Salon doors are finally open again, and customers are flocking back to professional services after more than a year of outdoors-only cuts, hush-hush house calls, and sometimes comical DIY.
Whew! It’s finally over. But wait—some of your clients are looking thin. Skinny, even. And not in the way they’d like. We’re talking hair, not waistline.
The past 18 months have changed how we live, and how we look. Surviving the virus itself, specifically its trademark high fever, may have literally shocked hair into extreme shedding and thinning. But those who eluded infection may be experiencing radical thinning, too.
MODERN SALON reached out to David John Siebenaler, a prominent stylist in Los Angeles.
He comments, “When hair thinning happens, it’s usually the client that notices and brings it up to me. If I notice, I will usually get them to tell me by asking them if they’ve noticed any extra shedding or hair in the shower lately. I tell them that it can happen because of stress or diet or major life change or hormones. I tell them if they are concerned about it, there are things that we can do for it depending on their comfort-level.”
“I also like to share with them my own experience with thinning and other clients who have had success treating it. I personally, as well my clients, have had success using Rene Furterer scalp treatments and products designed to counteract hair thinning. I prefer starting there because there aren’t any harmful side effects that you can experience with some of the drugs on the market. Even just starting with Triphasic shampoo you can notice your hair begin to feel thicker and fuller.”
“Deep cleaning and conditioning the scalp first is key. Then using a scalp serum to treat each specific type of thinning will help restore the balance, reduce the thinning and even aid in the re-growth of new hair. To make the hair look fuller and healthier, I often also suggest a hairstyle that can help. If their long hair looks straggly on the ends, a blunt cut makes ends look chunkier and healthier. Side or off-center parts can cover thinning on the top. Long bangs and layers around the face can blend or disguise thinning around the temples.”
MODERN SALON also spoke with Nutritionist, Health Coach and author Jessica Cording (MS, RD, Dietitian and author of The Little Book of Game-Changers: 50 Healthy Habits for Managing Stress and Anxiety) about hair thinning in the aftermath of COVID, and she suggests a menu-check as a baseline step.
Cording says, “Diet is always a key element, and diet is affected by stress. During lockdown, many of us weren’t able to eat as healthfully as we like, because our sources were closed. And many of us engaged in stress-eating, reaching for foods that gave us emotional comfort, but less than great nourishment.”
If your clients (or yourself) picked up a wicked Diet Coke habit after swearing you’d never go back, your skin and hair may be paying the price right now. No fear. Just order a big, crunchy salad filled with dark greens (dandelions, spinach), hard-boiled eggs, almonds and legumes, and keep reading!
Clients are finally in the chair. Here’s a quick brief:
WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
1 - Skinnier ponytail: It’s probably Telogen effluvium. This is a temporary condition, and until COVID, doctors related it to extreme, isolated shocks to the system, like surviving war or giving birth (yes, those are the example scenarios quoted in the studies!).
The stress of enduring the COVID experience – without contracting the virus, thank goodness—now is identified as a cause for Telogen Effluvium. “Telogen” refers to the resting-period of the hair cycle. Basically, the hair just shuts down because the nervous system is on overload and producing lots of cortisol. Some evidence suggests that spikes in cortisol trigger floods of androgens (male hormones) which cause hair thinning.
The good news: Telogen effluvium typically results in a massive shedding (i.e., wads of hair in the shower drain and hairbrush) three or four months after major trauma, but usually resolves itself naturally within six months.
2 – Bare, bald patches: These signal hair loss, which is more extreme than hair shedding. Examine the location. There may be multiple causes. Alopecias are one group of hair loss conditions with varying origins. Traction alopecia is common among women who wear tight-tension styles. These include improperly attached hair extensions, weaves, super-snug braids, and even a slicked-back ballerina bun 24/7. Telltale signs of traction alopecia are bare areas around the hairline and partings in the hair.
More random bare patches, often at the crown on one side of the head only, may signal trichotillomania, a hair-pulling disorder which mental health experts compare with cutting and other forms of self-harm. This self-destructive habit may be a response to anxiety, hormonal swings, or chemical imbalances in the brain mirroring obsessive-compulsive disorder.
3 – Hair seems wispy, depleted, brittle. This may not be COVID-related. Keep in mind: some gradual hair thinning is normal, as part of the aging process. Hair-density (meaning how many strands are rooted in the scalp) and strand-elasticity both decline noticeably with menopause. Although these changes may not be welcome, they are not an indication of illness; they parallel normal changes in the skin after 40, 50, 60, like loss of plumpness and firmness, dehydration, loss of pigment, and formation of fine lines.
Is part of your coloring protocol to keep gray at bay? You may not know her age, but if her hair is losing pigment, it’s also losing density and vitality.
WHAT TO SAY:
Start slow,and be tender.
It may be possible that you are the first to notice that the client’s hair volume is diminished since your last appointment in early 2020. But it’s not likely, and she’s probably well-aware. And not happy about it!
If the appointment begins with a shampoo, take note of how much hair is released into the bowl.
Smile, and make it real. Identify something positive as she walks in, like a pretty scarf or gorgeous handbag she’s wearing, and start with that. Your upbeat greeting doesn’t need to be any more original than, “Wow, great lipstick (MENTION HER NAME HERE!)!” or “OMG, your cologne smells so, so delicious! Like summer at the beach! What IS that?” (even though you know for sure it’s Heretic Dirty Coconut).
Then get the client to talk. Resist the temptation to talk about your own fascinating self. Open the conversation with gentle phrases like these, always ending with a question:
- “It’s so good to see you, finally. How are you feeling today?”
- “I can’t help but notice your awesome shoes today! I’ve missed your style! How have you been doing? What’s been happening since we last met?”
- “I’m so grateful that things are getting back to normal. Is everything okay with you?”
Asking questions in this way is not rude. On the contrary, a Harvard study illustrates that asking three (the magic number!) questions, one important question followed by two follow-ups, and actively listening in between, builds trust and rapport.
If the client mentions her hair thinning or hair loss, don’t pounce! Instead, calmly agree, and kindly validate her observation. Then let her know that it’s common, and that there are solutions.
Phrases which may be helpful:
- “Yes, you’re right, I do see that your overall volume is less than you’re used to.”
- “Yes, you’re right. I’m seeing a lot of returning clients with the same situation.”
- “Yes, you’re right. You know, it’s very common after the stress of COVID. You’re not alone in this.”
Be a sleuth. If, like most of us, she put on some pounds while in lockdown, take notice if she mentions that she’s dieting. Severe forms of food deprivation can affect the quality and quantity of hair!
Then ask if she’d like to talk about potential solutions. Say, “Are you open to some possible ideas? No pressure.” The initial answer may be a polite No; if it’s her first time back in the salon, she may just want to feel pampered, and not confront any problems yet. And that’s okay. Give it time.
As always, read the room. Depending upon her level of receptivity, take some form of action. If she’s miserable and doesn’t want to talk about it, be soothing. If she wants to tackle the problem, have some ideas ready.
Victoria Thomas is a beauty brand strategist.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.