them is a manual, laborious removal process," explains Hair Fairies CEO Botham, who is based in Hollywood, Calif. "When you're infested, you might be able to get 80 percent of the them, but getting the last 20 percent can be like finding a needle in a haystack."

Many current treatments contain the same harsh chemicals found in products like Raid Yard Guard and Black Flag Flea Ender.

There is evidence that permethrin and pyrethrin, found in Nix and Rid, can trigger asthma and other respiratory problems. Some of the prescription lice products contain strong chemicals like Malathion, a harmful neurotoxin, and Lindane, a carcinogen that has been banned in California.

"It's not like you can come up with something more toxic," says Botham.

The problem has only become more difficult as lice have increasingly become resistant to the pesticides (pyrethrin/permethrin) that have been used for the last 20 years in head lice shampoos. Scientists at the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre in Cardiff, UK discovered four out of five lice were resistant to the chemicals. And many are ineffective against the eggs, which is why it can be so difficult to get rid of lice.

Hair Fairies uses a three-step process.

During the first step, specially trained "Hair Fairies" manually screen hair for nits and lice. They will often screen the entire family because it is common for more than one family member to be infested.

If nits and lice are found, the next step is nit-picking. The Hair Fairies manually remove the parasites using patented combs and rinses.

Finally, the non-toxic treatment is applied that inhibits breeding. A non-toxic, organic shampoo is used to damage the nervous system of the bugs and loosen the glue that attaches the nits to the hair.

Curly hair presents its own challenges. There is more hair to comb through, and it's more difficult to part.

"Someone with curly hair is more difficult to treat, and you have to make sure you use more product," Botham says.

The Hair Fairies all wear scrubs and bandanas, spending an hour or two on each child. To make the process fun, the salons have plenty of things to keep the child and parents entertained.

The cost of treatments at Hair Fairies is $300, which includes three treatments over a week and a half. A non-profit arm of her company offers the treatments to under-served families. The treatments are 100 percent guaranteed, and she says some insurance companies cover the cost.

Since nitpicking is only a part of the equation, Hair Fairies also sells its own line of patented combs, non-toxic shampoos and rinses. The line includes Nit-Zaping Eucalyptus Laundry Additive and and Nit-Zapping Lice repellant Spray, an environmental spray. The products work by damaging the nervous system of the bug and by loosening the glue inside their eggs.

"Once you're lice free, these products can help protect you," Botham says.

Botham says her salons have treated thousands of heads over the past seven years. And she feels like she's having an impact on people's lives.

"Lice is the No. 1 reason why kids miss school and adults miss work," she says. "It's a huge educational problem in public schools."

Botham worries that people have a false sense of security about current traditional treatments. People often use the products and send their children right back to school, only to get another call from the school because more lice have been discovered.

By the time some parents come to Hair Fairies, she says, they may be frantic and frustrated.

"The most important thing is to break the stigma and to make everyone feel comfortable," Botham says. "We need to calm them down, and we need to educate them. And then we need to remove the head lice. Hair Fairies have a lot to do."


Debunking Myths: Lice Facts

  • You can not "catch nits." Nits must be laid by live lice.
  • Head lice are crawling insects. They cannot hop, jump or fly.
  • Head lice cannot live in furniture, clothing or bed sheets.
  • Head lice are small wingless insects which feed on human blood. They need human blood in order to survive.
  • Head lice do not thrive on pets
  • Getting lice isn't a cleanliness issue.

Source: Hair Fairies