Increasingly, technology is offering solutions to mundane and ancient problems. Like lice, a growing plague in schools, exterminated by a simple invention by a U of U professor and father.


Photo by Adam Finkle.

Every year, 12 million kids in the United States get head lice, three-millimeter-sized parasites that live on the scalp and hair, causing itching and spreading easily from head to head.

Even worse, like the New York City cockroach, they’re getting harder to kill.

Dale Clayton, University of Utah biology professor, says lice are building a resistance to chemicals used on them. The university honored him with the 2013 Distinguished Innovation and Impact Award for his alternative—a machine using hot air to kill lice and eggs called AirAllé.

Clayton stumbled on his solution while studying non-human lice (yes, lice specialize). "Most of my work involved evolutionary biological research—studying the formation of new species—using feather lice on birds," he says.

After earning a graduate degree at the University of Chicago, he studied lice on birds, like common pigeons, at Oxford University. Later, he moved his lab to the University of Utah, but the lice didn't survive the trip. "It turns out it's too dry here to keep lice alive on birds, because of the arid climate" he says. Serendipitously, his kids in elementary school promptly contracted head lice.

"We weren't able to treat them using the standard chemicals, because the lice had evolved," he says. "So, we started wondering if it might be possible to treat head lice using dry air."

Clayton experimented with the idea in 2000 and got serious just a couple years later. Now, AirAllé, formerly the LouseBuster, is used in hundreds of treatment centers around the world.

The machine blows air through a hose into an applicator, helping the air reach hair roots and creating a lice kill zone. Treatments are done by trained operators, take 30 minutes and are followed by a comb out to remove dead lice and eggs, along with any tough bugs that may have survived the air.

"Our solution is over 99 percent effective on the eggs, plus it kills the hatch life," says Randy Block, Chief Operating Officer for Larada Sciences, the SLC company marketing AirAllé. "You can use all of these lotions and potions and goop and pesticides and drugs, but most of those don't do much to the eggs, and then those eggs hatch and you have to catch them before they lay their eggs."

Larada was founded in 2006. Since then, AirAllé has received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be used in schools, camps and medical clinics.

"We've already done over 50,000 treatments, and it really works," Block says. "We're thinking in three years, we'll probably have 450 locations or more worldwide using this device."

For AirAllé treatment in SLC, contact Hair Maidens at 801-218-2733 or visit utahhairmaidens.com.

Back>>>Read about other local inventions.

Back>>>Read other stories in our Jan/Feb 2014 issue.