Nitpicking is not just something older siblings do to bug their little siblings. For some people it’s literally a full-time job — picking nits out of lice-infested hair.

And for these professionals, the back-to-school season brings a boost in business, as children spread the pesky parasites to each other in record time.


Karen Franco, a part-time nitpicker. (Dayna Smith)

Most parents buy special over-the-counter shampoos and spend hours with a fine-toothed comb. (I remember this routine well).

But professional nitpickers use specialized treatments or offer help to parents who lack the time or patience to go after the bugs one at a time.

I talked to one woman in Montgomery County who uses an all-natural, pesticide-free regimen of olive oil to suffocate the little bugs, and another pro who is pitching a new “Lousebuster” device that uses “controlled heat” to dry out the bugs and their eggs. I was picturing a hair dryer, but apparently it has a much higher volume of air flow and is not as hot.

Wendy Beck of Lice Doctors, who practices the olive-oil approach, had a couple suggestions for parents who want to help their kids avoid getting lice or who are trying to get rid of them.

According to Beck:

Lice like clean hair. We tell girls to keep their hair back and braided (each individual hair acts as a ladder for that little bug to come up and buy the house) and use hair spray to make it artificially dirty. And we tell boys to put a little moose in there.

Don’t worry too much about purging your house of lice. Take hair brushes or stuffed animals and bag them and put them in the freezer to kill bugs. But these critters aren’t like bed bugs. Lice need blood to survive; if there’s no blood there’s no lice.

She said for a lot of parents, getting rid of lice can be a frustrating and emotional experience. “We do a lot of talking and hand-holding, and try to make it a pleasant experience,” she said.

If you have a story to share about the trials and tribulations of eradicating this pest, let me know: chandlerm@washpost.com