Aren’t you ever grossed out by what you do?
Initially I was, but it got better over time. Now I’m used to it.
Did you have lice as a child?
Never. I did not even know what it was until I moved here. Notices from the school kept coming home when my oldest started kindergarten, saying, ‘Your child has been exposed to lice.’ I remember thinking, ‘Bugs in your hair? You’ve got to be kidding me.’
What’s the story with lice?
It’s a parasite that feeds off blood from the scalp. Nobody can really tell you where the lice bug comes from, but it dates back to the time of the ancient mummies—Cleopatra actually had her own golden lice comb.
How do you get it?
Primarily by head-to-head contact; your head has to touch the head of an infected person for at least thirty seconds for the lice bug to travel.Lice don’t hop or fly, they just crawl. You can also get it from hats and brushes, and technically an airplane or movie seat.
What was your first direct contact?
I found it on my older daughter in third grade. The poor kid kept telling me her head was itchy, but I didn’t see anything because I didn’t know what I was looking for. Finally I told her to go to the school nurse. The next morning, the school called to say to come pick her up. I felt terrible!
What made you decide to start your business?
After an outbreak in my younger daughter’s kindergarten and her friend wanted to come over, I told her mom she couldn’t come over until I checked her head. I went through her hair and took out about fifteen nits. She came over every day after that until she was lice-free. Her mother was so appreciative; that’s what gave me the idea to go into business.
Have you ever had lice?
Yes, I got it from my younger daughter. I cried.
What’s the biggest misconception about lice?
That people who get it are somehow dirty. Actually, lice love clean hair because they can grip more easily on a clean hair shaft than one that’s oily and dirty.
How much do you charge?
Sixty dollars an hour for treatment and a flat twenty-five dollars for a quick follow-up re-check seven days later.
What’s the worst case of lice you’ve ever encountered?
A set of Japanese twins with beautiful, straight, thick hair all the way down their backs. There were at least three-hundred bugs in each of their heads; I worked on them for about five hours. Even I was a little bit grossed out.
Do you have to be licensed?
Do you have any formal training?
No, it’s all hands-on, literally.
What tools and products do you use in your line of work?
My most important tools are my eyes and hands, but I also use a magnifying glass light, metal nit combs, and hair conditioner—everything natural, no chemicals.
What’s your workweek like?
I work about 35 hours weekly, and usually see between 15 and 20 kids, and at least six adults.
What do you do in a treatment session?
First, I visually confirm that the child does indeed have lice. Then I fill a spritzer bottle half with white vinegar, half water, and use it to dampen the hair. After that I put conditioner on and massage it through the hair—the conditioner kind of immobilizes the bugs and makes them easier to see—and then I start combing one section at a time, wiping the bugs from the comb on to paper towels; I also add baking soda—it helps to strip the nits or eggs out. I keep on combing until I see nothing on a paper towel. Then I rinse out the hair, blow dry, and go through the hair picking out anything they might be left. Depending on the length and thickness of the hair, an average treatment session takes about an hour.
What happens after your initial treatment session?
I recommend combing out the hair and removing any bugs for three days straight, and then every other day until seven days have elapsed; also all linens and the towels in the household should be washed in hot water. After a week, clients come in a quick, fifteen to twenty minute check-up. Ninety-nine percent are cured and never have to come back.
What can parents do to cut down on the chance of their kids getting lice?
Teach kids not to share hats, brushes, towels, etc. and to try and keep head to head contact to a minimum; also avoid sleepovers during outbreaks.
Is there a peak season for lice?
I start getting a lot of calls in early August from moms making appointments to bring in their kids as soon as they get home from summer camp. Then I’m busy straight through the school year until about April, when it begins to taper off.
It’s been steadily increasing over the years but this past school year was the busiest I’ve ever been. Moms worried about job security were reluctant to take off any time to treat their kids themselves and wanted to get their kids back in school as fast as possible. Some schools have strict nit-free policies; kids infected must stay home.
What’s the reaction of most people when they hear you are a professional lice picker?
I did keep it under wraps for a long time but when I finally did tell people, they were like “That’s awesome!’ and wanted to know how I got into it.
How do you get most of your clients?
From recommendations by school nurses, doctors, and other clients.
What’s the best part of your job?
The relationships I’ve developed with the kids and their families. I’ve been invited to Bar Mitzvahs, birthday parties, and plays and performances the kids are in. People are so appreciative.
How do you keep the kids occupied during their visits?
I have a big TV, lots of the latest DVDs, and a big container of lollipops. Kids love being here! They ask their moms if I can baby sit for them.
To contact Anna Krosche, call (914) 497-5465 or e-mail TheLiceLady@aol.com.
photo by John rizzo