New Zealand mother develops world-first glow in the dark nit powder in garage

An entrepreneurial Kiwi mum has created the world’s first biofluorescent nit powder to improve visibility of head lice during treatment, address the stigma associated with the condition and increase access for vulnerable children.   

Kate Ricketts' product ISpyNits is turning heads in New Zealand and overseas after being recognised with a UN Sustainable Development Goal innovation award which had 5000 entrants from 190 countries.   

"I started in my garage with the kitchen scales and now we've formulated a powder that adheres to the lice egg and the proteins around the lice egg," Ricketts said.    

"When you run a UV light over it, it excites that, it’s bio fluorescent and makes the egg glow."   

As a former vet nurse, Ricketts had used black light to identify ringworm in animals and she saw how biofluorescence in anti-theft products often fluoresced insect exoskeletons.   

Ricketts said the application of this technology inspired her to work with researchers at the University of Auckland to develop a new method for addressing head lice throughout each of the three stages of their lifecycle using photonics (study of light) and biofluorescence.   

She received seed funding from the University’s commercial arm, UniServices, which meant "incredible entrepreneurial wraparound that really allowed me to grow this idea to a sustainable business where we are selling and we are in schools".   

Head lice infestation (pediculosis) is a global public health problem that affects the scalp and skin of millions of people worldwide.   

"A lot of people think nits are from an unhygienic background or maybe you've got dirty hair, that's not true at all," said Auckland pharmacist Din Redzepagic.    

"Lice are indifferent, they just want hair, they want a scalp they can live on."   

He said there's also a misconception lice can jump.   

Ricketts said with the biofluorescent nit powder, "you can see them and eradicate them quickly by using your nails to pull them out".    

She said often combs and solutions aren't effective because "unless you break the chemical bond between the hair shaft and the egg they'll continue to grow".   

Affected children can lose up to 21ml of blood a month and lice can lead to anaemia and serious scalp infections.   

The Ministry of Health recommends tamariki stay away from kura and school until treatment for lice has started.   

Ricketts and her ISpyNits team are now partnering with schools and community nurses to make the unique green powder more available to vulnerable communities.   

"The faster and more effective we can make this treatment, the less time our tamariki will spend away from school," she said.    

"If we take this a step further and develop interactive education modules that allow students to experiment with biofluorescence, we can increase engagement in scientific learning and help remove the stigma that often goes along with the unknown."