Co Down hairdresser on giving cancer patients confidence

Co Down hairdresser on giving cancer patients confidence
Bridgeen King styling the hair of Aisling O’Donnell
02 January, 2017 01:00


  • alopecia
  • Bridgeen King
  • chemotherapy
  • hair loss
  • wig

MANY people see their hair as part of their identity and losing your crowning glory can be particularly difficult for women. Hair loss can occur through stress and medical conditions such as alopecia, as well as being a common side effect of cancer treatment.

Wearing a wig is one of the most common solutions to hair loss and one local hairdresser keen to burst the myths that wigs can’t be stylish is Bridgeen King, the current Northern Ireland Stylist of the Year.

“Having hair loss can be an extremely stressful experience. My aim is to restore people’s confidence and make them feel better again by creating a hairstyle that is true to them,” says Bridgeen, who has recently opened Northern Ireland’s first hair loss clinic and wig boutique in her newly refurbished salon in Castlewellan.

Bridgeen, who has worked in the industry for 20 years, is committed to helping clients face the world again following the trauma of hair loss – either through cancer treatments, stress, or alopecia – by offering private and compasionate consulations tailored to their individual needs.

“We don’t want our clients to look or feel like they are wearing a wig, but to walk out looking like they have their own hair,” says Bridgeen who supports and assists clients in preparation for hair loss by providing step-by-step styling options to reflect the individual’s style and colour.

Having undergone three months of extensive training with one of the UK’s top hair replacement educators, Douglas Barr, Bridgeen’s is the only salon in the north to offer the prestigious range of hair pieces from Healthcare Europe (Scotland) Ltd as well as offer wigs from long-standing Devon-based wig maker Browns. Bridgeen can also cut and style a person’s existing NHS wig.

“You can almost feel like a dressmaker, taking the weight out of the wig as you style. Many cancer ward tend to give their patients a short wig, but there are many different long haired wigs, meaning people can still have long hair,” says Bridgeen, whose has had clients travel from as far as Donegal and Strabane.

Aisling O’Donnell, from Katesbridge, was one of Bridgeen’s first clients. The 37-year-old mum-of-two was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013.

“When I was given my first wig from the Mandeville Unit at Craigavon Area Hospital I didn’t particularly like it and found it hard to look in the mirror, but I just had the attitude I had to wear it and get on with life.”

Aisling, who wore a fleece hat to bed to cope with the loss of heat through her hair, even tried hiding her hair loss from her daughters Niamh (5) and Clodagh (6).

“I tried to not let them see me without my wig, but one morning when we were lying in bed after my own hair started to grow back, the girls were playing with my hair and said “are you going to keep your hair this time and not loose it like before”. Little did I know they realised I was wearing a wig.”

When Aisling’s cancer returned in November 2015 she started visiting Bridgeen, who treated and helped her look after her own hair for as long as possible and then had a personalised wig made and styled in the shape of her own hair, ready for when her hair loss started in February this year.

“It felt a different quality and when I had a couple of weddings to go to she was able to pin it up, put in a few rollers and make it look different. At the weddings people would complement me on my hairstyles and it certainly gave me a lift.”

The compliments continued when she returned for treatment at hospital, with both the nursing staff and fellow patients trying to work out if it was Aisling’s real hair or a wig.

Now her hair has started to regrow, Aisling once again turned to Bridgeen. “She calls this regrowth ‘my precious hair’ and has been advising me about what shampoos to use and on hair colouring, which need to be ammonia free,” adds Aisling, whose daughters are delighted to be able to run their fingers through mums hair again.

And her advice to others having to face hair loss?

“It’s a hard process – I would never say its not. There are many side-effects of chemo and everybody’s bodies react differently. Some will experience hair loss, others won’t. And everyone will have a personal reaction emotionally. For me, I couldn’t face having my head shaved or wearing a scarf. My advice is that there is help out there and to seek advice on a wig before the hair loss is too great.”

Bridgeen has won many hairdressing awards and accolades, including being the current chairwoman of the Northern Ireland Hairdressing Council, but this work “changing people’s lives” is so much more rewarding.

“Many come in the middle of a long row of hospital appointments, and find their hairdressing appointment uplifting and the craic can be good,” the 39-year-old, from Newcastle says. “It’s lovely to give something back. It’s amazing you can make someone feel so good about themselves at a time when they are feeling so down.”

This coming year, having just completed training in biofibre hair implants, like those used by X-Factor judge Louis Walsh, Bridgeen hopes to further help those affected by hair loss.

She will also be offering advice at the Look Good Feel Better beauty workshops on the first Tuesday of the month at Belfast City Hospital’s MacMillan Centre and also hopes to help others in the future by opening her own Academy and training hairdressers across Northern Ireland on haircare for their own clients undergoing cancer treatment.

:: You can contact Bridgeen King Hair Loss and Hair Replacement Clinic at 6 Lower Square, Castlewellan; tel: 028 4377 1217. For advice on coping emotionally with hair loss you can contact the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00, Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm


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