The Fascinating History Behind the AirAllé® Head Lice Treatment Device
The concept behind the AirAllé® device was launched in the laboratory Dr. Dale Clayton at the University of Utah when a chain of lice-related events converged on the poor doctor. As a professor of Biology, Dr. Clayton was already familiar with lice because he was using bird lice for basic research, but when his kids contracted lice at school and he couldn’t eradicate them using traditional treatment methods – and being the good scientist that he is – he wanted to invent a solution. The first prototypes were Frankenstein-like hair dryers, but after much tinkering and testing evolved into clinically tested and FDA-cleared, commercially-viable devices. The first iteration of this device was called the LouseBuster. When it was decided that the device needed a cosmetic facelift (it still looked like something only a scientist could love) the name of the updated model was changed to AirAllé®.
The genesis of all this lice-related activity started in the 1980’s and early 1990’s in England where Dr. Clayton was studying basic aspects of the biology of birds and their feather lice. For reasons of basic research, Dr. Clayton successfully cultured lice in birds. However, when he moved to the University of Utah in 1996, he found that it was very difficult to keep lice alive in the same species of birds that he was using in England. It turns out that the arid climate of Utah was killing his lice. He determined that the large surface to volume ratio of these flat insects makes them highly vulnerable to desiccation. Once he added steam to his culture rooms, the lice thrived.
Around this same time, Dr. Clayton’s school-aged children contracted head lice, which he tried to treat with traditional OTC chemicals. The OTC products were not very effective, and drawing on his experience with the bird lice, he theorized that it might be possible to control head lice by reducing the level of humidity near the scalp. He kicked into high tinkering mode and over the next several years devised a variety of methods, ranging from the use of chemical desiccants, to heat caps fitted with electrodes, to rice bag caps heated in a microwave, to various hair dryers and blowers up to the size of a leaf blower. Testing was performed on student volunteers – including Clayton’s own children – many of whom were temporarily infested with head lice.
These tests showed that it is not feasible to control head lice using existing hair dryers – handheld or bonnet style. A combination of heat and high-volume airflow is required to dehydrate the lice. The air in the bonnet-style hair dryers is static and cannot kill lice unless the temperature is much hotter than a person can tolerate. Conventional blow driers are dangerously hot and can cause burns when directed at one location for a long enough time necessary to desiccate lice. They also tend to mat the hair, effectively protecting the lice from the effects of the moving, hot air.
Eventually is appeared possible that lice and their eggs could be killed on the head with a custom-built device that combines fast-moving heated air, a precise angle of application, and the right duration of treatment. This version of the device was the LouseBuster. In 2006 a paper was published in the journal Pediatrics comparing the success of the different kinds of hair dryers relative to the LouseBuster device for killing head lice and their eggs.
Larada Sciences, Inc., which incorporated in 2006, formed to take the LouseBuster product to market.
A follow-up study was published in the Journal of Medical Entomology in 2011 that showed the LouseBuster was highly effective at killing lice and eggs, even in the hands of novices.