by: Thea D. Chassin, founder and president of the nonprofit organization Bald Girls Do Lunch® Ms. Chassin has had alopecia universalis since 1997
When I talk about women with alopecia areata and having had alopecia universalis myself since 1997, I literally have a world of experience to back it up.
Since founding the non-profit (501c3) Bald Girls Do Lunch in 2007, I have personally connected via emails, letters, chats, live events and phone calls with over two thousand women diagnosed with alopecia areata. That is in addition to countless online visitors following my beauty tips, research updates and tweets. Based on my unique perspective, here are eight tips on how to better serve those with a new alopecia areata diagnosis.
Realize That It’s More Than Hair
Buying new hair to feel whole and normal again is just one of the many challenges for the newly diagnosed alopecia areata client. Not only is she confronted with appearance changes, the onset may be rapid and the course unpredictable. She may not yet have told other people about her condition and worries about how they will respond when she does. For those with a sudden onset, there is much to learn in a short period of time. For those with a slower hair loss, months or years of secrecy and embarrassment can take a toll.
Although it’s just another “day at the office” for you, the alopecia areata client may feel overwhelmed and as if she has arrived in a foreign land where she does not speak the language. While a welcoming ambiance is always good for business, some things that may seem to be inviting may actually make it difficult for her to feel at ease. Loud music, overly chatty staff, cell phone ringers, televisions and radios can easily become annoying, added stressors.
Women are encouraged to do some homework before shopping. Expect phone calls. If you are busy, set aside time to call back when you are not distracted. Be realistic and honest. Be familiar with other hair replacement centers in your region and if needed refer the caller to them. Encourage new clients to visit your salon and get acquainted with you and your products without the expectation of buying anything. Focus your initial consultation on education and relationship building.
Educate From the Inside Out
This means taking the different caps you offer, turning them inside out and going over the parts of each side by side. The “nuts and bolts” of wig construction may seem like the least glamorous part of the product. However, for the woman with alopecia areata, it is as important as the visible hair. Know your products well. Know the materials and knotting techniques used in your wigs and be ready to explain the pros and cons, price points and trade-offs. When the comparisons are clear, the buyer can make informed choices and clarify her priorities.
Understand Sensory Overload
When putting on hair, the client is bombarded with new sensations. Not only is there the visual shock of seeing herself looking so differently, there are new physical sensations of having something on her head. Immediately telling her how pretty she looks and asking, “So how do you like it?” is often asking too much too soon. The more she feels compelled to answer questions, the less she is able to focus on how the whole experience is going. Encourage her to sit, stand, or walk around the shop on her own to adjust to the new sensations.
Sit and Stand Together
Yes, literally. Standing behind a seated client talking over her head toward a mirror may be customary for many studio owners, but it is often disorienting for the new client. Get to know your new client by sitting or standing face-to-face. Build better rapport by facing her at a comfortable, social distance and at the same eye level. She will be more receptive to whatever you are explaining if she is engaged with you in a normal, conversational way.
The “C” Words
When women with alopecia areata are polled (including those with long standing alopecia) one of their universal concerns is the assumption that they are a cancer or chemotherapy patient. “You should be happy you’re not sick, it’s only hair” is inappropriate and fails to recognize the loss she is experiencing. Women with alopecia areata may not grow hair normally, but that does not mean they understand anything about nor want to hear about someone you know with cancer. Consider the topic off limits.
Adapt Your Technique
We know that visual, auditory and tactile learning styles vary from person to person. Be flexible when teaching your client. Provide written, spoken and hands-on instructions to ensure the best fit between what you’re saying and how she understands.