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.

Group Calls for U.S. Ban on Lindane Use

  • (Photo by Scott Bauer, courtesy of the USDA Agricultural Research Service)

An environmental group is calling for the United States to ban a pesticide used to treat head lice. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:


An environmental group is calling for the United States to ban a pesticide used
to treat head lice. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman reports:

Lindane is most commonly used as a pesticide for corn, wheat, and other grains.
It’s also used as a medication to kill lice and scabies. But the Food and Drug
Administration warns that lindane should only be used when all other treatment
options are exhausted. That’s because the FDA has found that in very isolated
cases, lindane can cause seizures or even death.

Kristin Schafer is the Program Coordinator for the Pesticide Action Network. The
group is seeking a ban on lindane in the United States.

“This is the type of chemical that there’s no reason not to get it off the market.
It’s dangerous, it builds up in our bodies. It’s particularly dangerous to children
and there are alternatives for all uses.”

Schafer says 52 countries and the state of California have already banned lindane.
Canada plans to eliminate agricultural uses of lindane by the end of the year.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris Lehman.

Related Links

Operation Lice Be Gone

According to the world health organization, up to twelve-million cases
of head lice are reported each year. School-aged children, between
three and ten, are most likely to get lice. At most schools, kids with
lice are sent home, where the parents are left to deal with the
problem. But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson
reports, some lice-fighting experts are trying a new, pro-active


According to the world health organization, up to twelve-million cases of
head lice are reported each year.

School-aged children, between three and ten, are most likely to get lice.
At most schools, kids with lice are sent home, where the parents are left to
deal with the problem.

But as the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports, some
lice-fighting experts are trying a new, pro-active approach:

(sound of hallway)

Beach Elementary School in Cedar Springs, Michigan, looks like pretty much
like any other elementary school.

The linoleum floors are buffed to a high shine,

and the walls are decorated with crayon drawings.

But when you look down the hallways, you’ll see a strange sight: hundreds of
black, plastic trash bags hanging from the coat hooks.

“When the kids come in, they put all of their personal belongings –
coats, hats, gloves – in the-plastic bags. That’s how their clothing is
contained so that the bugs don’t have the opportunity to crawl.”

Vicky Bishop says more and more schools are using garbage bags this way –
when you see them, it’s a reminder of the ongoing struggle they face, trying
to eliminate lice.

Experts say about eighty-percent of school districts will have a lice
outbreak this year. At this school, the trash bags are a pro-active measure,
taken to cut down on the chance that an infestation will break out.

And, there’s another pro-active step the school’s taking.

On this Saturday morning, they’ve invited families from all over the
community to a special kind of open house – a chance to get de-loused.

Nurse: “Ok, are we checking all three?”

Mom: “Everybody.”

Nurse: “Everybody! Ok!”

Families are greeted at a sign-up table. Then they’re guided through a
series of rooms, where teams of lice-fighting experts are standing by to
shampoo and comb and look for lice.

The first stop is the evaluation station.

Every family member’s head is careful checked for live lice or their eggs,
called nits.

Nurse: “And the big key is to make the difference between dandruff and the
nits. The nits won’t come off, dandruff can move – see, I can easily move
it. Okay, sweetie.”

The event is called Operation Lice Be Gone.

It’s the brainchild of lice consultant Vicky Bishop.

Bishop travels around the country, visiting dozens of schools a year and
advising teachers, nurses and parents how to get rid of lice infestations.

But she says before she can get down to work, there’s big hurdle to jump –
that is, overcoming the embarrassment and shame parents feel when their kids
get lice.

“The lice problem is everywhere, it’s if people are willing to talk
about it or not. And once we get them to step up and start to talk about it
and address it, get over with the denial thing, then we can finally do
something about it.”

Many people believe lice outbreaks only happen in dirty houses, to unbathed

But in fact, all types of families are affected.

Most of the parents here today say they’ve tried using everything from
over-the-counter shampoos, to home remedies.

“We went from Rid to the Robie comb. We did mayonnaise, we called the
doctor. The doctor gave us a prescription. That didn’t work, either.”

But the experts here today say you can beat a lice problem – if you’re thorough and


They say a key component to success is teaching people about lice.

They’re tiny, blood-sucking parasites that live on the scalp, and lay eggs on
strands of hair.

They’re easy to get, and a lot harder to get rid of.

After the families are treated with a lice-killing shampoo, they put on
plastic shower caps and wait a half-hour for the solution to work.

While they wait, they visit the education room.

Todd Bilinsky and his five kids are gathered ‘round a microscope, checking
out a lice, magnified forty times.

Bilinsky says the family’s had a lice problem on and off for about two years.

“Every week, I’d go through their hair – almost on a daily basis, trying
to go through their hair. They just are tired of the treatments, and I’m
tired of giving them the treatments. And then I’m never sure
further down in their lives, what all these treatments, you know, what kind
of effect they’re going to have on them.”

And that brings up another goal of Operation Lice Be Gone.

Vicky Bishop and the other lice control experts here today are trying to raise

awareness of how to get rid of lice without using

They say safer shampoos are now available that use vegetable-derived enzymes.

However, there’s some debate about the effectiveness of those products.

Here in the rinse room, a young girl is in the final stages of her lice

“Here, put your head down there, we’ll rinse the very ends of it.”

Vicky Bishop is rinsing out the shampoo and re-inspecting the girl’s hair to
make sure all the lice are dead, and all the nits are gone.

Girl: “There’s one right there, on the end of it.”

Vicky: “Let’s see if that’s a nit. Will you hand me a nit comb, please?”

About thirty people were treated here today at Operation Lice Be Gone.

But Vicky Bishop says the project was still successful, because it’s getting
the word out about the lice epidemic – letting people know they aren’t
alone, and showing them it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Wendy Nelson in Cedar Springs,

Lice Exterminators Pluck Profits

Over the past several years, lice outbreaks have become more frequent
and more severe. Some scientists believe it’s because a new strain of
lice have developed resistance to both over-the-counter and prescription
lice treatments. But as researchers scratch their heads and wonder what
to do to control these "super lice", some new businesses are jumping in
with an answer. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson

Resistant &Quot;Super Lice" Tough to Kill

The mere mention of lice might be enough to make your skin crawl. But the really creepy news is that lice outbreaks are becoming more frequent…and more difficult to control. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports: