At just 31 years of age, and with a first grader in tow, single mom Wendy Langley set out to take on the giants in the head lice industry. The reason? She couldn't, as she says, stand putting a popular but potentially toxic head lice treatment that "smelled like bug spray" on her kid's head to kill lice. Plus, she was constantly terrified the runny liquid would seep into her daughter's eyes.
Langley's desire to protect her daughter and other children prompted her to develop a product that would absolutely kill head lice, even the dreaded super lice, as they're called, and buck the standard of using pesticides to do so. Her solution was to use sodium chloride, better known as salt, as her weapon to kill head lice. Her unusual product, Licefreee, quickly became the best-selling pesticide-free head lice treatment in the U.S., the world's largest consumer market for head lice.
In 1988, Langley walked in the doors of Tec Labs, a family-owned pharmaceutical manufacturer in Oregon. The thriving company was mainly known for making Tecnu, a poison ivy product with a cult-like following. She was hired through a temp agency for a three-day stint in the company's mail room. Her offbeat personality and eagerness to learn clicked with Tec Labs' CEO, Steve Smith, and she was eventually brought in as a full-time employee.
Langley worked in several areas of the company before she discovered her passion in the Research and Development department. Soon, Langley was a leader on the R&D team, heading up the research side. She became nearly obsessed with a desire to help people on a broad scale.
"I truly love helping people," says Langley, "especially children, since they can't help themselves."
Langley's first success on the R&D team was Calagel, a home run for the company in the anti-itch category. Next up was Corticool, a first-of-its-kind mentholated hydrocortisone gel. And then came the head lice incident, as she calls it, which prompted her to develop Licefreee.
Langley recalled the moment when she came across the idea of using salt to kill head lice. "I felt chills run through my body," said Langley. "I thought, 'Aha! That's it!' I knew from doing my research that salt, in the right formulation, could be 100% effective in killing lice."
It turned out that Langley was correct. Independent lab studies showed Licefreee to be 100% effective killing head lice and their eggs. The company added a sturdy metal comb and Licefreee became a hit, eventually landing on over 20,000 drug store shelves. The treatment's popularity skyrocketed. Licefreee went on to become the top-selling pesticide-free head lice brand in America. This back-to-school season marks the 10th anniversary of Licefreee.
Not content with battling head lice, Ms. Langley set her sights on a far more dangerous foe: MRSA (methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus). "I saw the oncoming threat of MRSA years ago and told the R&D team," said Langley. "I saw that this sometimes deadly problem was growing, and it had a growth potential of epidemic proportion. I feared it could affect our children through the school system."
Staphaseptic hit shelves in 2006 behind the biggest product launch in the company's 32-year history and became another breakout success. Langley is now busy trying to discover her next big idea for Tec Labs.
"Helping others is where my heart feels best," she says. "I can't wait until the next 'Aha!' moment. I have a feeling it's coming soon."