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Meet The Nitpickers

September 16, 2010 By:
Rachel Vigoda, JE Feature
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Ilene Steinberg is gearing up for the day when her small waiting room is packed with squirmy, nervous kids anxiously awaiting their turn in the back room.

That's where Steinberg and business partner Michele Barrack will tie back their hair, don their white lab coats and get to work killing the little buggers.

The head lice, that is.

Steinberg and Barrack own Lice Lifters Treatment Center, which will open this weekend in Lafayette Hill, a one-stop shop for lice diagnosis, treatment and removal products.

The two women had been available through the mobile lice-busting units they each ran separately before deciding to join forces. "We'll be able to treat more people here than when we're traveling all over to people's homes. And that's our mission -- to create the most efficient, effective, fastest way to treat lice," says Steinberg.

The treatment center, with its purple-gray shutters and beige siding, looks like a single-story house plopped onto a parking lot. It sits behind a strip of shops on Germantown Pike.

Barrack lives nearby, though the location, which is close to the Blue Route and the Turnpike, was chosen more for clients' convenience.

Inside Lice Lifters, past the waiting room, are two treatment rooms with hairdresser-style stations, complete with chairs that pump up and down, large mirrors, and combs in glass disinfectant jars.

Tucked away in drawers under the mirrors are mini-DVD players that can be pulled out to distract young clients.

Two young clients in particular led to Barrack's foray into the lice biz: her daughters. Hesitant to put "cancer-causing chemicals" on their heads, she says, she started researching alternative solutions, even hiring a pricey expert to come down from North Jersey when she couldn't find anyone local.

"I learned so much about it, I started helping friends with their lice problems. Soon, I was getting a call a week from friends, and then friends of friends," she says.

At the time, Barrack, who's 35, was running Barrack's Fitness with her husband, Richard -- the son of Leonard Barrack, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. But by last fall, a year after she started, Barrack was a full-time lice-lifter.

Looking to share tips and get guidance from other expert "nitpickers" -- as nit (lice egg) removers are known -- Barrack called up Steinberg, otherwise known as the "Nit Nanny."

Steinberg, who is 44 and lives in Penn Wynne with her husband, Eddie, and their four children, also happened to have a Barrack connection: In addition to conquering lice, she worked for Max & David's kosher restaurant/catering company.

That company provides food for the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr -- named for Leonard Barrack's late brother -- where Steinberg helped out at the school-cafeteria register and served as the pastry chef.

Lousy With Lice

When the two women met, Steinberg had already been treating lice in homes, and doing head checks at local schools, camps and synagogues for a few years. She had also developed her own line of products, which are now concocted in the "Nit Nanny" laboratories room at the treatment center.

When treating lice, forget the mayonnaise, vinegar or Vaseline. Don't even think about reaching for over-the-counter remedies like RID or Nix; lice have grown resistant to them, says Barrack.

Instead, start with the nontoxic, eco-friendly "Nit Nanny Scalp Treatment" -- which is at least one-part olive oil, Barrack lets slip before correcting herself. "I mean, the scalp-treatment oil."

Lice Lifters also stocks "Nit Nanny" mousse, to loosen sticky nits during a comb-out; "Nit Nanny" tempered-steel combs with long, spiraled teeth designed to get under every nit; and "Nit Nanny" mint spray, a preventative potion.

After a head check at the treatment center (if your kid has lice, then you'd better get checked, too), Barrack or Steinberg brings out the "LouseBuster" (a treatment and 15-minute comb-out; traditional comb-outs, without the LouseBuster, take several hours). The machine, which looks like a squat vacuum cleaner with a hose attachment, releases controlled hot air to dehydrate and kill lice.

"I always say to people, 'I hope you never need me.' But there's a lot of lice out there," says Steinberg. "I think once we're open, people will be flying in." 

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