FARGO — For April (Brorson) Otis, hair loss is personal.
At age 2, the native of Gardner, N.D., underwent surgery to remove a mole on her forehead along her hairline.
"What was supposed to be a one-hour surgery turned out to be a five-hour surgery," Otis said. "It looked like I had just had brain surgery and I was left with this huge scar."
Otis said she felt shame for being self-conscious about it.
"For a person who has never lost their hair or never underwent any sort of hair loss, it's easy to say, 'There's wigs.' But until you go through it, it's so different. It's your identity," Otis said.
Her experience helps her connect with clients at Final Touches Salon, the business she operates at 2108 S. University Drive, Unit 104B in Fargo. In addition to being a hair stylist, Otis is a certified hair replacement specialist who specializes in nonsurgical hair bonding for men, women and children.
"I don't look at them as just a person who is stuck on their image. ... I feel like my approach is different based on that experience and I'm able to be a testimony for people," Otis said.
In order to become a certified hair replacement specialist, Otis — who already had her cosmetology license — job-shadowed a former business partner who specialized in hair replacement for over 30 years.
- Johnson: Hair today, gone tomorrow, or why I cut off my 'nice manflow'
- 'We could write a book': Stylists reminisce in advance of Village Hair Design's 30th anniversary
She also secured a mentor in Virgil Christoffel, a former hair replacement studio owner from Sioux Falls, S.D.
Today, Otis offers a number of options for people experiencing hair loss.
"If you go back 30 years ago, the only thing available was a full-cap wig, a hair piece or toupee that you'd either tape or clip on on a daily basis. Now, through the training April has had, she can provide all types of hair additions that enhance what hair they have," Christoffel said.
"The biggest thing is meeting them where they're at," Otis said. "It's more than just getting people hair. It's giving them confidence."
The process begins with a free consultation. Otis said she first gets to know the person before discussing hair replacement options. She asks them about how they're feeling and what their expectations are. From there, she said they pick out the type of hair — whether human, animal or synthetic — as well as its density and color. She also takes a measurement of her client's head, so the wig or hair graft "fits like a glove."
Kathy Meland chose to go with a wig when her hair started falling out due to cancer treatments. She said she had a lot of anxiety and a lot of questions when she came to see Otis. She wondered if she'd have to shave what hair she had left, and said she was unsure if she should go with a gray wig because she assumed her hair would grow back that color. Should she go longer or shorter? Would she be able to style it?
Otis said clients do not to shave their heads because the hair can be tucked underneath. She helped Meland select a synthetic wig, to which she applied some bright highlights. She also trimmed and styled the wig, making it easy for her to maintain.
"Hers is a synthetic, and that's why there is a lot of nice shine to it," Otis said. "And it's got memory because it's made of plastic fibers, essentially, so it's super easy to maintain," Otis said.
Meland was thrilled with the end result.
"Oooh, the highlights! It made it look so natural to have the highlights. It did a lot. And shaping it is important. It needs to be reshaped to what you like," she said.
"That's one of the advantages of coming to someone who specializes in this. I have advanced training in thinning, texturizing and ventilating," Otis said.
Otis also specializes in nonsurgical hair grafts, which she refers to as "program hair." It's the hair loss treatment Christoffel chose for himself.
He explained that it starts with a hair graft, which is essentially a thin skinlike material made from polyurethane with hair looped into it. The piece is cut and styled to fit the client's preferred style and applied to the scalp with adhesive or tape. Because it's semi-permanent, Christoffel said clients can shower and live an active lifestyle without worrying the piece will fall off.
"About the time I need a haircut, I go in and use a solvent and remove it, cut and style my own hair, and then reapply or put on a new graft," Christoffel said. "Depending on the client, they’ll go through anywhere from six, 10 or 12 grafts like that per year just depending on the chemistry of their body, their lifestyle and how well they take care of it."
Otis said the graft is translucent, so it appears the hair is growing from a client's own scalp.
"I have a client who has been coming to me for 11 years. In that time, he’s gotten divorced and remarried. His wife, who I think he’s been with now for four years, has no idea that he wears hair replacement," Otis said.
Holistic hair stylist
Something else unique about Otis is that she is a certified holistic hair stylist, which means her hair color and products are all organic.
Like hair loss treatment, Otis said this decision was based on her personal experiences as well. She said it started several years ago when she began suffering from a number of allergies.
"I wasn't myself. I was getting skin reactions and was just struggling," Otis said.
Doctors told her she'd have to take a month off from work in order for her skin to clear up.
"I thought, 'Do I make a career move or do I dig deeper and see if I can find a more pure line (of hair products)?' And honestly, I found nothing in the U.S. with the standards I was looking for and the doctors were telling me I needed."
She was able to secure a line based in Italy called Simply Organic Beauty. Otis said their products contain no synthetic fragrances, no parabens or sulfates, no ammonia and no artificial colorants. They are made with biodynamic ingredients, grown on chemical-free farmland, made with essential oils and consist of a minimum of 98.8% of naturally-derived active ingredients.
Otis said clients ask how they can get lighter hair without using bleach.
"You get the same result, if not better. You get the same amount of color choices, but it's all ammonia-free. There's no PPGs, no sulfates. You're going to have no fumes. You can still get your hair lightened and it's going to lift just as good as any bleach would without all the downsides," she said.
To learn more about Otis, contact her at 701-356-3729 or search for "Final Touches Salon" on Facebook.