I often get asked how I got involved in the hair replacement industry. It’s a story that starts back when I was a 21 one year old college student finishing out a summer break. I was young and carefree enjoying the summer and the start of my twenties. One day my mother noticed a small round patch about the size of a dime on my temple. I had so much hair it was hard to see but as I pulled my hair back in that area I noticed a small perfectly round area of hair loss. Confused and a bit alarmed, I took to the internet. I searched, “round patch of hair loss.” I was bombarded with a term I had never heard before, “alopecia.” I remember thinking,”alo-what?” I had never heard of alopecia before. As I red further I discovered that small patches of hair loss could lead to more patches of hair loss or even in some cases, completely hair loss. Reading those words made me feel sick. I had grown up as the girl with a ton of hair. My mother use to always say, “You have enough hair for ten people.” My hair was a huge part of who I was and a big part of my self-esteem. I remembered thinking as I pushed myself away from my computer screen, “I will die if I lose my hair. There is no way that could to happen to me.”
Over the next 3 months that is exactly what started happening to me. I began seeing more round patches of hair loss, and my eyelashes and eyebrows started thinning. I felt like I was losing a huge part of myself. I remember when I had lost about 70% of my hair looking at myself in the mirror, and thinking, “I don’t even know who you are.” I was really distraught, confused and I kept a lot of it inside to myself. It was hard to talk to people about it because people just looked at me with pity in their eyes and they would say "I feel so bad for you" I didn’t want people to pity me because it just made me feel bad for myself. I felt no one could relate to what I was going through and even the doctors I went to see had very little information for me about what alopecia is and why this had happened. I was convinced there must be something a doctor could do to fix this. I immediately started seeing a dermatologist and tried every treatment he could come up with. I used Creams, ointments, Liquids worn under a shower caps to bed, did detox diets, steroids, homeopathic injections, medications, and multiple therapies but nothing seemed to stop the hair loss. I was willing to try anything. I probably would have walked around with cow manure on my head if that would have grown my hair back! I tried everything he could come up with to get my hair back. Every time we tried a new treatment my family and I got our hopes up as we saw a little bit a regrowth but it would all fall out and we would be devastated. Over and over again. I felt so guilty for getting everyone’s hopes up only to watch them fall. I hated my body for doing this and couldn’t imagine why this was happening to me. I was grateful for my dermatologist’s efforts and was happy he was trying to get my hair to come back.
After that I went to a dermatologist at Lahey Clinic in Massachusetts. My dermatologist in Maine referred me to him and said if any one will know what to do it is him, he is extremely intelligent and has over 50 years experience in the dermatology field. I was so excited to see him. I thought for sure he would have the answer and I would finally be able to get my hair back. When I went to the appointment the doctor came in and explained that Lahey clinic was also a learning environment so there would be several interns observing the appointment and then three young men and 1 young woman came in. I was fine with that until the appointment took a drastic turn.
After going through my file and seeing what I had done with my dermatologist the doctor looked at me and said, “kiddio with all my years of experience, I know there is no cure for alopecia, my best recommendation for you is to get a great wig.” I swear I felt the room spinning. I thought to myself “WHAT?!?!? A WIG?!?!?” I thought this man was going to tell me how to fix this alopecia thing. I was devastated, shocked, and completely overwhelmed. Through out the whole experience I hadn’t cried in front of anyone. I cried a couple times to myself in private but to everyone else I put on a happy face so they wouldn’t feel bad for me, but my body couldn’t stand it any longer! All the tears I had been holding in ever sense this alopecia thing invaded my body burst out. I have never cried like that before in my whole life….my tears exploded out of my eyes….my whole body cried….you should have seen the poor interns they were frozen with a look of “what the heck should I do” the doctor ordered one of them to go get some tissues and the young intern ran to another room and came back with a heaping pile of tissues. I just cried an apologized a million times hoping to some how articulate how silly I felt. I was beyond embarrassed.
He was my last hope and in one sentence that hope had been destroyed. That was the worst and best day for me. Looking back I now have so much respect for that doctor because as much as I didn’t want to hear it I needed to know that this alopecia disease was here to stay and there was nothing I could do to fix it except learn to live with it. He told me my hair loss was caused by a condition called alopecia universalis and that most likely I would experience complete hair loss. What little hair I had left would fall out and there weren’t any treatments that could bring it back. . I needed to come to terms with my hair loss. It seemed like a daunting task at first but once I stopped all the pills, diets and doctors appointments and just started living a normal life I quickly started adapting to having alopecia. I was finally able to focus on living like a normal person and stop constantly focusing on how different I was and how I was going to “fix” myself. I let go of all the guilt I had about having alopecia and I started living. After I got over the shock, I realized he was right, and my focus shifted to finding a wig.
My first experience with shopping for a wig was nothing short of a nightmare. I went to a local wig shop with high hopes which were quickly destroyed. The woman I met with had a job: to sell me a wig. There was no talking about my hair or what I was looking for, we just went straight into putting wigs on my head. There was a large closet full of what looked like shoe boxes which she chose from. She randomly pulled out wigs and placed them on my head. With each wig she put on I remember thinking, “I look like Hillary Clinton” and as a girl in my twenties I certainly wasn’t going for that look. All the styles were for an older woman. I started getting the impression that I wasn’t going to find a wig that was like my hair and needed to adjust my expectations. It was not a good experience and I walked away feeling defeated.
After that appointment I told my boyfriend of four years to move on. I told him I would never be able to look like myself again, and therefore could never truly be myself. I no longer wanted the things we planned for. I no longer wanted to get married or have children as I would never feel like myself again. It was a devastating realization but one I felt was truly my new existence. Luckily my boyfriend, now husband, did not head my advice and instead became my rock through what at times was a very hard journey.
I ended up getting a wig from the wig shop that I chose from a catalog. I ordered it and picked it up a couple weeks later. The wig did not look like my hair but it was at least more youthful than the systems I had tired at my previous visit. I left with the hair but I wasn’t given any information about the type of hair it was or how to care for it. At the time, I was in college and working as a server at a restaurant. I went to work that night with my wig on in pigtails under a hat. It was the only way I felt comfortable. Half way through my shift I went into the kitchen with another waitress and suddenly felt a warmth breeze go up the side of my neck. The girl next to me looked at me eyes wide open in shock and said, “your ponytail is gone!” I immediately ran to the bathroom where I realized to my horror that one of my pigtails had melted right up to the elastic. I was so embarrassed and upset but I finished my shift.
The next day I spoke to the wig store woman. She told me my system was synthetic and could not be exposed to heat. I was told it would cost $300.00 to fix it. Discouraged I went to work that night in my singed wig now in a side ponytail to try and camouflage the damage. Upon entering a girl who worked in the kitchen pulled me aside and told me about her grandmother who did hair systems. She said they were very natural looking and I should give her call. I truly believe that was fait stepping in and pointing me in the right direction.
I went to see Madeline, the founder of Madeline’s Hair Replacement, and had a completely different experience! During my consultation we started with just that; a consultation. She asked me about my hair, asked to see photos, and most importantly listened to me. She took measurements and tried on a couple of bases. We looked at color rings and made decisions together. I cried, I laugh and I walked away feeling truly hopeful for the first time since I started this hair loss journey.
When I went in to get my hair it was also a very different experience. I didn’t simply pick up my hair. It was put on my head, cut and styled. I was also told how to care for the hair. It felt so good to have hair on my head. When I saw myself in the mirror I nearly fainted. I saw myself again, me, my reflecting looking back at me. It was such an amazing experience!
It wasn’t long before I realized I had to be a part of the hair replacement industry! I had just finished up getting my business degree, and started apprenticing at Madeline’s and got my cosmetology license. Being a girl who had always loved hair and was always doing something to my own, it came very naturally to me. I loved working with hair but more importantly, I LOVED helping people through their hair loss journey. Now I am at peace with having alopecia. I always say alopecia was both the worst and the best thing that ever happened to me. It has truly made me a better person. I use my personal experience and the hardship I overcame to help others. Nothing makes me happier than helping other people who are struggling with hair loss. Giving them back their confidence, self esteem and freedom is the best feeling!