Lice Boutique Tackles Parasites

  • Olivia Shaw receiving treatment at Rapunzel's lice boutique. (Photo by Mark Brush)

A how-to-delouse guide from the EPA

More about Rapunzel’s Lice Boutique

Info about lice from the FDA


Finding live bugs and tiny eggs in your hair is a shocker. And treating head lice is usually not a lot of fun, either. Many head lice treatments involve pesticides. But one Michigan woman has created a business that gets rid of lice without pesticides. Kyle Norris has more:

A couple of years ago, Sarah Casello-Rees’ head starting really itching. When she looked at her hair she saw things moving. Then she looked at her son’s head.

“And he was terribly infested. He just had a zoo of lice crawling all over his head.”

Casello-Rees had no experience with head lice…so she didn’t know what to do. Plus, her hair is thick & curly—and she felt there was no one she could turn to, to help treat her hair. Casello-Rees says that’s when her personal hell began.

“I was desperate and it was horrible. So at that point I thought maybe I could start a business that would help other families with this dilemma.”

And that’s what she’s done. Her business is called Rapunzel’s Lice Boutique. It’s a hair salon in Ann Arbor that treats head lice. And all treatments are pesticide-free.

Today the Shaw family children are at Rapunzel’s for a follow-up treatment.

(sound of Rapunzel’s staff chatting with the kids)

When Debbie Shaw first spotted lice in her kids’ hair she ran out and bought an over-the-counter product. But she wasn’t happy with it, because she says she knew it contained pesticides. And she says it didn’t work. So she likes the fact that Rapunzel’s does not use pesticides.

“I try to be as natural as possible I’m not against medications but the minimum is better. I don’t like to put foreign stuff in my children’s body or on their body.”

If you get treated at Rapunzel’s you actually come for three visits.

And that’s because lice are a double whammy. You’ve got the insects—lice—that suck blood from the scalp. And then you have their eggs, known as nits. The nits attach to the hair with a strong glue…and that makes it tough to remove the nits.

At Rapunzel’s, they spray your hair with natural enzymes which loosen the glue. [ambi spray]. Then the staff picks out the lice and nits. And last, they squirt a non-toxic, silicone oil called dimethicone, onto the hair, to kill any remaining creatures.

And that’s how they treat lice at Rapunzel’s.

At the store the two most common pesticides in lice products are permethrin and pyrethrum.

Dr. Barbara Frankowski is a professor of pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. She says those two chemicals found in lice treatments are safe.

“They have a really good track record they’ve been around for a long time. They’re relatively easy to use. You do have to follow the directions carefully.”

But Frankowski says lice are developing resistance to some of these products, so they’re not as effective.

Other scientists take a more cautious approach.

Sonya Lunder is a senior analyst at Environmental Working Group. She says these pesticides are potent chemicals typically used in agriculture. But in this case, they’re used on children’s heads.

“I would worry that with a child their body systems are much smaller, they’re developing rapidly, that these chemicals could be mis-applied. And this is a potent nervous system toxicant.”

Both experts say it’s crucial to follow the exact directions for any lice treatment product. And they say an additional technique—like removing lice by hand—is also key, because many products only kill the live lice, not the nits.

So there are a lot of options and it can be hard to know what to do.

Rapunzel’s Lice Boutique owner, Sarah Casello-Rees, says many of her clients come to her as a last resort.

And her clients seem to appreciate the help. Like 10-year old Olivia Shaw.

“When you think about you’re in a lice place it’s kind of weird. When I found out I had lice I started to cry I was like, no, I can’t have lice. But when you’re done you’re like, yes!”

In fact, plenty of young clients have covered the walls of Rapunzel’s with their thank you letters and drawings of lice. For the Environment Report, I’m Kyle Norris.