From Client to Cancer Patientby Naomi Mannino
I´ve known some of my clients for many years,” ex-plains Suki Duggan of Donsuki Townhouse Salon in New York City, “and all of a sudden they will show up with half their hair missing, barely able to walk and tell me they have breast cancer. It breaks my heart because women are really sensitive about the way they look — they don´t like to look sick even if they feel sick. So I do everything I can as a hairstylist and as a person to make them still feel beautiful.” Jan Ping, emmy-winning TV hairstylist and cosmetologist has first-hand experience having been a cancer survivor herself. “If I can share anything it is to how people perceive cancer patients. My doctor said that actually one in seven people will experience it for themselves and that number is constantly growing.” So at one time or another during your career as a hairstylist, you´re going to be faced with this client in your chair. It may seem un-glamorous, but it happens to celebrities, too — it´s going to be a part of your business so how will you adapt? Another point Ping makes is that women´s fear of losing their hair actually tops the fear of losing their life to cancer! So clearly hairstylists have the power to help women feel better and look better while un-dergoing probably the scariest time in their lives.Following are 10 easy ways hairstylists can help clients who be-come ill — just by being there and doing what you do every day — just a little differently:
1. Keep it private: If you´re client really looks and feels ill during their appointment or expresses embarrassment at their appearance, see if you can set up a private room for these patients. It can be as simple asa curtain around one of the stations or as elaborate as an ac-tual private room. This way, clients who feel ill can have their hair appointment without feeling as though others are staring.
2. Ask...then listen. When a client´s appearance has changed for the worse you need to know why. Obviously cancer treatments can cause hair loss but so do other hormonal illnesses, medications, hair diseas-es like Alopecia and even things as simple as stress, trauma and nutrition lifestyle issues. You want to find out the reason for the hair issues you´re presented with so you can determine a course of action. And, some women may choose to go completely bald, shave it all off, be fitted for a wig, or in the case of Alo-pecia, have hair extensions put in if possible. As their hairdresser, give as much support as you can give to them — ill clients are really sensitive and you need to listen to know where they´re at and what they need from you, advises Duggan.
3. Lots of trims. Hair loss does not happen evenly and instead falls out in chunks and appears uneven and fuzzy. Women need to come back every few weeks to have it trimmed up until the appointment when she decides to shave it all off. This is the best way to mini-mize the panic and fear women feel as they wait and watch for their hair to fall out. “Imagine how scary it is to wake up in the morning and find large patches of long hair on the pillow,” says Ping. Curl Queen Ouidad, who went through cancer treat-ment herself says, “I work with my clients to gradually cut their hair to the shortest length they can handle. This has a tendency to let them see themselves with a clear shape of their scalp and makes the initial shock of losing their hair easier.”
4. Be gentle...both physically AND emotionally. “Take special care not to hurt these clients...they´re hurting al-ready,” cautions Ping, who´s been there. The scalp undergoes changes while hair is falling out and is extremely sensitive. The skin hurts and feels tight and it itches and hurts while hair falls out. Ping explains that as the stylist, you have to be really gentle with combs and scissors. . Duggan says, “I use bigger, wider-tooth combs and I finger dry, so there´s no pulling with the brush. I just keep trimming up the ends - no thinning and definitely no razor cutting this type of hair!” Everything is gen-tler from the shampoo bowl (stick to cool/tepid water!) on through the appointment, cautions Shelly Beatty, owner and master stylist at Stylemakers Salon in Fort Worth, Texas, who has also experienced her own hair loss as a result of Thyroid issues and surgery. And be gentle not to hurt feelings either: “What you need to know if you´ve never or been touched by cancer in your life is that you have to have compassion...your client is going to be emotional...it´s just so personal,” explains Ping.
5. The Shave. At one point or another, your client will most likely ask you to just shave it off. Ping explains another reason you HAVE to be so gen-tle is that you can´t cut them with scissors or the shaver. Their skin is thinner and these patients´ immune systems are compromised by the chemotherapy drugs. They´re very susceptible to infec-tion and you must take special care in how your instruments are sterilized. Be sure to advise your client away from manicures and pedicures or any treatment that could open up skin to infections. Also watch the hair length on a total shave. Those who choose to shave their heads should use a guard to make sure it´s not too short because the scalp can be especially sensitive. “When I put my head on the pillow, it felt like a bunch of needles were stick-ing me,” recalled Carol Galland, cancer survivor and founder of Headcovers.com, which sells more than 150 hats, turbans, scarves and other head coverings for people who lose their hair.“I couldn´t rest my head on the pillow for three or four days.”
6. Pure products. When the hair returns, it is important to handle it witha great deal of TLC, explains Ouidad. “I discourage cli-ents from color for at least six months after chemo treat-ments are over to allow the hair roots to strengthen,” Ouidad advises. They´re bodies, skin, and hair cannot withstand the chemical assault and hair is already com-promised — it would burn their skin, be terribly painful, and cause the hair to fall out faster. Once hair has grown back in you can try to use the lowest ammonia/peroxide chemicals possible. Or experiment with enzyme develop-ers, like Ping uses in her salon, which require no peroxide and take about 50% less process time while leaving the cuticle more intact. Steer clients away from shampoos with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, a harsh detergent usually list-ed at the top of the ingredient´s list, and styling products with alcohol at the top of their list because both cause breakage in weak hair. “The whole idea is to createa healthier environment for hair,” advises Beatty.
7. What´s ‘Chemo Curl?´ In many cases, hair can grow in dramatically different in texture and color than the hair that was lost — at least in the short term. Some women with straight hair may have hair that comes back curly. Although not much is known about why this happens,Dr. Jennifer Griggs explains that the chemo affects rapidly grow-ing cells more than slowly growing ones. Hair follicles in the scalp grow rapidly, and are jolted by the chemo. “When the follicles get back to work, the shock may be enough to change their job description,” Griggs further explains on the Naturallycurly.com Website, that has information for clients suffering hair loss due to cancer treatment. “Over time, without further treatment, the hair follicle usually settles back into its old habits.”
8. Don´t wig out. If your client expresses interest in purchasing a wig, the best time to do is before your client´s hair and original style is lost, advises Diahna Husbands of Diahna Lynn Hair Studio in Silver Spring, Maryland, because this helps the stylist create the best match. And if a client comes to you before any major hair loss you can have a wig cut and styled to alleviate any awkward in-between time — the client comes in with hair and leaves with new hair. But most clients will come to you once hair has already started falling — then you´ll have to ask for photos to help them match a wig. Duggan says “I help women choose a wig no matter what their preference from a $35 wig to one that costs thousands. Whatever they bring me I will cut and style to look the best that it can because I don´t want to upset them any further than they already are!” Want to learn how to measure and custom order a wig plus teach clients how to care for it? See page 36.
9. Be honest with your clients and yourself. If you can´t deal with it, don´t want to deal with or don´t know how to deal with it, refer an ill client to someone who does care. Servicing this type of client requires empathy and education and some stylists may find that they are just not interested or are too afraid. Be honest.
10. Try to be upbeat. Diahna Husbands specializes in helping women deal with hair loss when it comes to cancer treatment trims, new looks, wigs and head coverings. “It may seem bad but you can have fun — hair is a way to express your personality — have different wigs — make it a fun thing — It can really up lift a client´s spirits as she learns to see herself in a new way.” And Jan Ping reminds, “I never would have been who I am today if it had not been for the cancer.”