Posted on 10 July 2014.
Lice Girls co-owner Sarah Frost estimates, based on Center for Disease Control (CDC) national data and a seasonal increase, that about 680 people on Bainbridge Island currently have lice. Frost also notes that the average case of lice lasts—yikes—3 to 6 months.
Lice Are Not Nice, But Lice Girls Are
The last thing Sarah Frost and Sophia Gomma thought they’d ever want to do professionally was work with dreaded bloodsucking parasites.
The two friends had gotten through the baby-stage of parenting and were ready to get back into the working world as business partners. With backgrounds in social work they wanted to do something to serve their community. Frost said when a friend suggested they open a lice-busting business they thought she was crazy.
But the idea percolated, and Gomma and Frost attended a conference about head lice. They were so itchy the whole time they came home with scabs on their scalps from scratching, but they also came home convinced it was a needed service for Bainbridge and surrounding communities.
Sarah Frost using AirAllé treatment
Frost and Gomma were especially excited to learn about a hot air technology that is nearly 100 percent effective in destroying lice. “We needed to know that we could offer people a nontoxic treatment that really works,” said Frost. Developed in 2007 by scientists at the University of Utah, AirAllé is a painless, simple way to effectively kill lice and lice eggs by dehydration using the flow of warm air. Frost told me it takes about an hour and is so relaxing that some people fall asleep. Since the AirAllé treatment is expensive, Frost and Gomma offer a range of other treatment and preventative options.
As fate would have it, a month after the conference Frost’s four kids were besieged with a lice infestation. “I had no idea how bad it was until then. I was combing, washing, and vacuuming constantly. I was a basket case,” Frost said. “Thankfully I did not get lice, because my husband wouldn’t recognize one if it jumped on his nose.” (Lice don’t actually jump, but scurry quickly and hide well.) The experience made Frost all the more convinced to move forward with the business, but when she and Gomma began looking for a rental space to set up shop it took a while. “No one would rent to us. When they heard the word lice that was it,” said Frost.
Setting up Shop
The two finally found the right spot on Bainbridge off of Hildebrand Lane at 341 Tormey Lane, Suite 162, and opened their doors last December after running a mobile service for a few months. They see customers by appointment at their discreetly signed but bright and kid-friendly space, which they keep sterilized and tidy. Frost said that kids enjoy playing there with the toys and her dog Lola. “One boy tells his mother his head is itchy so he can come here and play with Lola and our treasure chest,” smiled Frost.
I asked Frost if she and Gomma worry about getting lice from their customers. She explained that basic precautions and understanding how lice spread from head to head has kept them lice free. In fact, Frost has never had lice. Some lice-removal businesses have a policy of firing any employees who contract lice as a way to encourage following strict protocol.
Parents on the Edge
Frost uses her people skills in this buggy line of work. “We have a lot of crying parents who have tried everything. A lot of it is talking people down. We have come as late as 11 p.m. to give oil treatments to kill the lice so people can sleep easier until we have time to comb out the lice and eggs later.”
Frost explained that the pesticide lice treatments on the market are largely ineffective now because lice have developed immunity to them. About 90 percent of people who come to her for treatment have already tried the toxic stuff, to no effect. And the days of on-site nitpickers in schools are unfortunately no more.
Interestingly, adolescent boys and men rarely get lice. Frost laughed, saying lice are apparently repelled by smelly man scent. Most of her customers are children, teen girls, and mothers. She said often mothers will do the combing and oil treatments on their kids and then come in for the AirAllé treatment for themselves.
Louse under magnifying glass
Lice Girls are committed to educating their customers and community. They have reached out to the Suquamish Tribe and school districts throughout Kitsap County to offer lice-prevention and -treatment education. The North Kitsap School District and Tribe have accepted help, but Gomma and Frost have not had a response from the Bainbridge Island School District. “There is so much shame associated with lice,” said Frost. Yet, as she pointed out, simple measures can make a big difference. For example, a teacher at Wilkes Elementary School who had been dealing with ongoing lice outbreaks effectively eliminated lice from her class by simply having kids zip up their jackets and other items inside their backpacks.
Lice Girls offer teachers and school personnel free head checks.
Contact Lice Girls
Lice Girls are available by phone seven days a week and make a point to return calls promptly. “We know how desperate people feel in the situation,” said Frost.
Learn more about them and what they offer at their website.
Photos by Julie Hall and Sarah Lane.