Our latest attempt to deal with lice: call in the experts
There’s respect in Dee Wright’s voice when she talks about how to get rid of head lice, Pediculus humanus capitis. “They are a brilliant opponent,” she says. She ticks off their stats: They mate once, then lay eggs for 30 days. They are tenacious and wily and immune to just about any chemical you put on them. Is it any wonder that head lice are the insect that keeps on giving?
Wright’s symbiotic relationship with the louse began almost 4 years ago, when she set up Hairforce, a lice-busting service that operates out of her home studio in North London. There, teams of women in white uniforms and magnifying goggles give no quarter to lice and their eggs, seeking them out with scientific precision using tight-tooth combs, tweezers and what I can only describe as contraptions.
First there is the vacuum cleaner with a comb attached (at least, that’s what it looks like) that sucks out the larger creatures. Then there is Wright’s newest louse-buster, the only one of its kind in the UK. This machine heats and dehydrates eggs so they don’t hatch. If you have ever used a diffuser on your blowdryer, you will recognise the business end of this machine. If you have ever held your diffuser in one part of your head a little too long, you understand how much heat it takes to dessicate a nit.
Paying someone to find your child’s hair nits might sound like something for people who can’t be bothered to raise a comb on their own.
Yet while Wright understands the louse, she’s in touch even more with the desperation infestations can inspire. “We hear from a lot of people who struggle for a long time,” she says. Some children come in after being excluded from playdates or ostracised on the playground. While we all know that lice don’t mean the person is “dirty”, what we feel when dealing with an infestation is a down-to-your-bones shiver of “Eww”.
That perhaps is what Hairforce really battles with its hoses and tweezers and cheerful matter-of-fact staff in this smart, paisley-wallpapered front room. Parents have called for help in the middle of the night, even on Christmas Day, at their wits end about how to get rid of head lice.
I visited with my 6-year-old after 3 months of infestation and re-infestation. I couldn’t bear another evening with the excellent (and effective) Nitty Gritty comb, a handful of hair grips and Shrek 2. We were both exhausted.
In the end, after an hour and a half, the crisp young women didn’t find anything on either of us. That’s common, Wright says. “People lose their confidence in dealing with them,” and are never sure if they’ve gotten them all. That’s where she and her team stand ready, with an arsenal of silly-looking contraptions, mini DVD players and an eye fixed on one of the most tenacious opponents of all.
Watch Wright’s team at work on Embarrassing Bodies