EDMONDS — The tools at this trendy hair salon are a metal comb and a microscope.
A petri dish on the counter holds dead bugs. Videos of live insects stream on the TV.
What’s up with that?
Lice Spies eradicates the bloodthirsty louse that infiltrates the locks.
Patrons don’t get a new hairstyle, but they waltz out sans freeloading pests that make them itch like crazy.
The decor is cheery IKEA chic. Shelves brim with books and toys.
“It is important to have a calming space,” Lice Spies owner Cathy Baran said. “We get a lot of people who are very upset.”
No kidding. Those tiny six-legged parasites are the creepiest of all creepy crawlers. Each leg has a claw, perfect for navigating strands of hair to dine on your scalp.
These are skilled parasites. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 million to 12 million infestations of head lice occur each year in the U.S. among kids 3 to 11.
Head lice also are psychosomatic. Just hearing about those nits and nymphs trigger head scratching.
The lice that find a home in the scalp are different than those that affect other parts of the body. Lice Spies deals only with head lice, and so does this story.
It is mainly transmitted by head-to-head contact, Baran said.
“The bugs don’t jump, they don’t fly. They crawl. They need that bridge or that highway to get in.”
She recently spent a weekend in Seattle networking with other lice-busters in the area. That’s her idea of a good time.
Baran didn’t set out to be a lice lady.
She worked at Hewlett Packard in Silicon Valley for 11 years in marketing strategy before quitting to raise a family and eventually settling in Edmonds. She and her husband, Jeff Janeway, have three daughters, Charlotte, 16, Nicole, 14, and Grace, 13.
“I have three girls with lovely heads of hair. They were lice magnets growing up through elementary school,” Baran said.
The frustration with lice became her inspiration.
She opened Lice Spies three years ago, naming it because of the sleuthing nature of the work.
“I didn’t want to go back into my high-tech field and work 60 hours a week,” she said. “Now I work 60 hours a week but on my terms.”
She went to The Shepherd Institute in Florida for a week-long training in head lice.
“It is such a new industry and completely unregulated. We’re not a medical facility or a hair salon,” she said. “Literally anyone can claim they are a professional.”
It was a challenge finding a place to rent, she said.
“A lot were not very amenable to having a business that brings lice into their building. I had a lot of no’s.”
Lice Spies has a separate entrance in a small building at the corner of Edmonds Way and 236th Street SW.
Look for her bright orange electric Fiat 500-E with bold Lice Spies stickers on the side.
“I get the strangest looks,” she said.
Two of her daughters won’t ride in the car with her unless the stickers are off.
“You have to have some light and levity,” Baran said. “A lot of people come in very stressed out.”
At an Edmonds fundraising comedy show her company helped sponsor, the hosts rapped “Lice Lice Baby” as a parody on the “Ice Ice Baby” hip hop song by Vanilla Ice.
There isn’t a lice season, but summertime is busy, Baran said. During the school year she posts a list of public schools where she has seen confirmed cases of head lice.
Everett School District spokeswoman Linda Carbajal said in an email that head lice “is a common thing we deal with in our schools.”
She said the schools follow state policy guidelines. State health and education policies say that lice infestation is principally a nuisance rather than a major threat to the student’s well-being, and the student should not be kept at home.
It calls for a parent or guardian to be notified, but not other students.
Still, word gets out … Kids talk.
That sends some panicked parents to Baran’s shop.
Besides itching, signs are a tickling feeling of something moving in the hair. Head lice are most active in the dark. Personal hygiene has nothing to do with getting head lice, which don’t feed on dogs or cats (so as not to be confused with fleas).
“Visually we look first. We get the hair wet and do a wet comb-out,” Baran said.
Strand by strand.
She wears magnifying glasses.
“Sometimes people come in and we do a head check and don’t find anything.”
When they do, it goes under the microscope and up on the big screen TV.
“We call it Bug TV,” Baran said.
Then it’s time to pop in one of the numerous cartoon and movie DVDs from the shelf.
The process for medium-length hair takes between 60 and 90 minutes and costs about $150. For super short hair, it’s about $75.
Baran said most flexible spending and HSA plans can be used to cover the cost.
Makenna Keller, 9, an Everett fourth-grader, got lice the first month of school.
“Let’s just say it was torture,” Makenna said. “It was constantly itching.”
Many stores sell lice-removing remedies.
Approaches to treating head lice have evolved over the years. Some chemical agents used in the past were dangerous and toxic to children. In some instances, head lice have become resistant to certain treatment methods.
Lice Spies has its own line of “green” products. A bottle of mousse with a lice comb is $37, and covers up to six treatments for those who want to DIY.
Other products are preventatives. Mint scents deter lice, Baran said. “What they like is human blood.”
School-aged girls and boys are the main clients.
“We treat all ages. The oldest are 82-year-old grandparents who had it,” she said.
Lice Spies has six part-time employees.
Want to be a lice-buster?
“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Baran said.