British television presenter Susannah Constantine opens up about her struggle with nits.

I have a confession to make that, if it doesn't quite shock you, will probably make you squirm or even scratch. At the age of 55, I have nits – lots of them. Not only am I suffering the shame of a full-blown infestation, the sort of thing associated with unkempt children in the primary-school playground, my nits have so far lasted three long years.

Until now, there's been nothing I could do to shake them off says DailyMail.

British TV fashion show hosts Susannah Constantine (left) and Trinny Woodall visted New Zealand to give fashion tips to crowds of women in shopping malls in 2008. Photo / Supplied
British TV fashion show hosts Susannah Constantine (left) and Trinny Woodall visted New Zealand to give fashion tips to crowds of women in shopping malls in 2008. Photo / Supplied

My head lice, and the nits – or eggs – they produce have been immoveable, immune to lotions, potions and good advice, driving me to an itchy distraction, not to mention social Siberia.

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That is why today I have finally accepted the humiliation of visiting one of Britain's fast-expanding nit-buster clinics and a weird battery of treatments.

My hair is to be pig-tailed, scorched and, in a coup de théâtre, professionally 'hoovered' in an attempt to rid me once and for all of the lice that, around the country, are becoming ever-more resistant to standard treatments.

A dedicated clinic might seem a drastic measure for a condition that, as most parents will know, is part of everyday life. Which families have not had uninvited 'school friends' entering the home?

Seventy per cent of children get nits at some point and, unless you wear a wig or wrap your head in cling film, there is a high chance that – as their mother – you will catch them, too.

So with three children, aged 14, 16 and 19, I have had plenty of experience with pediculus humanus capitis, or the common head louse.

At first I found it funny. I'd tease and taunt my soignée friend Trinny Woodall, co-presenter on our show What Not To Wear, shaking my hair next to her. 'Urgh! Have you got nits again?' she would squeal. But – despite my joking – it was uncomfortable and humiliating and, for a while at least, invitations for coffee would dry up.

Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine during a London Premiere. Photo / Getty
Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine during a London Premiere. Photo / Getty

At least in those days, I could get rid of the lice using the normal techniques. There was a good deal of scraping with a viciously toothed nit comb combined with over-the-counter foams and creams that, whatever the medicinal names on the packets, were in fact industrial-strength insecticide.

In time, they worked. My children were again welcome on the party circuit.

Today, however, the head louse is a subtly different creature, as I have discovered to my cost.

This is because the nits that are taking up permanent residence in my thick head of hair are resistant to chemical treatment.

As American researchers revealed last year, this new breed of super-louse is immune to common over-the-counter treatments.

The active ingredients in most pharmacy remedies, which include a group of pesticides called pyrethrins and pyrethroids, have been rendered powerless. Contained in every nit formula from the 1940s onwards, these compounds can still knock a mosquito dead at several paces, but they are no longer enough for the tiny colonies of insects monopolising our hair after 35 years of canny genetic reconditioning.

Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine address the audience at the Westfield Fashion Therapy launch event. Photo / Getty
Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine address the audience at the Westfield Fashion Therapy launch event. Photo / Getty

Some 98 per cent of these super-nits are immune, so it is little wonder our heads are under siege.

In response to this national infestation, the NHS is recommending a product which contains dimeticone, often sold under brand name Hedrin, which is available in sprays and lotions.

It is not an insecticide, and works instead by coating the bugs so thoroughly they suffocate.

Another option is the range of products including cyclomethicone, a silicon-based substance, and isopropyl myristate, which work by dissolving the outer coating of the lice, causing them to dehydrate.

Because neither products contain insecticide, it is thought that the bugs are unlikely to evolve resistance. No one, however, is committing themselves to this theory, and certainly not me. I have tried them both, yet have not managed to rid myself of these pestilent creatures.

There is no serious health risk to nits, but the consequences are uncomfortable and shaming.

Perhaps the lowest point in my infestation came at the humiliating moment of its discovery three years ago, at the hair salon.

With a mound of glossy magazines resting upon my knee, I had settled into my chair for quarterly highlights. My hairdresser, usually methodically fast, suddenly stopped, brush held aloft in mid-air. There was an inhale of breath, a shocked pause. She said that she needed a minute.

Assuming it was a momentary technicality over bleach, I resumed my contemplation of the latest fashions that I could neither fit into nor afford.

The chief colourist sidled over. 'Susannah, I'm really sorry but we can't continue colouring,' he confessed, a little abashed. Leaning in a little closer, he actually whispered in my ear: 'You have nits.'

Seeing the shock and revulsion on my face, he instead tried a little soothing. 'Don't worry,' he continued, 'we see it all the time.'

It has been all the more humiliating as people still imagine that nits belong to children and the great unwashed. Neither is the case. Nits have no preference for clean hair or dirty hair. (The only thing they reject is testosterone, which is why boys tend to be safe once they have hit puberty.)

There is one consolation, as it transpired that many of my adult friends had been secretly suffering in just the same way.

One believes she got them on an aeroplane, another says she caught them from her daughter. A teacher friend tells me she has to de-louse at least four times a year.

Assuming it was a momentary technicality over bleach, I resumed my contemplation of the latest fashions that I could neither fit into nor afford.

The chief colourist sidled over. 'Susannah, I'm really sorry but we can't continue colouring,' he confessed, a little abashed. Leaning in a little closer, he actually whispered in my ear: 'You have nits.'

Seeing the shock and revulsion on my face, he instead tried a little soothing. 'Don't worry,' he continued, 'we see it all the time.'

It has been all the more humiliating as people still imagine that nits belong to children and the great unwashed. Neither is the case. Nits have no preference for clean hair or dirty hair. (The only thing they reject is testosterone, which is why boys tend to be safe once they have hit puberty.)

There is one consolation, as it transpired that many of my adult friends had been secretly suffering in just the same way.

One believes she got them on an aeroplane, another says she caught them from her daughter. A teacher friend tells me she has to de-louse at least four times a year.

Like a dirty secret shared, there was comfort to be had in knowing we were not alone.

It is my belief that unknowing adults are a big part of the problem, and this is why I am 'outing' myself. No doubt I will be ostracised by some and ridiculed by others, but someone has to put their nit-infested head on the block and it might as well be me.

I'm doing so in the hope that other parents fess-up to what is plainly a widespread and growing problem, and one that needs discussing.

How did my own infestation actually begin? I'd assumed it was from one of the children, but their hair was nit-free. They are decisively not to blame (and fortunately I have so far managed not to pass them on).

Then someone asked me if I had borrowed any kind of hat worn by multiple people and, to my consternation, I remembered using a crash helmet at our local go-karting track a few months ago.

Nits thrive on hot, sweaty heads – just like tightly enclosed heads careening around a race course, particularly in the heat of summer. Each helmet had probably come into contact with ten heads a day.

The source traced, I went to war on what, even before the arrival of the super-nit, was a fearsome opponent. Not only are they hungry, feasting on blood from the scalp –hence the itching – they proceed to nestle down flat, making it near impossible to capture them in a nit comb (it's much easier to catch the eggs).

Head lice are formidable breeders, too, laying new eggs on a daily basis. The female louse is rather to be admired, in fact, needing to mate only once a lifetime thanks to a little pouch of louse sperm that she can dip into for the rest of her 30-day existence.

Trying to fight an infestation alone is to lose the battle, as I can testify. Even a £40 electric nit comb with a built-in vacuum failed.

It was only when I'd been reduced to quackery – fervently experimenting with olive oil, vinegar and aromatic oils – that I reached a decisive conclusion: I would have to shave my head, or reach for the professionals.

This is how I came across Hairforce and its team of lice assassins. Super-lice are bad news for most of us, but not for nit clinics, which are fast expanding.

Hairforce, for example, has 12 salons around the country, with more openings planned. At the heart of today's treatment is vacuuming and hot air – but first I need to be prepared.

First, Louise, my technician starts separating my hair into multiple pigtails. Then, sporting surgical gloves and special magnifying spectacles, she begins the hoovering part of the procedure.

The sensation is at first alarming, but the combination of suction and the scraping of a specially fitted metal comb soon takes hold and I became like an infested dog having her head scratched. Bliss.

After each section has been sucked clean she inspects the contents of a small filter. 'Mmm,' she murmurs. 'Three lice, ten juveniles and lots of eggs.' Morbidly fascinated I ask to look – and so come face to face with the opponent.

Looking through the magnifying glasses, I see there are indeed three lice, each the size of a low-flying aircraft, a disgusting spectacle. And there are more to come.

Each hoovering is rewarded with another haul, before we reach a total of 26 adults, countless juveniles and an avalanche of eggs.

Then it is time for phase two, which involves a heat treatment, blasting hot air at my skull to dehydrate the eggs and eradicate the remaining offenders. This machine, rather like a high-tech salon hairdryer, is at times slightly scalding but not more painful than using a pair of hair straighteners.

Finally, any nitty survivors are meticulously combed out, strand by strand.

At nearly £200, this clinical de-lousing is certainly not cheap but, although I must return there in a week for a final inspection, I'm feeling confident. The 90-minute process was forensically thorough.

So far as I'm concerned, a nit-free future for me and for my family means this is money well spent.

In fact, faced with the ignominy of head lice, I would have paid considerably more.

Goodbye, critters. And good riddance. I can hold my head high again, at last.