Beyond wigs and toupees

Lucinda Ellery customizes pieces of a mesh to a client’s head, threads remaining hair through the mesh, strand by strand, and then plaits it to hold the mesh in place. Additional human hair is added to the mesh, where needed. (Christina House / April 22, 2013)

It almost goes without saying that hair is huge business in Hollywood. Healthy, beautifully coiffed and colored locks are a key calling card for those in the spotlight. Exhibit A: Jennifer Aniston's headline-generating honey-blond shag, hyped year after year by fashion magazines as the "best hair in Hollywood."

While jaws flap about First Lady Michelle Obama's bangs or Miley Cyrus' extreme crop, it is something else entirely when the subject moves to supermodel Naomi Campbell's dramatically receding hairline, Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie's ever-growing part or Prince William's bald spot. Talk about those who are losing their crowning glory is often left under the rug, so to speak.

Yet nearly 50 million men and 30 million women in the United States suffer from hereditary hair loss, known as androgenetic alopecia, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Countless others lose hair due to chemotherapy, psychological issues, surgery, medication or excessive styling.

Hair extensions: A May 12 article about hair-loss solutions cited a report in the Atlantic as saying that more than $1.3 billion worth of raw human hair was imported into the United States in 2011 compared with $1.8 billion worth of bananas. The report actually said: "As a commercial item, human hair is insignificant when compared with, say, bananas. In 2011, the U.S. brought in over $1.8 billion worth of fresh bananas. During the same 12 months, around $1.3 million of raw human hair entered this country. Still, it is a noteworthy import, given that it is harvested not from banana plants but from human heads." —

Given that the topic is so hush-hush, it can be difficult to track down a quality solution for hair loss. Hats and scarves work in only so many situations. Often unnatural-looking and uncomfortable, wigs and toupées have a bad reputation. Hair replacement surgery seems drastic and can undo itself as balding progresses.

Yet respectable hairpieces do exist, and they are big business, as witness this somewhat surprising statistic reported by the Atlantic: More than $1.3 billion worth of raw human hair was imported into the United States in 2011 compared with $1.8 billion worth of bananas.

Edward Katz of Edward Katz Hair Designs in Universal City has hand-designed custom hairpieces and facial hair for actors in more than 600 Hollywood films and also does work for the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Catering only to men, he counts William Shatner and Burt Reynolds among his high-profile clients.

A natural-looking hairpiece that turns back the clock can "be the difference between an actor making it or not making it," says Katz. For noncelebrities, "it's a better investment than a car in terms of making a difference in a man's social life."

Made of high-quality synthetic hair, Katz's hairpieces are produced at a factory in Universal City, which is more expensive than making them overseas but allows for quality control. Katz maintains that synthetic hair works best to create short, layered styles and match the thickness or diameter of a client's hair, while allowing for a broad palette of colors that replicate natural variations.

"A cameraman can be one inch away, and he can't see the difference between our hairpiece and existing hair," says Katz. "We do use about 30 to 40 human hairs to create a soft, front hairline. But human hair tangles, and it will oxidize and change color after exposure to the sun or pollution."

Although Edward Katz Hair Design is just for men, other local businesses, such as Farrell Hair Replacement in Hollywood — endorsed by actor Jason Alexander — and Thursday's salon and spa in Calabasas, offer human hairpieces for both men and women.

Jill Sugar, owner of the 11-year-old Thursday's, notes a marked increase in female clients over the years. "We used to have more men, but now it's almost equal," says Sugar. "Women used to suffer silently; they would wear [full] wigs or not go swimming."

The number of women affected by hair loss is surprisingly high. One in four women experiences some type of hair loss by age 35 and more than 50% do so by age 50, according to the American Hair Loss Assn.

Gayle Brinkenhoff, who has battled cancer for nearly 25 years and whose husband, Michael, developed the Ventura-based Revita-

Lash line of hair-enhancing products, has been wearing Thursday's hairpieces for eight years.

"I was sitting in a movie theater, and my wig popped off; it was really embarrassing," says Brinkenhoff, who has undergone 19 sessions of chemotherapy. "Finally, I found Thursday's. People are always complimenting me on how beautiful my hair is."

British specialist Lucinda Ellery, who focuses solely on female hair loss and thinning, opened her first U.S. location last year in Beverly Hills. With a flagship in London and satellite branches in Manchester, England, and Edinburgh, Scotland, Ellery has treated women from around the globe since 1984.

"We [all] lose 100 hairs a day or 3,000 a month," says Ellery. "This is the cycle of hair: Rest, shed and grow. But sometimes that cycle is interrupted. There's such a thing as a bad hair day; but a bad hair life becomes very traumatic. Most of the women I see have exhausted [options offered by] doctors and dermatologists and psychologists."