Hair today, gone tomorrow…Heather Harris gets rid of nits.
A double page spread in this popular local magazine covering Hertfordshire.
‘These days if your child is scratching their head it’s no longer assumed to be a profound thought. No – it’s that four letter word that’s more common in the school playground than any other – NITS.
Whilst scurvy and rickets were the diseases that plagued our forefathers, Pediculosis (or the affliction of head lice) is the ailment of today and sadly a few extra limes or a dose of sunshine won’t do the trick.
Instead, in bathrooms nationwide every night millions of parents will be spending hours scraping metal combs through their children’s hair to the accompaniment of ear-splitting screams, or sending their offspring to bed with locks stinking of industrial cleaning fluid.
Kids may be eating organic veggie burgers for tea with not an E-number in sight, but when it comes to bath-time nearly half of the nation’s 4-11 year olds are subjected to chemical warfare. Forget natural and wholesome: when it comes to killing these 2mm wingless bugs, parents will try anything – including paint stripper and a blow torch.
And, as parents discover all too soon, lice have developed a resistance to over 80% of scalp clearing products, and positively lap them up before laying more eggs in their favourite dark places. Its hair today and scratch, scratch, scratch… NOT gone tomorrow.
In fact, I am personally convinced that one of the reasons for our failing education system is that parents are spending so long ‘dividing to conquer’ head lice that there’s no time for homework. And the thought of getting close enough to a tea-tree smelling five year old to read a bedtime story is simply a challenge too far.
But, help is at hand. Arguably the most welcome service in the country – after internet shopping and waxing – has now been launched and it’s called The Hairforce. It’s the brainchild of Dee Wright, who gave up her job as a strategic planner at an advertising agency in 2000 to look after her daughters now aged 11 and 9.
Desperate to use her business and creative skills, she set about trying to think of work she could do from home. And being a mother herself the answer was staring her in the face from the top of her children’s heads.
‘With the school nit nurse long gone I saw the need for a modern day replacement. I spent hours in the British Library scouring medical journals for every study or paper ever written on head lice,’ explained Dee, from her bug-busting HQ in London’s Primrose Hill.
‘I then wrote a business plan and won a grant from Business Link, the Government agency set up to support entreprenurs.’
And 15 months ago The Hairforce website went live. Clearly designd by a creative, advertising mind the whole image of the service is fun and glamorous. Parents are invited to bring their children to The Hairforce Lounge where they are encouraged to play on game consoles, read or chat to the specially trained ‘Assassins’ who work on their hair by hand and with impressive looking lice hoovers, daylight bulbs, magnifying mirrors and Licemeister combs.
And because Dee and her team know that a fully-grown louse can move up to 23cms in a minute, they have developed a system to cramp that movement before sucking them away. They also know that finding one nit could still mean a lot of damage so they have developed a meticulous three stage clearing process – hoover, nit comb, nit pick – and a fresh sterilised set of equipment for each child. No chemicals are used.
The cost is £30 for a 1.5 hour clearing session at The Hairforce Lounge. Three clearing sessions are needed four days apart to guarantee total success. A check is £20 and takes 30 minutes. Children can be left. For a home visit in North, Central and West London the cost is £90 per session. The service is available 7 days a week.
Dee and her team of silver uniformed assassins (she has no problem recruiting, interestingly as many find the job highly therapeutic and far more satisfying than bikini waxing or chirpody) will also visit schools.
‘This is an area of the business we are slowly building up. Many head teachers see it as the parents’ problem but the more forward thinking are realising that this is a really useful service for a community,’ says Dee.
It makes a huge difference to the children as well as to their parents. As Mrs F, from Stoke Newington, says, ‘Only when I took my child to The Hairforce did I realise how deeply they were affecting her life at school. How much she was bullied. We saw her transform back into a happy child.
Mrs W from Hampstead echoes the sentiment, ‘I heard my daughter tell her Lice Assassin that she always sat at the back of class so nobody could have a full view of her hair. She never told me that.’
Other parents spoke about discovering that their children were scared to put their hand up in class, or be in the school play, for fear of other children seeing their nits.
‘They really open up to the ladies who are clearing their hair – talking about all sorts of things. When I set up the business I had no idea just how much it affected children socially,’ said Dee.
Over one thousand children have been treated (with only one complaint). Jonathan Ross famously brought his entire family to be cleared and then raved about the company on his Radio 2 show, ‘A brilliant idea. We used to dream of something like this.’
And the late Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, called The Hairforce ‘The most creative, relevant and innovative business out there.’
Since 6 September this year, when Dee was featured on the national news, the phones have never stopped ringing.
She and her seven strong team are now putting their heads together (something which senior school children don’t do, hence the decrease in lice infestation at that age) to look at future expansion.
So, if you’re local and fed up with combs and chemicals, be patient… The Force will soon be with you!