It all started when I was three years old. My mom noticed a bald spot on the top of my head when she took me to a hairstylist to get a haircut. So she took me to a doctor, who referred us to a dermatologist, who sent us to Rochester Mayo Clinic, all because no one could figure out why a 3-year old was going bald. They ran tests and gave me treatments and ultimately thought that I might have cancer. Every week we would go to Mayo Clinic where they would run another round of tests to try to figure out why I was losing my hair. Finally, a biopsy of my scalp was run which revealed that I had Alopecia, an autoimmune skin disease, that causes hair loss on the scalp, face, and sometimes on other areas of the body. In fact, it affects as many as 6.8 million people in the U.S. with a lifetime risk of 2.1%. However at the time I was diagnosed, much about Alopecia was unknown and so there were very few options for me and my family.
Throughout grade school, I would wear a hat or a bandana, but I honestly never knew what it was like WITH hair so I never really felt any different without it. I know I was very lucky to have a supportive family and supportive friends who really didn’t care that I was bald. And I was very fortunate to be involved with The National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF). Once a year, they held a national convention where my family and I could go and meet other kids with alopecia and learn about all the latest research and solutions for individuals with alopecia. But as I started to get older, and the girls in my class started curling their hair for dances and funky hair day at school, I started to wonder what life would be like if I had hair.
One summer when I was 12 (getting to that age when I started to wonder what it would be like to wear a wig) the NAAF held their conference in Minneapolis, MN. There were tons of people from all around the world with Alopecia, ranging all ages, and even professional athletes were there! It was then that my mother and I started browsing all the many different wig booths and there was a drawing for a free wig which, I was fortunate enough to win!
Afterwards, my mother and I went to the salon with my wig and I was amazed at how I felt with hair on, but had no idea what to do with it! I was so lucky to find Michelle, the stylist who helped me at the conference, who was so patient with me and kind. I still remember when she put the wig on my head, she handed me a brush so I could comb through it and all of a sudden, I became clueless. I didn’t even know how to brush my own hair! She respected every decision I wanted to make when it came to my hair so we decided to have me start out with a synthetic wig, since I had never owned a wig before. Synthetic wigs already have a style permanently set in them and they can be worn in lakes and pools. As a girl in junior high, this was perfect for me because this is what my friends and I were doing every weekend!
Once high school was getting closer and my friends were starting to straighten or curl their hair I wanted to be able to do the same. So it was back to the salon to talk with Michelle where we decided to upgraded me to a human hair wig. Human hair wigs are more realistic looking and can have heat tools used on them. At night, I would sit in front of my mirror for hours and teach myself how to use a straightener or curling iron.
But of course, as a high school student, you go through a lot of changes and you worry what everyone thinks about of you. I became self-conscious, like every young girl does at one point in their lives, and obsessed about my wig, always wanting to know if it looked okay or if people would notice. For a while I was constantly wondering if people knew I wore a wig or if they were going to tell everybody. Walking down the halls I would continually worry that people would be talking about me as I walked by, the girl with the wig.
At this point it had been about 15 years since I was first diagnosed with Alopecia and the world of alopecia had completely changed. There was so much known about the disease now and so many options and solutions for individuals who wanted them. No longer were there all or nothing solutions (a full wig or a hat/bandana) but for those who haven’t experienced full hair loss there are so many options out there! There are spot coverage options and filler options, and as your disease changes, the solutions you can explore can change with you. I still had experienced full hair loss with no revival of hair growth in my own battle with the disease, but I loved the way these solutions could change someone’s life. It was this that ultimately lead me to a career as a hairstylist, who specializes in hair loss solutions.
Right after high school I started at the Aveda Institute in Minneapolis. And once I graduated I got a job working at Fantasia. It’s amazing when I get to meet these young men and women who have Alopecia but have never met anyone else with it. I feel blessed that I get to be a resource and support person for anyone battling the disease since they can feel comfortable that I know exactly what they are going through. I still love styling and cutting hair, as it reminds me of those days when I was young, sitting in front of the mirror for hours perfecting the perfect curl. I am presently a stylist and, I am currently being trained in all the multiple hair loss solutions at Fantasia.
Call 763-544-9126 or visit our website to schedule an appointment with me for salon services, or a free hair loss consultation, with one of our Hair Loss Specialists!
Erin is a stylist at Fantasia Salon and recent graduate of the Aveda Institute in Minneapolis, MN. She has suffered from Alopecia since she was 3 years old and prides herself on being able to be a resource to anyone out there battling this autoimmune skin disease. You can find her at Fantasia Salon in Minneapolis, MN.