Published : Wednesday, February 8, 2017 | 12:12 PM
It used to be that you had to pour lots of poisonous chemicals onto your child’s head to get rid of the super-resilient bugs we call lice.
We’ve since learned, with horror, just how dangerous some head-lice treatments can be, as some studies have revealed hospitalizations, seizures and deaths have been linked to their use.
That’s exactly why Maria Botham started her manual, all-natural lice-removal business, Hair Fairies, in the late 1990s, which just expanded to include a studio in Pasadena this January.
“The blood runs very close to the surface on the scalp. When you apply highly toxic products, you’re looking at a thin barrier between the skin and blood and there has been a lot of data about terrible accidents with kids,” says Botham, who says traditional over-the-counter lice products might have worked 30 years ago, but not anymore.
“Through misuse and overuse, just like with antibiotics, they’re now at their top level of poisonous. They can’t make them any more poisonous,” Botham says.
Botham, who says she has always been an entrepreneur, was reading The Wall Street Journal almost 20 years ago when she came across an article about how problematic these shampoos and lotions were.
“I realized that there was a need for an all-natural product,” says Botham, who at the time already owned two companies, a “super-high-end children’s spa” and a private-swim-lesson business called Future Fishies.
After doing her research, she saw that this not-yet-filled niche had “longevity.”
“I was looking for something I could grow on a big scale,” says Botham, who was raised in Hancock Park and lives in Los Angeles and now has 13 Hair Fairies salons in cities across the country, with Pasadena being the second L.A. location.
Her beginnings, however, were humble, as she drove a van to homes and schools, manually removing lice and testing different natural products for three years, “12 hours a day seven days a week,” until she finally developed the right formula with the help of researchers.
“With the shampoo companies, one Achilles’ heel is that they can’t get sufficient enough lice samples to do their tests,” says Botham. “You can’t go and grab bugs off kids’ heads.
“But with Hair Fairies, because I have access, I would bring them to the chemists,” she explains.
Though clinical trials with the live specimens, they finally developed an effective, all-natural formula that kills lice without harming children. Some of the 14 active ingredients include tea tree, nettle, rose hips, peppermint and eucalyptus.
Botham has since successfully used the formula on thousands of students in schools across the country through regular screenings, which have begun in Pasadena schools, too.
“We also have a nonprofit organization to serve underserved communities, which is something I’m really proud of and want to develop more,” says Botham.
In Pasadena, Hair Fairies has already partnered up with pediatricians, dermatologists, schools, pharmacies, hair salons and parents directly.
“We bring in charts and educate them,” says Botham. “The doctors refer people, which is great because they get insurance coverage a lot quicker this way.”
Yes, your health insurance covers the treatment, though apparently, not many realize this.
“Most people spend $200 or $300 before coming to Hair Fairies because they beefed up their dry cleaning bill and housekeeper bills and tried many products” when really all that isn’t necessary, says Botham.
“All you have to do is wash the clothes on your back, your combs and your bedding,” she says. “We really take pride in educating people so they don’t get it again.”
While her salons charge $250 a head on average, often only one treatment is needed; sometimes two, depending on the severity.
Sure you could do it yourself for less, but do you really want to?
“It’s labor intensive,” explains Botham, who in addition to using her special shampoos actually manually removes the little bugs.
She offers this analogy: “You can paint your own kitchen and change your own tires but if you don’t have to, you probably won’t.”
How easy is it to catch lice?
“I have never had lice,” says Botham, who has long hair and doesn’t bother to tie it back when working on her lice-riddled clients.
“If you’re on an elevator with 10 people who have lice, you’re not going to get it,” she assures. “You need hair-to-hair contact.”
That said, if you’re a mom, you have about an 80 percent chance of catching it from your kids for this reason, she says, and if your kids go to camp, beware.
Botham, a mother of two herself, says last year her 11- and 13-year-old picked it up for the first time from summer camp but it went unnoticed until they were staging a photo shoot with them for the news and spotted the lice during the demonstration.
“When it hatches, you can’t see it for a week, but by day eight, it’s visible,” says Botham, who adds that they only live for 30 days but keep repopulating, laying three to five eggs a day or 150 in their lifetime.
She says some moms come into her hair salon in tears saying, “I’m such a bad parent,” but she explains that that’s not true; that the signs are subtle and often hard to detect.
After all, her own kids had it for two and a half weeks and she didn’t know.
“Most people don’t scratch unless highly allergic.”
She also says, “It’s kind of a rite of passage. If one kid gets it, the next gets it.”
“They don’t discriminate. It’s everybody’s problem,” says Botham. “They’re super resilient bugs only because they’ve been exposed to very toxic products for decades.”
She says some children have been known to miss a month of school because of head lice, but they don’t have to. Not anymore. Not with Hair Fairies opening up everywhere.
In addition to her new Pasadena salon, Botham plans to open eight more locations in Los Angeles.
For more information, call (626) 577-5423 or visit www.hairfairies.com.
Or stop by in person at 1045 East Green Street in Pasadena.