Anne Hailes: How Draperstown woman Oliveen Kelly is helping people with hairloss

Oliveen Kelly of Alternative Hair Solutions in Draperstown has dedicated a special floor above her hairdressing salon, where clients can relax and talk in detail about their hairloss situation

BALDNESS comes in all shapes and sizes – it affects both men and women and it’s traumatic. The most common types include male and female ‘pattern’ hair loss.

This condition affects about 50 per cent of males by the age of 50 and a quarter of females and can happen at any age for men, a gradual thinning in the middle of the head and working out; for women more often than not it’s a receding hairline, allowing the scalp to shines through.

Alopecia is another type of hair loss and they all happen for various reasons from genetics to illness – sometimes it's temporary, but often it’s permanent.

On the other hand, trichotillomania – a nervous condition where someone pulls out their hair in clumps – is more common than people realise.

But losing all your hair within a few days because of cancer drugs as well as dealing with the news that you have the disease, is especially distressing. I know this from experience!

Eighteen years ago, when wigs were very obvious, mine got caught in the down-draft from a bus and went rolling along the pavement like tumbleweed in a cowboy movie.

Thank-you to the lady who chased it as I stood stock still with my arms over my head.

Today it’s a very different story, as I discovered when I talked to Oliveen Kelly at her hair salon in Draperstown. With breast cancer there’s that feeling of loss of femininity and one of the most important things is to get your hair back –initially drawing from a range of full, well made wigs.

Women come from as far as Belfast and Dublin to consult with Oliveen. Alternative Hair Solutions is situated on the main street, at one time the parochial house for Ballinascreen Parish, left to decay until this hard working woman took it over last December and transformed it.

It's stylish, with a welcoming atmosphere and restful colours all important as many of the people who come here are sensitive about their lack of hair. There are plenty of wigs to choose from but we talk of 'hairpieces' and, she says, that word makes the world of difference to so many.

Because she has fine hair herself, Oliveen knows how the right hairpiece can give back confidence and self-esteem: each one is carefully chosen to match the client’s own hair and can be made from real hair or from man-made fibre.

Why should women experience receding hair line or thinning hair?

"At a conference in London last year the trichologists were debating this and wondering if there’s a link to skin products, even foundation, they don’t know for sure," says Oliveen.

"But if you notice thinning you can use various products on the market to give hair density.

"However, it’s always best to get professional advice or go to the doctor and discuss what the causes might be and if there is any medication available.

"Eczema can cause dry patches on the head, so hair can’t grow. Therefore it’s important to keep the scalp clean and, if there’s any sign of this, get along to the doctor and get a prescription for treating it."

There are various ways to disguise thinning – extensions, for instance, which give bulk to the existing hair when attached to the roots. These are also popular with young woman who just want long hair for some special event.

"Whether it’s necessary or just cosmetic, I love to hear woman and girls say their whole life has been changed with their new look," explains Oliveen.

"Looking good boosts the moral.”

That’s why Oliveen visits Charis House, the cancer care centre in Cookstown, where she cuts and fashions and advises anyone recovering from cancer. She does this as a complimentary service: a hairdresser for 30 years, it was when she talked to professionals in London that she and became fascinated by the range of wigs on the market and learned how to match them to a client’s head and skin tones, trimming and styling.

She learned that hair from Chinese women is popular and of a company in Indonesia where girls to donate their hair once a year to the monks who run the factory. In turn, they are employed to make the wigs and hairpieces.

Hair from that part of the world is dark. European hair is lighter and popular, so more expensive.

Then there is 'Prime Hair', a type of acrylic that can be treated like real hair apart from home colouring.

It’s such a sensitive subject that Oliveen has dedicated a special floor in the house, above the regular hairdressing salon, where clients can relax and talk in detail about their situation in complete privacy.

Men too make appointments usually arriving with a toupee attached, something they have bought on-line and glued to their scalp. They go away with a much more natural look and able to hold their head up with confidence.

As one said to me, "hair today, gone tomorrow!"

Not only men and women come to the Draperstown centre. Children too suffer alopecia and being able to provide them with a fashionable head of hair is probably the most satisfying – if it’s traumatic for an adult losing hair, think how it must be for a child as young as five.

For many, it’s a case of accepting their hair loss. Although there may be medications to help or transplant surgery, a suitable hairpiece can be a very satisfactory answer.

Real hairpieces come at a price and can vary from £400 to £800 depending on size and length: the Prime acrylic is a little cheaper starting at £300 with ready to wear synthetic wigs around £150 to £350.

Real hair wigs are more expensive, but last longer.

:: To contact Alternative Hair Solutions, call 028 7962 8325 or visit them online at

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