Karen Gordon uses a scope on a client during a consultation at J. Gordon Designs in Chicago.
Hair-loss care is an emerging specialty. If you embrace this specialty, you’ll discover a need for consultation skills that are quite different from what you do for your cut and color clients. Here are some valuable insights.
Start with Heart
The key to an authentic, successful consultation regarding hair loss begins with your best intentions. Your commitment to helping your client achieve truly healthy hair must motivate everything you do.
“When we first get out of school, we just want to cut and color hair,” says Diane Stevens, owner of Cole Stevens Salon in Washington, D.C. We’re all into making the end result look great. But eventually we realize how important it is to also make sure the hair is healthy. And to do so, you must care. You have to be willing to go deeper.”
Create the Setting
Discussions about hair loss tend to require more privacy than a discussion about balayage highlights. To make clients feel as comfortable as possible, Karen Gordon, owner of J. Gordon Hair Designs in Chicago, has created a dedicated consultation room for her hair-loss clients.
“I converted my office into a private room,” Gordon says. “Hair loss can be personal and scary. There are a lot of tears. You can’t be yelling over dryer noise or have people walking by.”
In Peoria, Illinois, Paola Hinton and her team work with cancer patients, creating wigs and hairpieces at Five Senses Spa, Salon and Barbershop. Like Gordon, she also has created a private space for consultations, wig selection, wig customization and wig fittings.
“When I designed the salon, I requested this room and the designer told me it would be dead space that wouldn’t bring in revenue,” Hinton says. “But I wanted it anyway. We may not always use the room, but it allows us to go full force. We can have private conversations. There’s space for family members to be with the client. Under these circumstances, people generally don’t want to be there. So we make it as comfortable as possible.”
Initiate the Conversation
According to Gordon, who will become a fully certified trichologist this year and sits on the board of the International Association of Trichologists, 80 to 85 million people in the U.S. suffer hair loss. One in four women will notice their hair diminishing by the time they’re in their 40s. Twenty percent of men will experience hair loss as early as their 20s, and the percentages rise from there.
“Our clients range in age from 32 to 58,” says Janet St. Paul, owner of Janet St. Paul Studio for Hair in Austin, Texas. “Inevitably the conversation comes up with more than 50% of our clients. I can’t get over how many women have issues—like internal inflammatory or autoimmune issues—that are affecting their hair.”
At the onset, the client may often initiate the conversation, but maybe not in the way you would expect. “She may simply say something like, ‘My hair feels different,’ or ‘It’s really dry,’” St. Paul says.
Other clients may be more direct and mention a thinning patch or receding hairline. And some may not bring it up at all. “And that’s okay,” Gordon says. “They have to be happy with the amount of hair that’s on their head.”
Other times, you may be the one to bring the situation to your client’s attention.
“I may say something like, ‘I’d like to share some knowledge with you,’” Stevens says, who also serves as a global ambassador for Nioxin. “‘I see you have some hair breakage or it’s getting a little finer.’ They may not even know!”
These moments can be a bit uncomfortable, but expertise and evidence can quickly turn the situation around. For example, Stevens may whip out her phone or a Nioxin Nioscope, which magnifies the area 200 times, and photograph the area to show the client what she’s seeing on top. “The back of the head is always a little fuller,” she says. “Thinning on top, a widening part—those are things the client doesn’t always see.”
Words and Actions that Heal
Regardless of how the conversation arises, the words you choose can make all the difference between establishing trust and confidence or causing a potentially uncomfortable situation to become even more so.
“I always start by saying something kind,” Stevens says. “I’ll say, ‘The shape of your brows is really nice,’ or something similar. It gets them to relax. My rule is two compliments and then I get to it.”
St. Paul spent the first 20 years of her career at top salons like Frederic Fekkai and Butterfly Loft. “We were taught how to talk to clients, how to ask questions,” she says. “Most important, I learned how to make a client feel like she’s my primary focus—that I’m not just selling her a shampoo. We’re on a journey together. I’m here to teach her about herself.”
Compassion is essential, especially when working with cancer patients.
“In the salon, we are patient, and we don’t take anything personally,” Hinton says. “We are right next to a cancer treatment center, and many people come to us straight from their diagnosis. We make it clear we are here to help them.”
Conduct an Assessment
Once the client appears to be comfortable and open to working toward a solution, the assessment portion of the consultation begins. Gordon covers a comprehensive list of topics during her hour-long sessions.
She goes through her clients’ hair habits—how often they cleanse, condition, color, style with thermal tools. She discusses the duration of time their hair has been thinning and asks about any significant life changes that may have occurred, such as a job loss, a move or a death in the family. Incidences like these can have a huge effect on hair health.
She’ll inquire about the client’s diet, any recent weight loss or gains, exercise habits, stress levels—at home and at work. “If she’s vegan, for example, she might not be getting the protein she needs,” Gordon says. “If a guy works out a lot, I may need to find out if he’s taking any type of steroids.”
Next on the assessment list is the client’s health. Gordon covers results from recent blood work that may have led to a diagnosis of hypo- or hyper-thyroidism or iron deficiencies. “Some anti-depressants and medications for thyroid or blood conditions can affect how the hair grows,” she explains.
She’ll ask about recent surgeries or changes in medications. With women, she covers pregnancy, breast feeding, birth control, perimenopause and menopause, because so much of hair loss can be attributed to hormonal activity.
Her final step is a hands-on scalp exam. She uses the Eyes on Cancer protocol to look for suspicious spots on the head. She examines the scalp section by section to assess scalp conditions and hair density. And finally, she views the scalp with a microscope and photographs the area with a camera to establish a baseline.
“Clients might not see results from hair-loss treatments right away,” she explains. “You have to have pictures and measurements to chart progress.”
And this consultation process? It’s not a one off.
“Try to look at your client with fresh eyes every time she sits in your chair,” St. Paul suggests. After all, you have no idea what has happened since you saw her six weeks ago.
Stevens agrees, “I have clients I’ve been doing for 10 years, and every time they come, I check my notes and discuss where they are. ‘I see we tried the Diamax last time—how did that work for you?’ It’s like a doctor doing a follow-up. We’re the doctors of hair!”
Take the Next Step
Sometimes these consultation questions are not easy to ask, but remember: Knowledge is power for a stylist when it comes to formulating recommendations for hair loss.
“I had a client with three kids whose husband unexpectedly died,” St. Paul remembers. “With gentle probing, I learned the shock catapulted her into early menopause and her hair became listless and rigid. Even worse, she revealed she had her hair straightened because she couldn’t manage the texture.
“I put her on an alternating regimen of two Phyto hair and scalp treatments and the Phytophanere dietary supplement. We removed everything from her scalp that was hindering circulation. We showed her how to give her hair a break from blow drying a few days a week and air dry instead. It’s been 16 months, and now her hair is healthy and she doesn’t need to straighten it to manage it.”
This case study is a perfect example of how important it is to extract as much information as possible before arriving at your assessment and plan of attack. Every client is different and coming up with the best strategy depends on the knowledge you bring to the consultation and the knowledge you glean from your client.
With younger men, for example, the protocol may be prevention. “In these instances I have to do a deeper dive,” Stevens says. “I ask about his dad’s hair, his brother’s hair. If they’re thinning, I explain that he’s probably predisposed to thinning and it would be wise to get onto a regimen while he still has most of his hair.
“I tell the story of two brothers—one who jumped on it at an early age and the other didn’t,” Stevens says. “Guess which one still has his hair? Guys don’t like to talk or think about their hair much, but when they do take on something you share, they’re likely to go buy it and stick with it forever.”
And whether it’s a styling or treatment plan or some combination, it’s important to be sure your client has the time and the means to stick to the plan you recommend.
“What is a realistic maintenance goal?” St. Paul asks. “If the maintenance isn’t realistic, they will hate it. So I have to extract information and work with her on what’s best for her hair and for her lifestyle.”
Do the Homework
The consultation process isn’t relegated to your chair. Preparation and follow-up are also important. Gordon likes to gather information on the phone before the client’s appointment, for example, so she isn’t caught off guard.
“Especially when you’re just beginning to get involved in this area,” she says. “It’s like a new stylist getting a corrective color—they may not know exactly what to do. So asking clients why they’re coming to see you on a phone call before they arrive gives you time for research before they’re in your chair.”
And if you don’t know something, don’t be afraid to say so. “Be honest,” Gordon says. “I won’t let anyone purchase anything until I’m certain I understand the circumstances. And no matter what, I follow up with everyone the next day. I’ll go over everything we discussed. I might do additional research before making that call. I’ll talk in analogies they understand to soften the medical terminology. I may consult with someone else. I think it’s important to run your business with integrity.”
Get a Consult
Because hair and scalp health are at the core of hair-loss issues, and because you’re assessing the scalp so closely, you may encounter situations that are outside your scope as a hair-loss expert. That’s why you should consider having a roster of medical professionals in your contacts for referrals. Gordon may refer a client to a dermatologist, ob-gyn, endocrinologist, nutritionist, psychotherapist, oncologist or hair-restoration surgeon, depending on the circumstances.
When developing these medical contacts, don’t overlook your own clients. “In D.C., there are a lot of female doctors and 20% of our clients are physicians,” Stevens says. “We refer to some of our own clients.”
You can also introduce yourself to medical pros when you attend conferences and trainings.
“Also, consider sending your resume and card to doctors with good reputations in your area,” Gordon suggests. “Request a quick meeting to introduce yourself and see if they are interested in receiving referrals from your clientele.”
Build Your Know-How
The very best way to ensure successful consultations is to invest in your own education. And keep investing. Because being an expert gives you the tools and the confidence to do your best for your clients.
“Always strive for more information,” St. Paul says. “Remember, to be worth what your clients pay you, you should always be seeking knowledge. If you don’t invest in yourself, it can’t come back to you.”
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