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Posted on Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Rapunzel's Lice Boutique picks a winning concept

By Laura Blodgett

Sarah Casello-Rees 8.12.12.jpg

Sarah Casello-Rees of Ann Arbor opened Rapunzel’s Lice Boutique in 2008. She discovered there was a high demand for her delousing service, and now Rapunzel’s has locations in Ann Arbor, Sterling Heights and Grand Rapids.

Laura Blodgett

For 15 years, Sarah Casello-Rees ran a thriving business as a personal trainer, where she thoroughly enjoyed helping her clients meet their fitness goals. And then she got lice.

“My son, who was in kindergarten, got it first,” explained the longtime Ann Arbor resident. Although her husband carefully combed through her hair and she tried all the commercial products and home remedies, Casello-Rees suffered with the parasite for a year.

“Here I am going about my life with head lice,” said Casello-Rees. “It was horrible. It affects your life, your mental health. There was nobody to help me with this. My doctor said they didn’t have time to pick through my hair.”

With the economy crashing, fewer people could afford a personal trainer, so her business was decreasing. She decided a service to help others rid themselves of lice might be a viable business idea.

Rapunzel’s Lice Boutique, started by Casello-Rees in July 2008 as a mobile operation, just celebrated its fourth anniversary.

“I put an ad on Craigslist and immediately got calls from parents begging me to come help them,” said Casello-Rees, looking back on the company’s early days. “I knew I was on the right track.”

Rapunzel Products 8.12.12.jpg

Since lice have developed resistance to the pesticides that have been used against them for many years, Rapunzel’s developed its own line of lice eradication products.

Laura Blodgett

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that six million to 12 million children in the United States contract head lice each year. It’s second only to the common cold as the most cited reason children miss school.

A lice infestation can have a huge economic impact on a family, from money spent on delousing products to missed days of work. Casello-Rees said she knew of one child who was going to be held back because of missing too much school.

Lice have been building up a resistance to the pesticide commonly used to treat them, according to Casello-Rees.

“Twenty years ago those products were 95 percent effective in killing live bugs; today it’s only 45 percent effective,” she said.

“The 65 percent left that are resistant are going to go on to breed. Why they are still selling the stuff is a mystery to me.”

In April 2009, Casello-Rees opened her first brick-and-mortar location in a professional building at 3001 Plymouth Road, where the business is still located today. Immediately after opening the Ann Arbor location, business skyrocketed, easily doubling in a month, Casello-Rees said. The company opened additional offices in Sterling Heights and Grand Rapids.

Rapunzel’s began by using olive oil to treat lice - an ancient remedy Casello-Rees says is effective in killing live bugs if left on for eight hours, although the oil doesn’t kill the eggs. Then her husband, a retired University of Michigan computer science researcher, created a nontoxic concoction that was 100 percent effective in killing live bugs in just 10 minutes.

“That really changed things,” said Casello-Rees. “However, we had yet to find something to kill the eggs. People had to come in three times because if we missed an egg it would hatch.”

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A machine called the LouseBuster uses heated air to dehydrate lice and nits.

Laura Blodgett

Casello-Rees had been following the development of a medical device called the LouseBuster invented by a University of Utah biologist, which uses heated air to dehydrate lice and nits. In clinical trials published in the Journal Pediatrics in 2006, the LouseBuster killed 99.2 percent of eggs. This has been a “real game changer,” according to Casello-Rees.

After the device received FDA clearance, Rapunzel’s began leasing six machines in September 2010. Last year, the business performed 1,286 treatments. For every treatment, the staff conducts about four head checks. Casello-Rees estimates her business looked at 5,000 heads last year.

“We have a 100 percent guarantee, but one of the conditions is that we look at the entire family and clear them or treat them if they have it,” she said.

Head checks cost $10, although the company conducts complimentary head checks on Saturdays. The cost of the one-time LouseBuster treatment is $145 per head.

Rapunzel’s employs a total 15 staffers, seven of them in Ann Arbor, who mainly serve as lice technicians and research assistants for the lab, where they handle observation and testing.

In addition to serving customers onsite, Rapunzel’s manufactures and sells its own line of treatment products available to ship across the country to individuals and other businesses. Products include a preventive shampoo and conditioner, a lice killer, an enzyme spray that dissolved nits, and a picking comb — titled the Fairy LiceMothers' Magic Wand — which range from $15 to $25 apiece or $39.95 for the lice treatment kit. Last month the company sold $10,000 worth of products.

As to the future, Casello-Rees has been considering franchising her business due to the number of underserved markets. Looking back, the irony that her experience with lice turned into a successful business is not lost on Casello-Rees.

“It was so horrible but it created all this.”



Wed, Aug 22, 2012 : 3:37 a.m.

People love to cite peer reviewed articles, but obviously, people don't read the articles. If you will take the time to actually READ the article, you will find that the study was conducted by Larada Sciences, the maker of the Lousebuster. It was tested only on 56 subjects, which is an incredibly small sample size AND there was no follow up done. And sadly, non-profits are used in their studies and they have chosen to ignore the studies as well their first hand knowledge of what really happened. A huge disservice to the public they claim to serve.


Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 12:48 a.m.

Anyone with kids in the Ann Arbor School system take note of this article! The attitude of the A2 school system in regards to lice infestation is, and I quote "Lice is a part of life", " "We do not send kids home who have lice as it would make them feel bad." Even though the state guidelines indicate of more than 3 kids have lice in the classroom a head check can commence, the schools' attitude is that it would single out a child and make them feel bad about themselves, so they do not check the kids. But what they do is if a parent notifies the school that their child has lice, they do not allow that child back to school WITHOUT a head check!! Therefore no one talks and no one tells, and your kid continues to get reinfected. It has been my experience that families who cannot afford the treatments are allowed to keep their kids in school, reinfecting everyone else! My kids have come home with lice from the various schools in town three times. Thank God for Rapunzels' she got rid of them for us ASAP! Until Ann Arbor Schools wake up, the likelihood of lice transmission is pretty high, not only in the schools but where ever school kids go, whether the movies, your hair salon.... I lived on the east coast most of my life, and my kids never had lice there. As far as I am concerned Rapunzels' has a big market here!


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 4:58 p.m.

That machine is simply a marketing tool. It was tested at Lice Solutions and they said they still had to treat everyone manually after the treatment was done by the machine.

Katie Shepherd

Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 1:54 a.m.

It has come to my attention that I was once again an unwilling participant in a recent wb site posting. While I appreciate the contributor's passion I regret that they would express their opinions as though they were mine. I have not (nor would I ever) blasted this or any other such product or device. Although I am a strong proponent regarding the benefits of an effective comb-out and complete nit removal, it has always been my belief that we must strive for newer products and safer alternatives when it comes to fighting head lice. I have enjoyed a long term relationship with Dr. Clayton and the team at Larada Science. We share many opinions and I respect Dr. Clayton's efforts in his desire to make a difference. While their device might not be for everyone I do believe there are those that will enjoy it and benefit from it; a point that I even made in my book "Lice Advice- the Shepherd Method of Strand by Strand Nit Removal". Katie Shepherd, Executive Director of Lice Solutions Resource Network, Inc.

Sarah Casello-Rees

Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 10:49 p.m.

The clinical research performed by dr. Dale Clayton the inventor and professor at the University of Utah was published in the peer reviewed Journal Of Medical Entimology, 48 (1): 67-72 (2011) as well as Journal Pediatics, 118:1962-1970 (2006). As the owner of a company that has performed thousands of treatments with and without the device, I can assure you this is not a marketing tool. This device does indeed kill the nits.


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 4 p.m.

What a perfectly disgusting article to run across on a Monday morning!


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 3:31 p.m.

The reason people can't get rid of lice in their home is improper cleaning. Once everyone has been treated you need to bag for 3 weeks all stuffed toys and things that can't be washed. Aturn in the dryer at high has enough heat to kill them. Hot water wash and a dryer, and clean and spray anything that can't be washed.


Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 1:50 p.m.

Ive been a hairdresser for over 30 years. I know how people get lice. But again my point is improper cleaning is the leading cause of not getting rid of them, lice can sit on stuffed animals and back to humans to bite. they also can migrate to animals , although they wont bite them as a dogs or cats temp. is to high.

Sarah Casello-Rees

Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 10:30 p.m.

Actually, virtually all lice are acquired through direct head to head contact. A louse off a human host will perish within 24-36 hours.


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 1:35 p.m.

Thank goodness for this woman and her insight to allow her experience to lead her to help others through founding this business. Her compassion is notable and the Lousebuster treatment, what a relief! No one wants to spend their hard-earned money delousing their family and home, but at least this treatment works, and without the concern of using heavy-duty chemicals on your and your loved ones heads! I am thrilled that Ann Arbor has this exceptional service close at hand. We weren't happy to be her customers, but we left as happy customers!


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 1 p.m.

"Then her husband, a retired University of Michigan computer science researcher, created a nontoxic concoction that was 100 percent effective in killing live bugs in just 10 minutes." "LouseBuster invented by a University of Utah biologist, which uses heated air to dehydrate lice.....After the device received FDA clearance," Does it seem odd to anyone else that a hairdryer requires FDA approval, but a computer science guy can conjure up a concoction of "non-toxic" chemicals in his basement that kill live bugs in 10 minutes with no clearance?


Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 12:46 p.m.

"A louse can hold its breath for up to 8 hours." 100 percent effective in killing live bugs in just 10 minutes. (per above) This would lead you to believe that the bugs are not killed by suffocation, or the web site is BS or the claim of 10 minute effectiveness is BS.

Some Guy in 734

Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 11:33 a.m.

By suffocating them, I'd wager, and the olive oil mentioned earlier seems to bear that out. No snark quotation marks necessary. Similarly, water is "non-toxic", too, but if you're it, it'll kill you in much less than ten minutes.


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 2:15 p.m.

If it's "non-toxic"...why's it kill the bugs? :-)

Ron Granger

Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 12:56 p.m.

Global warming means BUGS. It'll be full-on Starship Troopers soon.


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 12:04 p.m.

When I was on my work today in Brighton, there we brand new signs up advertising for "The Lice Nanny", so apparently this is either an epidemic or a greatly needed service to help people try to rid themselves of these best. You can do your best to eradicate them from your home, however once you child goes to school and puts their hat, jacket, backpack into a shared common closet, you've lost the battle again!~


Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 12:52 a.m.

I send my kids to school with garbage bags to put their coats, hats, boots and backpacks in. One rather virulent lice season I brought in bags for all the kids in the class.

Elaine F. Owsley

Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 11:13 a.m.

It's kind of creepy that there's a need for this service.


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 10:40 a.m.

This is nit-picking, but her claim that the old treatment for lice is presently "45 percent effective...and the 65 percent that are left..." doesn't quite add up. ;O)


Mon, Aug 13, 2012 : 1:38 p.m.

I saw what you did there.