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Sound Health is a recurring series that airs twice each month on WGLT's Sound Ideas program.Support for Sound Health comes from Carle Health, bringing care, coverage, support, healthcare research and education to central Illinois and beyond.

People in Bloomington-Normal who have and treat alopecia hope they've found a teachable moment

Kay Hasting
Kay Hasting of Normal said she tells other women struggling with hair loss to just "cut it off."

Kay Hasting of Normal says the way she was raised in the Black community, "your hair is your glory."

So in her late 40s, when the hair on the crown of her head started to thin, she became concerned. She swore off braids and twisties because she no longer had enough hair to support them. Then Hasting's hair loss spread to the front of her head.

A dermatologist told her that her hair had stopped growing in those places. That's when Hasting found out what alopecia is.

"Why walk around with a cap and scarf all the time? Cut it off."
Kay Hasting of Normal

Hasting struggled with it at first. She said she tried to cover her balding head out of shame until she couldn't any longer.

“There was no hair to attach fake hair to,” Hasting recalled. “One day I just decided, you know what, I’m not going to be ashamed anymore. I’m not going to try to hide it anymore, because some people do. (I said) cut this stuff off and we’ll deal with it.”

‘People feel ashamed’

A hair salon owner in Bloomington said the recent Oscars incident over a joke about hair loss has brought a lot of attention to alopecia, its many forms and its many causes.

In this edition of Sound Health, Authrine Singleton, who owns Master’s Touch Salon, said alopecia is common among clients she sees.

Singleton said in those cases, she's not just a stylist, she's a counselor.

“Often times, people feel ashamed, they feel hopeless, they don’t feel attractive. In the conversations, I tried to be compassionate and careful in my wording,” Singleton said.

Studies have shown alopecia disproportionately affects women or color. Singleton said she has clients of all races and backgrounds who have dealt with hair loss.

Singleton said alopecia can be especially troublesome for women of color because “our hair adds to the energy and the vibes to how we present ourselves."

Authrine Singleton
Authrine Singleton said the recent incident at the Oscar's where Will Smith slapped Chris Rock over a joke about hair loss will help people better understand alopecia.

“Unfortunately for so long, we fed into the negative images about hair and especially natural hair," she said. "(I’m) just trying to build people up, trying to empower them and encourage them and let them know what they have is beautiful.”

Singleton said the most common type of hair loss she sees is traction alopecia, where braids or another protective hair style becomes too tight. The type of hair loss getting the most attention is alopecia areata, a condition that leads to patchy baldness, either on the scalp, beard, eyebrows, armpits or elsewhere, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association.

Other types of hair loss include alopecia totalis, where someone loses all hair on their scalp. In alopecia universalis, the person loses hair over their entire body.

Singleton noted hair loss can be caused by many factors, including genetics, diet, aging or medication. In some cases, alopecia can be reversible.

Singleton said she hopes Chris Rock’s joke that prompted actor Will Smith to step onto the stage and slap him will help people better understand hair loss.

“People have been suffering in silence for a long time,” Singleton said. “When things happen, I do try to find the positive. Maybe this is a good way for people to talk about it more.”

Hasting is no longer suffering in silence. She's semi-retired and works as a security guard at Rivian Automotive in Normal. Hasting said she wears a wig in the winter when it's cold. Otherwise, she wears a cap, but she has no problems being bald in public.

“Women come up to me and say, ‘You’re brave. Your bald head looks nice on you. I’m losing my hair too and I just keep it covered,’” Hasting said. “I tell them, ‘That’s up to you, but cut it off. Why walk around with a cap and scarf all the time? Cut it off.’”

Hasting believes her hair loss is hereditary. Her mother and two half-sisters also have had alopecia. She recommends anyone who is experiencing hair loss to see a dermatologist as soon as possible, in case their condition can be reversed.

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