Get the hair 'doctor' in here, stat!

A salon offers hope to those with problem hair or health-related hair issues.

By PAUL SWIDER, Times Staff Writer
Published August 22, 2007

There are bad hair days and then there are bad hair days. Angela Clements has had some of the worst.

The Land O'Lakes bookkeeper has been wrestling for several years with Crohn's disease and had to fend off kidney cancer. She had chemotherapy and took a smorgasbord of antibiotics and pain killers. All that treatment waged a war in her body and one of the casualties was her hair.

"This is a little different from just a bad hair day," said Clements, 41. "But your hair is very important, especially when you're ill, because otherwise you look terrible all the time."

Clements tried salons all over the Tampa Bay area but could find none that could handle her brittle, fragile, damaged hair until she heard of the Hair Hospital, a salon that specializes in truly difficult cases. She has to drive 90 minutes one way for care, but she says it's worth it.

"Now people compliment my hair all the time," said Clements. "No one can do fragile hair like Karen."

Karen Hicks runs Hair Hospital out of a small storefront at 7038 Central Ave. She'll do a basic haircut, but she found years ago that there is a crying need for someone who can treat problem hair as well as fix the mistakes of other salons. Most people don't need special care, but there are plenty that do, she said.

"It's not a place for somebody crying because their bangs don't go right," said Hicks, 50. "I don't do a lot of styling."

Hicks said she gets referrals, sometimes from doctors but often from other salons, when a client has a difficult situation. People even find her through her Web site and call up for advice or information, even though her expertise is based on experience and intuition, not medical training.

"I established this business to rescue the public," she said of the business she started in 1989. "It's a real significant need, not a gimmick."

Hicks has other clients like Clements, but also some with less dire demands. They usually come to her after trying other solutions. After she helps, they become loyal customers.

Like the aging L.A. rock star who was visiting Florida for a few days when something went wrong with his hair extensions. His hair became a painful tangle from the poorly installed lengtheners and he couldn't even sleep on the knotted mat. Hicks was able to untie the mess and restore his locks. The well-known performer now flies Hicks to California when he needs work, though he requires she not reveal his identity.

Less exotic, Hicks helped Donna Hopkins, who had received a coloring and relaxer treatment from another salon in town. Within a month of her service, Hopkins said, her otherwise black hair had turned to pumpkin orange and was breaking and falling out. The original salon and others she tried wanted to repeat the application of color and chemical relaxers, which probably would have been disastrous, she said.

"They were not able to tell me why this happened, but Karen knew right away," said Hopkins, 43. "They were ready to slap another perm on there."

Hicks said hair relaxers are made of harsh chemicals, including some of the same ones used for hair removal. Such products are not suited for certain types of hair or scalps and should not be used in random combinations. Most salons don't pay enough attention to the individual's needs and just want to move product, she said. Hicks treated Hopkins with a non-chemical ironing process and a protein conditioner over two years to restore Hopkins' original hair.

"My hair is my thing," Hopkins said. "The other salon said, 'You're short so your hair looks good short,' and offered me a free bottle of shampoo. Karen got my hair back."

Hopkins sued the other salon and settled for $7,500 and a pledge to not reveal any names. She said she spent the money with Hicks, but is glad she did.

Hicks has many such stories, like the flight attendant who bought hair color and discovered later someone had switched the bottles in the box. At midnight before a flight, the blond woman looked in the mirror at waist-length jet-black hair. Hicks spent two hours in the middle of the night removing the errant color.

Hicks also helps in the treatment of trichotillomania, a compulsive disorder in which people pull their hair and create bald patches. She provides space for counseling sessions and works with sufferers to create barriers so they can't repeat the practice.

Hicks said the business is stressful because she's constantly dealing with people suffering from serious problems or at least panicked over life traumas. But she said she feels rewarded by the outcomes and the support of people like Clements, whom she can help cope with more than just bad hair.

"It's very important," Clements said of trying to maintain appearances amid her health issues. "If your hair looks good, things don't seem so bad."

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com.


Hair Hospital

Where: 7038 Central Ave.

Call: 345-5541

On the Web: hairhospital.biz