Tackling nits is a nasty business, but help is at hand from a new London salon that will do it for you, says Tamsin Kelly
The Hairforce appeared in the Telegraph’s Weekend family pages:
If your have primary age children, chances are that nit warfare is a predominant feature of your life. There’s that familiar sinking feeling as you read the standard school letter announcing: ‘There has been an outbreak of nits in your child’s class.’ This is followed by combing sessions, which soon become a hideous chore, with child and adult equally tetchy. Organic treatments are laughably inadequate, while last-resort full-on chemical attack means eye-streaming, crispy-haired children held hostage at home for eight hours.
As a nation, we spend £30 million a year on over-the-counter potions on nits. But this very over-use of chemicals permethrin and phenothrin now means head lice have developed resistance; 80 per cent are immune to chemical treatments and infect nearly half of four- to 11-year-olds every year.
‘They are a great opponent – I have a deep respect for lice,’ says Dee Wright, gleefully. Dee, 48, is the founder of The Hairforce and a self-styled lice assassin. Pre-children, she headed advertising campaigns for Tango and Pot Noodle; now she’s developed a strange, but obviously satisfying, mid-life strategy for picking nits out of children’s hair.
The Hairforce HQ is her former dining room in Primrose Hill, north-west London. There, her crack squad of lice killers will rid your child of lice while you sit and read magazines. Best of all, your child will enjoy the experience because he or she will be sitting in a funky purple massage chair, lost to everything but the supplied personal computer games or cartoon DVDs. Dee wants to present this as a ‘pampering spa treatment for children’ and is looking to franchise it nationwide.
She was determined to ‘bring some glamour to this issue,’ so her staff are dressed in white Barbarella-style costumes with purple logos promising ‘comb to kill.’ Wearing magnifying visors and with bright lights trained on your child’s head, they painstakingly hoover (don’t try this at home – it’s a special attachment), spray leave-in conditioner, comb with a Licemeister comb and nit-pick with tweezers.
Alexandra Masalina, 22, is one of the 13 lice killers and loves it. ‘You have to be ruthless but it’s satisfying,’ she says. In her first training session, she and Dee rid one teenager of 250 lice.
‘I’d wanted to set up a business for a while when I read an article about a nit and lice removal service in New York and thought, what a great idea,’ explains Dee, mother to Mia, 12 and Ines, 10. ‘Personally, nits were never an oppressive issue for me, but I was aware from school gates talk how much of an issue they could be. The more I looked into the issue, the more I realised how reliant parents had become on a solution in a bottle – which in four out of five cases just doesn’t work.’
Parents have enough to do already, Dee adds. ‘A lot of mothers who multi-task with work, cooking and organising after-school activities find it very tough to then sit down and clear their child’s hair,’ she says.
We guarantee that we can give you some respite and clear your child’s hair. But we cannot guarantee your child won’t get nits again. One child whose head was cleared before Christmas was back again within weeks. The mother could pinpoint exactly when he’d been re-infected.’
And there’s the rub. A half-hour check at The Hairforce costs £20, while a delousing session, which takes and hour and a half, costs £30. Heavy cases can take longer – each extra half-hour costs £10. You need three clearing sessions with four days between each visit to break the cycle. That’s a cost of £90 minimum per child, with no guarantee that your children won’t be rubbing heads with another lousy head within days.
Of course, there are people who are prepared to pay again and again for the luxury of someone else doing the lousy work. The Hairforce also offers discreet our-in-home-visits visits at £120 a head each time, a service much in demand amongst the yummy mummies of Notting Hill and Chelsea. They also boast a celebrity following, though only Jonathan Ross has gone on the record about it, saying: ‘It’s a brilliant idea. We used to dream of something like this.’
It is a brilliant idea – and very cleverly branded with the costumes and kit. But I suspect for most harassed mothers it will remain just that: an idea.