Head lice have bugged humans for centuries. In fact, traces of their eggs, known as nits, have been found on 3,000 year old Egyptian mummies. They are a parasitic insect that spend their entire life on unwilling human scalps and have a diet consisting exclusively of human blood. And they have a penchant for children. Needless to say, parents hate them. But in New Zealand, a solution may be on the way.
While lice are not known to be a vector of disease or transmit other parasitic micro-organisms, they can cause constant irritation and lead to scabies and discomfort. They are a very common problem worldwide, with massive infestations reported in the USA, Israel, Denmark, Sweden, U.K., France and Australasia among other developed and developing nations. They spread by any kind of contact - playing together, sharing of clothes or accessories.
Treatments for nits are various, but none are generally accepted as 100% effective. The most basic treatment is using special combs (similar to flea combs) on wet hair every day. But techniques range through to such drastic measures as head shaving, kerosene or even fly spray. Since the scalp is a highly absorbent skin area, toxins applied to the head can quickly enter the bloodstream and rapidly effect the body's health.
This is where South Auckland company Sweet Lemon ltd. comes in to the picture - with a nit repellent product made of natural ingredients. The Nit-Enz shampoo has two listed ingredients - pine extracts and citronella, and both of them are certified organic. I caught up with product developer Melanie Innes to discuss her nit repellent solutions and the process of bringing an organic challenger to a competitive market.
Melanie explained that schools can present exactly the right conditions for infestations of head lice, and that nearly all schools are welcoming to any project that may alleviate symptoms. To this end, three nit repellent products - a shampoo, a styling gel and a styling hair spray - have been introduced to the market as school fund-raising initiatives.
The schools process may sound a little dangerous for a product designed to repel another species that has not had rigorous clinical trials, but let's look at the history first. Melanie's father, Rodney Innes, invented the product based on his studies in allelopathy and prior invention of a fully natural herbicidal organic pine derivative product. Nit-Enz was developed for Melanie's own children who would contract head lice from contact at school. Melanie herself had allergic reactions to chemical nit repellent solutions, so an alternative was in order.
The solution was adjusted over seven years to become what is now on the market through schools. But the next step is about to take place: Foodstuffs, the country's largest supermarket retail giant, has agreed to stock the Nit-Enz range alongside pharmaceutical nit repellent solutions. Foodstuffs includes Pak'N'Save, New World and 4 Square supermarkets
I applaud Foodstuffs for this - the pharmaceuticals industry is infamous for its barriers to entry and unfair competition practices. Sweet Lemon Ltd. is a small player with a legitimately establishment-challenging product (the company's nit repellents sell containers twice the size of the competition for half of their price... they have better looking packaging and they smell awesome). If this is the start of supermarkets playing a larger part in choosing healthy and environmentally responsible products over the existing products that have "got us where we are" then there could be exciting things to come.
Here's to a potential end to a problem humanity has put up with for a very long time.
Image: thanks to Flickr/StillMemory (everybody knows you do this in the shower)
British sailors were often called ?Jack Tars" because they had their done in a pig tail that was in fact a dreadlock saturated in tar, probably Stockholm Tar. My local doctor recommended a natural tar product for itching skin. It smells great especially if you are a wooden boat buff.