Restoring people’s crowning glory

Claire McGee, with the wig made with Rapunzel Foundation hair.

Q&A: Anna Furlong
The Rapunzel Foundation offers natural-looking wigs to all age groups.

The Brothers Grimm fairytale, ‘Rapunzel’, tells of a beautiful young girl with long golden hair, who was imprisoned by a vengeful witch.

And, like all good fairy stories, this one has a happy ending.

Today, the Irish organisation, The Rapunzel Foundation, established to help people who are suffering from hair loss, works to ensure happy endings.

Alopecia, and hair loss caused by chemotherapy or radiation, can be debilitating and can cause heartache for sufferers.

Alopecia is common and causes hair loss on the scalp and elsewhere.

It usually starts with small, round, smooth patches of hair loss and can occur in males and females of all ages.

Alopecia can have many causes, including fungal infection, traumatic damage as a result of chemotherapy or radiation, nutritional deficiencies, such as iron, and autoimmune phenomena.

We have between 100,000 and 150,000 hairs on our head and the number of strands lost in a day varies, but, on average, is 100.

In order to maintain a normal volume, hair must be replaced at the same rate at which it is lost.

Hair loss is a complex issue. Hair is considered an essential part of identity, especially for women, for whom it often represents femininity and attractiveness.

Men typically associate a full head of hair with youth and vigour.

Hair loss can represent lack of control, and cause feelings of isolation.

People suffering from the condition often worry that they appear older or less attractive to others.

But, for teenagers, hair loss can be especially devastating.

“Losing my hair at 13 was very traumatic for me. My life changed overnight, from being an outgoing teenager to someone who never left her home,” says Debbie.

“Thirty years ago, wigs were very unnatural, made from synthetic fibres. They had a short life span and it was very difficult to make them look natural,” she says.

Debbie was put in touch with Freedom Wigs, a New Zealand company who had made a breakthrough in wigs that were made of real hair and had an individually designed suction cap that ensured security.

“The minute I put my new wig on, my whole life changed. I cried a lot of tears, because, finally, I could swim, ride and enjoy lots of activities with the kids without worrying. Now, I feel whole and beautiful. It has changed my life totally.”

Ireland’s Rapunzel Foundation teamed up with Freedom Hair and now supplies them with high-quality hair that helps children across the world. Irish hair is especially sought-after.

Each wig is created from an individual plaster mould of the head, which recreates hairline shape, crown and parting, and a silicone cap tinted to match skin colour is fitted to the mould.

Then, untreated hair of the finest quality is implanted into the silicone, with just one or two hairs inserted at a time to give a natural effect. It is this exact fit that creates suction and ensures that the wig will not come off accidentally.

I first became aware of the work of the Rapunzel Foundation when I saw a photograph of Molly O’Halloran and Emily Wiseman, two Skibbereen girls who recently donated their abundant locks to the foundation, courtesy of the Aisling Hair salon in Skibbereen.

I was moved by the girls’ generosity; they were at an age when long hair is a prized possession for most girls. I talked to hairdresser, Anna Furlong, Rapunzel’s founder and the proprietor of a busy salon in New Ross.

Anna, how did this come about?

Well, I had been providing wig-fitting services for quite some time and I met a young woman with children who came in for a fitting.

It was through this meeting that I became aware that there was no-one in our area providing this service, and that people suffering from alopecia, or the after-effects of chemotherapy, had the added trauma of having to travel long distances.

As a result, I then did courses and gained the appropriate qualifications.

Then, I set up privately in my home, so that the client had privacy. It was during this process that I learned about Freedom Hair. It developed from there.

Is it especially difficult fitting children?

Yes, it is, because a child’s hair is untreated and children are, of course, very active. Also, children’s heads are growing and so they might need two or three wigs in a year.

As we became busier, Wella and the Hairdressers Magazine sponsored us.

How expensive is it to buy one of these Freedom Wigs?

They are quite expensive and that’s why we started a sponsorship scheme. A lady came into me one day, whose daughter was starting school in September and who needed a wig. But it turned out that her husband was out of work and money was very tight. The wigs can cost around €3,000 and she just couldn’t afford it.

I told her to go ahead and order and we would find a way somehow.

Some time earlier, a woman who’d had a wig fitting after chemo, and who was very pleased with the results, gave me €100 and, since we weren’t sponsoring at the time, I said no, I couldn’t take it. But she insisted. She said that I would know what to do with it when the time was right. And that €100 started our sponsorship fund, and got that little girl her wig in time for school.

You started a campaign asking for donations of hair, I believe. How did that go?

It is hugely successful. With the support from our sponsors and the help of my fabulous staff at the salon, we receive, on average, 50 ponytails a week in the post, which we send to Freedom Hair. They have to be 14 inches in length, and untreated hair Now, we have 150 salons that work with us, shampooing and cutting the hair for us. They do this for free and we have no administrative funds. Any money raised from the sale of hair goes to our sponsorship fund to help someone who needs a wig and can’t afford it.

Now, we want even more ponytails, please, so that we can expand the scheme. I love doing this work and seeing how life-changing it can be.

Therapeutic gains

Hair loss can create daily life issues, especially for children who can experience social stigma.

It can affect their quality of life and can, in some cases, lead to significant long-term psychological impacts, including the following:

Feeling alone, isolated, and withdrawn.

Feelings of loss and grief.

Sadness and depression.




Hair should be at least 14in

The stylist at the salon where you have your hair cut will send it to Rapunzel, who will send a thank-you card to the donor.

It takes 20 to 25 ponytails to make just one wig.

There is a shortage of hair for these wigs and Freedom Hair has expressed delight at receiving Irish hair because of our unusual and beautiful colouring. 


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