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R is for Restoration

Emily sat in her car before her appointment at Hair Solved

Just before my appointment at Hair Solved

My name is Emily Hamilton. I am a Trans Woman navigating gender transition in my 40s.  Being Trans is just one aspect of my personality.

I am a parent, a senior manager in my workplace and an advocate for Mental Health.

This blog for me is super vulnerable as I’m talking about hair. Not removal,that’s a whole other painful process. Rather the restoration of what I lost.

My hairline started to recede in my early 20s

In common with many Trans Women I have suffered the loss of hair caused by testosterone and genetics. My hairline started to recede in my early 20s and the sunroof started to show up in my mid 30s. When I lived in the closet and considered that coming out was never a possibility I tried not to let it bother me. I was a close cropped, short back and sides person. Keeping it short it made it less obvious I’d lost so much (top tip for gentlemen readers there). But as soon as I came out, my hair loss became a BIG issue.

The baldness I suffered was a combination of hormones and genes. There was a little faint hope that the HRT regime I went on would help with recovery. It included Finasteride a medicine actually developed to help with hair loss. This effectively blocks the Dihydrotestosterone created as a byproduct of testosterone production.

I know friends who have had regrowth on this medicine, but for me it was sadly negligible. HRT is definitely a ‘your mileage may vary’ treatment. So what to do? Obviously I found a wig that suited me, and got used to wearing it. The one I found (through a lot of trial and error with a makeup artist in London) was called ‘Katherine’ by Jon Renau. An American brand using synthetic hair. I genuinely loved how it looked when new.

However there were a number of drawbacks for me with a wig

 

One

I had to take it off to sleep. This meant being confronted with a face in the mirror that I was trying to forget. A face that caused deep dysphoria, pain and hurt. The wig framed my face, and was part of the essence of who I am. Taking it off was like taking part of my soul off. Not nice.

Two

It was hot and uncomfortable in the summer. To wear a wig and be sure of it not slipping off (or up) I had to wear a velvet band around my head. This had to be TIGHT. At the end of the day I’d be left with an imprint of the stitching around the velcro for hours. Plus it gave me headaches

Three

It was synthetic hair. Partly for cost reasons and partly because the style wasn’t available in real hair. The problem with synthetic hair is that after its’ first wash it was never the same. It couldn’t be styled or looked after like real hair and it just didn’t last. I was getting about 8-10 weeks from a wig before it was so awful and frizzy that I had to replace it. The costs of that were mounting. And when combined with the other issues started to look like bad value for money.

Four

Fear. I worried about it blowing off in the wind, about my hair underneath getting visible and making it obvious that I had a wig on. Also that someone would notice the lace front (which although good was prone to staining from foundation)

I needed an alternative.

I recognised that I needed to look for an alternative. Because for me, as with many women, hair is a massive part of our identity. I just wanted to not have to remove a part of that identity. So I weighed up the options.

Hair Transplant

  • Very painful and expensive. Not saying that this won’t be possibly part of a future plan, but I need to save for my other more pressing surgeries. HRT helps me be assured that I won’t lose any more hair than I have. So it’s possible, but not right now. Also, this would likely mean my having a shaved head for a while. I’ve been growing out my own hair since Feb 2020 and again to lose this was not a prospect I could bear.

Human hair wig

  • Commissioning a human hair wig and glueing it to my shaved scalp. But the cost was eye watering, and again, I’d lose my own hair and still have something very temporary.

A hair system

  • Consider a ‘hair system’. This was more like a prosthesis with my own hair being augmented by a custom system ‘woven’ onto my head. This had the advantage of being bespoke. It would be as good as permanent. And would open up the ability to swim, get my hair wet in the rain (want to try and avoid that one though!). As well as having it styled for special occasions and just when I wanted a bit of a pampering.

The next step, to do my research

The more I looked, the more that option (c) became the obvious choice. So I did my research and looked for providers; carefully looking for testimonials and photographs. There are a few businesses out there that offer the service, but some were very cagey on process. It was hard to find photographs. I do understand that women are not comfortable sharing their hair loss photos; I’m certainly not comfortable with it either. But when choosing this option it seemed odd not to at least see what to expect.

I was also keen to see trans women represented in marketing, but to this end I couldn’t find any that resonated.

Eventually my research drew me to Hair Solved

My research drew me to Hair Solved who not only described the process but also shared stories from other women with genetic, traumatic or hormonal hair loss. The more I read and looked at the photographs, the more confident I was that this would be the right solution for me. I think the image of someone swimming with their child probably swung it!. It was with some trepidation that I sent an enquiry asking initially whether they were an inclusive business.

This is a step that Trans people often have to do when going for personal services. Even though it is illegal to refuse service to a trans person simply for being trans, nobody wants to be in a hostile environment for something so intimate and personal as hairdressing and resolving the pain of hair loss.

I’m glad to say that they responded immediately in the affirmative and organised a free session via skype to discuss the system and what I could expect. The session ended with a personal quote for giving me back the hair I’d lost.

The process of the consultation put me at ease

Even the point at which I had to remove my wig to show the extent of my hair loss. This is not something I do lightly and to that point I think only a couple of people had seen the extent of the loss under my wig. I had a lot of questions about the quality of the hair, the maintenance, the styling options and the process which were all answered simply and without expectation I’d know anything about this process.

I was provided with literature by email and a quote which worked out to be the same cost as a good, human hair Jon Renau wig. So it became a bit of an obvious choice. When I discovered that the London Salon closest to me was in ‘New Barnet’ the deal was done 😀

The day of my appointment

On the morning of the appointment (it’s pretty much an all day process, and if I’d been smarter I’d have brought sandwiches with me!) I was pretty nervous. Firstly would I like it? Secondly would it suit me? Or would they say they couldn’t help after all? I worry a lot.

Sitting in the car at the Starbucks all I could think was that this was the last morning I’d have to pull on my wig. The last time I’d try and comb it through without ruining it. But the nerves were on show!

This was the real me.

But also this was me! The real me, the only me that anyone really knew, if this went wrong would I be confident to go to work, to go shopping, to see friends?

On arrival, I was greeted warmly and given a number of forms to complete. Explaining what I was signing up for and what to expect. I was then taken to a lovely private room in the new premises (which are fab, just like a salon but super private). I was met by my lovely stylist Marlene and Technician, Katharine.

The first duty was to remove the wig and put it into a bag (it’s still there!). This was horrible, but obviously necessary. I needed my own hair to be coloured as not only have I lost a lot, but advancing years have added a dash of grey to the mix.

Here’s where I get super vulnerable

I’ve thought long and hard about sharing these images, as they are pretty painful. But as with all the vulnerabilities I share, I want others in my position to see what is possible and achievable and share what it has meant to me. I’m also conscious that the trolls and bigots love to share ‘gotcha’ images of Trans women from the net.

Emily without her wig showing the imprint from the wig

Marks left by the wig

To those people I say ‘you have no power over me’. I am me, and like so many women I have a hair loss problem.

The team at Hair Solved got to work

So here I am and here was what the team got to work with on that morning. You can see the imprint of the wig band on my forehead. It didn’t fade for at least two hours!

And I got to choose my own colour

After a wash, my hair was coloured to match the colours I had chosen; designed to match my own natural (pre-grey) shade. As you can see, without the framing of a head of

Emily after wash and colour to match her pre-grey hair

Washed and coloured

hair, I lost my smile. But knowing what was to come made it bearable, as did the chatty, friendly team. In fact

 

I felt like anyone having an appointment at the hairdresser, having teams used to working with women with hair loss took away the stigma I came in with.

By now I felt much more relaxed

 

The team have started work on Emily's hair system

Starting to relax

The next stage was the addition of the base of the prosthesis. Which is essentially a fabric mesh laid on the head and in my case taped down temporarily at the front, as my hairline had receded so much. When this was laid down and moulded to my head shape, hair was pulled through holes in the mesh using something that looked like a bodkin.

This didn’t hurt at all, and actually felt more like an indian head massage. It’s my own hair pulled through the mesh that provides the anchor for the additional hair, which are basically hair extensions to be sewn into. This is one of the reasons that the system feels effectively like its all my own. If it’s pulled or snags on my brush it just feels like pulling my hair, and there’s no fear of it coming off.

At this point I felt so much more relaxed I felt. Largely because Katharine and I were having a nice chat as the work was done and this massive event for me was obviously a daily occurrence for the team. Being trans can be a very lonely experience, and being part of the group of women with hair loss can be the same.

 

This process was honestly quite magical

The enhancer system is almost done with just the parting to add

Just the parting to go

Our hair loss technician is adding the hair to the hair system

I can feel the hair on my shoulders

Having pulled through my own hair; which is anchored to the mesh with small beads the process of adding the hair panels was started.

I had seen these to look at the colours, and hadn’t realised that they were actually single lines of hair.

Having been used to the bulk of a wig this took me by surprise and I’ll be honest and say that I worried that it would look thin and unnatural. Of course, the opposite is true. To start to feel the hair on my shoulders building up and merging with my own – it was probably here that I got to the 100% certainty that the choice I had made was the right one.

Then it was just the parting to go. The parting is the panel which fits at the front and replaces the lost hairline, it’s stitched into the mesh at the back, and then taped down onto my forehead, providing a natural hairline which means I could, if I wanted wear my hair back or have plaits or any other style I fancied.

 

 

Finally this was me

At this point completely unstyled and with the parting not yet totally fixed. And yet, my face was framed properly.

The parting has been added to the system before styling

The parting is added

The colours were a perfect match and the sensation of just ‘having hair’ a very real one. At the end of this part which took a LONG time it was back to being styled with Marlene.

I think my smile says it all.

Our stylist transforms the system once the technician has completed their work

Smiles and waves

One of the joys of a system is that it can be cut and styled just like your own hair. I had planned on it being cut just like my wig, but seeing the length, I decided to keep it longer and have a bit of a curl added to give some natural looking waves.

Another beautiful blow dry and a new found confidence

A new found confidence

I loved having MY hair styled, just the process was so special – a first for me. It was like someone pouring a jug of warm confidence all over me. There have been a few moments in my post transition life where I have looked in a mirror and seen the real me, the person I hid for 40+ years looking back at me – this was one of those moments.

For the first week you don’t wash it, as the team like to check everything is ok and include an extra wash and style in the original cost, demonstrating and explaining how to care for it. I took that opportunity to try it straight – demonstrating the versatility of the system, also moving my parting over a little.

I’m getting used to, and loving my ‘bed head’ in the mornings and being able to brush my hair out (all you need is a tangle teezer or equivalent). I have a set of straighteners on my Christmas wish list. I’ve also been recommended on Twitter to try a ‘Hollywood Wave’ which is definitely on my list of things to try.

Is there a message here?

Maybe. If only to say that if lost hair is one of the many reasons you can’t transition and it was definitely one of mine then maybe there’s an answer there. Hair Solved gave me back confidence I didn’t think I’d ever find. They removed a source of distress at the beginning and end of each and every day, and that is priceless.

We are so grateful to Emily

The team at Hair Solved are so grateful to Emily. For sharing her story, her experience of the system and for finding the time to do this. You can follow Emily on Twitter at Emily Hamilton for more poignant, inspiring, educational and often very, very witty content.

To find out more about our hair loss solution simply follow this link and you can read why the system is loved by so many women.

 

 

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