Health Care

Bernadette’s Absolute Clear Salon Removes Lice, Stigma

BOARDMAN, Ohio — Information on just how many children contract head lice is hard to pin down. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that between six million and 12 million children ages 3 to 11 contract lice each year, but concedes that there is no reliable source of information.

Children with lice and their families carry a stigma and they’re often perceived as unsanitary or infected. Often, families feel isolated, afraid to mention, let alone discuss, the problem.

Even with information available on the nature of lice – the page with lice information on the CDC website notes almost immediately that “getting head lice is not related to cleanliness of the person or his or her environment” – there are still negative implications about a child who has lice.

“There is a stigma with it. Kids and adults think that it’s a sign of being or dirty or that something’s wrong with them. That’s the exact opposite of the truth,” says Christine Eich, co-owner of Bernadette’s Absolute Clear Salon franchise here.

“There is no socioeconomic line. It affects everyone. Getting people to talk about it is huge. Once you do that and get people to open up, it’s amazing to see that everyone has their own experiences.”

After one of her children contracted lice a few years ago, Eich sought help, even looking as far as Columbus for treatment, she says. Eventually, she found a Bernadette’s center in Akron and, after seeing the results firsthand, considered opening a franchise closer to home.

Bernadette’s uses an enzyme-based spray that forces the bugs to molt quickly, killing them in about 15 to 20 seconds and loosening the glue that holds the eggs in place. Their remains and eggs are then brushed out with a fine-toothed comb.

“The head spray we use kills the live bugs and eradicates the nits so there’s nothing viable remaining on the head,” says Steve Murphy, another co-owner of the salon. “The comb is wiped down after each swipe. You can actually see the dead bugs and nits on the comb.”

What sets their products apart from over-the-counter alternatives, the two say, is the enzyme base used, rather than a pesticide bug killer, to which some lice have developed a resistance. The enzyme is also completely natural and nontoxic.

After a customer’s first appointment is completed, he makes follow-up visits spaced 48 to 72 hours apart to break the life cycle of the bugs and to ensure that any bugs or eggs missed the first time are found and killed.

“When an egg is laid, it’s microscopic. So even with how fine the comb is, it can’t get every newly laid nit out,” Eich says. “The follow-ups will give anything that was freshly laid time to grow to a size that can be effectively combed out before they have a chance to hatch.”

Initial visits include a spray-down of the inside of the family’s car. The salon also offers laundry additives, house spray, shampoo and prevention spray.

After the appointments are finished, Murphy says, parents often feel a sense of relief. Many say they’ve regained control of the their lives and no longer feel a stigma.

“I’ve worked in health care and I’ve never seen such relief brought to not only an individual, but to an entire household,” he says. “When mothers come in, they haven’t cooked in weeks and haven’t slept well. You give them their life back.”

Eich notes one customer in particular who texted her after an appointment earlier this year.

“Just wanted to say thank you for helping my daughter,” the text message read. “You stopped my crying this morning. You really saved me. I had no one to comfortably talk about this to and I’ve been crying all week. I’m finally breathing a sigh of relief.”

The biggest part of shedding the stigma, Murphy and Eich say, is education. Since starting their salon about two years ago, they’ve made efforts to work with schools to conduct head checks to eliminate lice before they become a problem, possibly forcing a school to close a few days should the situation escalate.

“We did diagnose a couple in schools that could have been missed by the school nurse,” Murphy adds. “We were able to eradicate it before it became a problem and basically shut a school down. There have been schools in this area that shut down because of an infestation of lice.”

While business has picked up since opening, mostly through word-of-mouth and the Internet, Murphy says that getting schools to refer students to Bernadette’s is “still a work-in-progress.”

“Instead of sending a kid home, letting it fall on the parents’ shoulders and being done with it, schools can help them with a referral,” he says. “As we get more and more out there, it’ll work out. Parents have been going back to schools telling them that Bernadette’s gets it taken care of.”

What helps boost business, Eich adds, is that their salon is the only alternative in the area to over-the-counter medications and prescription treatments.

“Once someone realizes that they or someone they know has contracted lice, they will travel to the ends of the earth to fix it,” she says. “I knew there was a location in Columbus and I was ready to drive there to get rid of it. I found one in Akron, but I was willing to go as far as Columbus. Our goal is provide the Youngstown area with a local lice treatment center and to help families through what can be a very difficult time.”

Pictured: Steve Murphy is one of the co-owners of Bernadette’s Absolute Clear Salon, 6106 South Ave. in Boardman. Murphy is pictured with the protective eye gear he wears when he administers a treatment for lice.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.