Lara Greear's 5-year-old daughter was only a few days from starting kindergarten when she began complaining that her head itched. It turned out to be that time-honored parental nightmare: head lice.
So Greear did what any parent would: She rushed to the drugstore and grabbed every product that promised to kill lice and the nits, or lice eggs, that wind up attached to hair.
But nothing worked. The infestation continued.
"Every time I would go through my daughter's hair, we were finding nits," Greear said. "I got out over 130 nits myself, and this is also after we did the over-the-counter treatments."
The lice weren't simply keeping Greear's daughter out of school. They were cutting into the woman's livelihood as the owner of a home day care. She had to close for several days while she buzzed through a host of would-be fixes. A special comb simply took out clumps of her daughter's hair. Greear tried slathering the child's hair in mayonnaise, among the more old-school of remedies, but all it did was make the place smell like tuna salad.
Eventually, a pediatrician referred the hapless mom to Ashli Scott and Summer Steel. The women are literal nitpickers; as the founders of a business called Liceology, they represent Oklahoma City's first foray into the growing nationwide industry of lice-removal specialists.
They treated Greear's daughter with the "LouseBuster," a contraption that kills lice and nits by drying them out with heated air.
After a single appointment, the lice and nits were gone.
"They were awesome," Greear said of Liceology. "I wish there'd been something like that a long time ago."
No doubt a lot of parents might share that sentiment. Up to 12 million children become infected with lice each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And some experts have pointed to indications that the pests are growing resistant to a number of treatments.
No wonder, then, that Scott and Steel are discovering that lice-bashing is a recession-proof business. Their customers come from as far away as Kansas and Missouri. After only a year in business, Liceology is adding two employees and planning to expand operations into Texas.
"We've found our niche," Steel said. "This is such a one-of-a-kind business. It's booming for us, and we're making a name for ourselves."
If there's a possible stereotype for the type of person suited for lice-picking, it's surely not Scott and Steel. The two friends, both 34, are short, blonde and as perky as morning TV hosts. They are chatty and often finish each other's sentences, a loquaciousness unencumbered by the methodical destruction of insects.
"You don't ever feel disgusted by it," Steel said. "Families are so nice, and they're desperate for help. We're moms, and we're consumers. We know how we want to be treated."
Their introduction to lice was a familiar one: One of Scott's daughters, then in kindergarten, came home with lice. In no time, the infestation spread to the woman's two other girls. Then the bugs settled on Scott's scalp.
"I cried and called all my friends," she said with a laugh, shaking her head. "I think I literally sat down on the ground and started crying. My middle child " the kindergartener " had it really bad."
Still, experts note that while head lice are an irritation, they aren't a health hazard.
"With head lice, usually there are not real concerns beyond the itching, potential for bites that get infected or the embarrassment," said Dr. Michael Reiskind, an assistant entomology professor at Oklahoma State University.
Subsequently, he isn't fully sold on the cottage industry of lice removal.
"A small amount of insecticide exposure is going to have minimal effect on kids," he said. "The discomfort of head lice is probably worth getting rid of it the very first time."
But the "ick" factor is a powerful motivator for Liceology customers who would rather do anything but sort through their child's hair, strand by strand, in search of potentially hundreds of nits.
Leslie can attest to that. The Edmond woman eventually contacted Liceology last month after her eldest daughter came home from school with lice.
"I spent $4,000 getting rid of lice," said Leslie, who asked that her last name not be used. "I bought all new bedding. I threw out every single thing. I threw out stuffed animals. There was not one decorative pillow in my house. Then we bagged up a bunch of stuff and left it out in our garage for three weeks.
"Everything that I could send to the dry cleaner, went. I vacuumed my house three times a day. I sprayed the furniture. I sprayed the car. I mean, I was crazy. It's so gross. It's terrible. Terrible." "Chase McInerney