You were probably just as shocked as we were to learn that Keira Knightley has worn wigs for the past five years to cover damage from hair loss: Minds. Blown. However, she’s not the first celeb to come clean about hair loss (or alopecia, as it’s technically known) — Ariana Grande recently opened up about her issues with damage and Christina Aguilera was rumored to wear them for years after extensions left her with bald patches: yikes! The topic is still a plenty taboo one.
And yet, it’s a much more common problem than you might think! Gone are the days of joking about Dad’s receding hairline — it’s happening with more and more frequency to women, as well (and no, they aren’t solely in the 40+ set)! We took a trip to J. Crager Alternatives in Chicago to set the record straight on all things alopecia (and, of course, to try on a few wigs of our own).
In the wig business for 35 years and a hair loss expert for roughly 10, owner John Crager says that alopecia is happening more frequently than he’s ever seen, going so far as to call it “an epidemic.”
Thanks to a blend of over-treated hair, increased stress and the like, hair is falling at higher rates than ever before, and even more alarming? Alopecia doesn’t discriminate. “[There’s] not a common denominator,” he tells us. Your age (John has seen clients as young as five to seven years old), ethnicity, gender or any other self-identifier essentially has no bearing on whether or not it can affect you.
That’s because the reasons for hair loss vary greatly. “Everyone’s different,” John says. He isn’t kidding — in fact, as he tells us, there are 35 different types of alopecia. Where one person is experiencing difficulties due to extensions (“Don’t,” John says in exasperation when we bring these up, an indicator of his hatred for the products), hair treatments (such as dyes and chemical relaxers) or habits, like pulling out or twirling the hair (also known as trichotillomania) others may be suffering due to scalp conditions, internal stress or even pregnancy. (One reason that’s not on the list? Wearing hats too long. “Not a thing,” John says).
By examining your scalp under a scope and talking through your issues, hair loss specialists like John are able to help pinpoint these causes — a specialty group he aims to broaden through educational efforts with cosmetology schools such as Pivot Point and Paul Mitchell. As he points out, despite the fact that stylists are often our first line of defense with regard to our hair, many don’t have the proper training/education on these heavier topics. “The bulk of hairdressers don’t deal with [these] issues,” he says, focusing instead on “basic hair care and maintenance.”
In fact, that lack of training can even exacerbate the problem if they’re offering quick fixes with products that treat the hair instead of treating the scalp (John likes Capilia Madison Hair Restoration), where most hair loss begins to occur. “[It’s] like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound,” he explains.
While John says the first (and easiest!) way to regrow hair is to take care of yourself by eating right, exercising and hydrating (“Your body knows what’s right and what’s wrong,”), wigs, like Keira’s, are a great way to disguise the problem in the meantime.
Ranging anywhere from $30-3,500 for a hand-tied, lace-front synthetic wig to $3,000-4,000 for one made of human hair, John says that, despite the fact that many places will steer you toward the more expensive human hair, synthetics can be just as good — it’s all about what type of wig works for you.
For example, if you enjoy styling your hair with added curls and the like, human hair is the way to go (although, yes, the style WILL fall out in the rain — it’s not magic). If you’re a fan of the wash-and-go, however, you may look to synthetic for a more low-maintenance routine.
We tried both, just for fun.
To give you an idea, here’s what it looks like au naturel (on a good hair day, that is).
The synthetic wig was snugger than we expected (though John says clips are also used in many to keep them firmly in place), and instantly gave us a new shagged cut. Showing us how to tease out a few bits of our own hair for a more natural hairline, John had completely transformed our hair in seconds flat.
And that’s just a sampling of what he does for his real clients — customizable options include fitting the wig to your head size (petites are available for smaller noggins), hair color (although synthetics are nearly impossible to dye without a specialist) and cut to fit your needs.
This blonde head of human hair offered up even more of a change. A bit large (the wig initially fell in a manner that left us unable to see), John styled it to the side, offering us a brief chance at blonde life (spoiler? We’re still very much team brunette). We were struck by the feel of the hair (though human, the treatment process leaves it glossy and smooth) in comparison to our own naturally curly locks — we could totally get used to this in a bout of humidity!
Depending on your choices, you can walk out with a new head of hair in anywhere from three days to up to 10 weeks. But make no mistake: These are no costume shop hairpieces. They’re investment pieces, and they require work to keep them looking good.
So how do you vet the legit retailers from the phonies? In addition to doing your research, John says it’s a good idea to ask about a store’s additional (or “backbar”) services post-wig purchase: What is the follow-up process like? Will the company perform your wig’s first wash and show you how to care for it? Are there any repair packages that can help once the wig has passed its lifetime (which John says, with proper care, is about a year to a year and a half).
Though we went in a totally different direction (hellloooooo, Goldilocks!) John says it’s not something he recommends. “You still want to look like you.”
Amen to that!
Are your surprised by some of John’s revelations? Share with us over @BritandCo!
(Photos via Angela Weiss/Getty + Emily Adams)