The possibility of losing their hair is often the last thing on someone's mind when they hear they’ve been diagnosed with cancer, but that doesn’t make it any less devastating. Hair loss is often one of the first outward signals to outsiders that someone is fighting the sometimes deadly disease and coping with the sudden change can be devastating. Whether they experience total hair loss, bald spots, or general thinning, learning to care for and style their hair while coping with cancer can take an emotional toll.
Salon Ziba, a high-end hair salon on Fifth Avenue in New York City, was founded on the principle that everyone should have access to quality hair care and styling—including cancer patients. When stylist Sheila Chung joined the team a few years ago, owner Alonso Salguero saw an opportunity to create an inclusive space for people suffering from hair loss related to cancer treatment.
Chung brought along with her years of experience working with trichotillomania clients, a mental health disorder in which people feel the urge to pull their hair out. Many people suffering from trichotillomania avoid or have had embarrassing experiences at hair salons. At Salon Ziba, Chung meets with her clients in a private room for a private and relaxing experience. Though much of her experience was with trichotillomania patients, Chung was able to apply the same level of care, education, and discretion to working with cancer patients.
“When my clients lose hair, it’s very traumatizing for many of them to sit in an open area where other clients might just stare and make them feel uncomfortable. So it’s definitely just a safe place for them to be,” she explains.
Situated near the back of the salon, the room comes equipped with two styling chairs, a sink, a mirror, and all of the styling tools and products Chung could ever need to create a flawless style. The space makes it possible for Chung to service her clients from shampoo to blow dry, all while maintaining their privacy. Better yet, it creates a space where clients can feel comfortable opening up to the stylist. Much like a therapist's office, the more honest you are with your stylist the better they’ll be able to work with you. The privacy Chung creates an honest environment for her and her clients.
“They also speak kind of to me about what they’re going through and sometimes they can get very emotional about it, too, so it’s just nice to have the private space,” she says.
Salon Ziba does not offer any hair services specifically for cancer patients, but Chung has mastered the art of styling wigs and hairpieces as well as working with very fine, thinning hair. More than anything, Chung uses the alone time to help educate her clients on their changing hair needs as well as healthy hair habits.
“The hair texture typically grows back differently, so managing new hair is difficult. I think just by showing them that there are other options and making sure that it looks good and they feel comfortable in it,” she says.
Salon Ziba and Chung provide a service that many cancer patients are forever grateful for, but the stylist insists her clients aren’t the only people who benefit.
“Just the fact that these clients feel comfortable and trust me with something so important as their hair, it’s very rewarding for me,” she says. “Especially the fact that they feel comfortable just talking to me about what they’ve been through and what they’re going through. If I can make them feel any better in any way, it’s the best feeling for me.”
Salon Ziba is located at 50 West 57th Street and 485 6th Avenue, New York. To book an appointment at the 57th street location, call 212-767-0577. For the Greenwich Village location, call 646-559-8723. You can also book online by visiting www.salonziba.com. Follow the salon on Instagram and on Facebook for more information.