05/03/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT
Head lice. This year millions of kids will suffer the little bloodsuckers, and they—and their parents—will feel as though they're in a horror flick. Shampooing with noxious potions, raking fine combs through little scalps for hour after hour: "We were ready to tent the house and use a blowtorch," says one L.A.-area mom who—like most at the end of their wits over nits—refuses to go public.
Thanks to Maria Botham and Michelle Wolloff, however, L.A. parents need not suffer in silence. At Hair Fairies, a one-of-a-kind salon in West L.A., kids are debugged in a cheery environment featuring videos, Game Boys and a chairside manner designed to quell the stigma of (eeeww!)...you know. At $65 an hour ($250 for house calls, favored by celebs) it ain't cheap, but one mom calls the year-old salon "a godsend."
As a swim instructor, Botham (33 and a mom herself) heard complaints about lice for years before she decided to develop her technique (shampoos plus "good old-fashioned nit-picking"). Up next: She and Wolloff, a former toy marketer, who's 39, will launch another L.A. salon and a line of organic lice fighters—and they have plans to open boutiques in five other cities.
Not a pretty job, but, says Wolloff, "we actually have repeat customers who say, 'Cool, I get to go back to Hair Fairies!' "