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  • Heather Oliver

Beauty and Health Amidst a Pandemic [with Interview]

Updated: Nov 1, 2020

An interview with Amber Woodall, owner and lead stylist of Alkali and AIR by Alkali

Everyone can appreciate a great haircut and color—after all—it’s not easy to find a stylist you can trust with the “crown” you wear every day. But there’s more to it than that. When you look good, you feel good—and how you feel also plays a significant role in your health.

At Alkali Hair Studio and AIR by Alkali, how you look and feel is part of the business model and philosophy. When owner and lead stylist Amber Woodall opened her salons, she was on a mission to not only provide superior hair service and an exceptional customer experience, but she also wanted health and wellness to be a key component of her businesses.

Amber truly cares about the wellbeing of her clients, but her desire to implement health-centric products and practices also stems from her struggles with Hashimotio’s, an autoimmune disease she’d been diagnosed with in 2016. The harsh, unnatural chemicals used in most color lines and hair and beauty products can become problematic for anyone, but especially so for anyone suffering from an autoimmune disease.

Add Covid-19 into the mix and health and wellness concerns are more of a concern than ever--especially for people with autoimmune diseases and other conditions. For someone like Amber, whose livelihood involves working intimately with the public, it’s downright scary.

What’s more, over 24 million people in the United States suffer from autoimmune diseases, so Amber not only has to think of her own health and safety, but that of her clients and staff as well. This is why Amber has gone above and beyond the guidelines and recommendations of the CDC and local government upon reopening her salons during this current pandemic. Watch this video to get an inside look into how Amber’s salons are working to help keep you beautiful and safe.

It’s important to remember that a person’s appearance is not an indicator of their health. Many people live with autoimmune diseases (as well as the slew of other health conditions that can affect the human body) and look perfectly healthy. Taking this into consideration when making social decisions can go a long way in helping others stay well physically, but also emotionally, too.

Despite the health risks, Amber continues to do what she loves—making you look and feel amazing—while doing her best to keep herself, her staff, and everyone who comes into her salon safe. Rather than letting fear dictate her life, she’s taking control of the situation by staying up-to-date with the virus, ensuring her salon exceeds recommended safety guidelines, and perhaps most importantly, maintaining a positive mindset.

In this interview, Amber opens up about her disease and how Covid is affecting her life and her business.

How long have you had Hashimoto's disease?

I was officially diagnosed with Hashimotos in 2016. It took a few years to get to the bottom of my rapidly compiling symptoms, which is common with autoimmune diseases. You can have one without knowing it and they can be hard to diagnose.

Pre-Covid, were there any business decisions you made due to your disease?

Absolutely, even prior to my diagnosis I knew that I was very sensitive to gluten/wheat and certain chemicals. My doctors suspected I might be experiencing autoimmune issues for a while, but it was hard to pinpoint the exact problem. .

I was having a lot of issues with my skin, especially on my hands and nails, which turned out to be mostly due to the plant based shampoos and conditioners I was using on my clients everyday. I thought the products I was using were “clean” but In 2013, I began to research the ingredients in the product lines I was using and comparing them to other lines. What I found was eye-opening, as I learned that just because something is plant-based doesn’t mean the ingredients are safe for everyone.

This is when I discovered Oribe and R+Co. These product lines were not only free from my allergens and harmful chemicals, they also proved highly effective , which was an absolute must for me—I refuse to sacrifice quality or performance. Not only are these products clean and modern but the performance and technology is absolutely there. An Oribe or R+Co product is going to do what it says it's going to do while conditioning and repairing your hair and my hands. They’re also good for your health too!

I also believe that work/life balance and stress are huge for those suffering from autoimmune disease (anyone, for that matter). That’s why I choose to work in a manner that doesn't “wrap” or double book appointments. I enjoy spending dedicated, one-on-one time with my customers, and this approach benefits everyone. I’m confident you’ll find the vibe at Alkali is noticeably more peaceful than the “hair factory” environments of typical salons . This vibe is on purpose and allows my staff to do their very best while reducing stress during custom color jobs and other services. And a less-stressed stylist equals a better customer experience!

As someone who works closely with the public and also has an autoimmune disease, how has COVID-19 affected your life in general?

I don’t consider myself an anxious or fearful person but Covid has definitely pushed my personal limits. From the very beginning, I knew that I was going to have my salon take all the precautions recommended. Health and safety are so much a part of my brand, and so important to me, that I wanted to do everything possible to keep my staff and customers safe. I believe that to do this right, we have to take precautions and assume any visitor could have the virus. I know our clients may see us doing things that other salons aren’t, but we’ve never been what other salons are, so I’m more than OK with that.

How has the virus affected how you approach your work as a hairstylist? Are there any special challenges you are faced with?

There are physical challenges that come with wearing masks and face shields but it’s nothing compared to what our medical friends are being faced with.

Blow drying is one of my favorite things! I opened a blow dry bar because I know how confident something so small can make you feel. The decision to implement limited blow drying was agonizing! That decision meant that I was pretty much throwing away, at least temporarily, an entire business model at my second location and starting over. Luckily, all of my staff was on the same page and were more than willing to go along with safety being first.

It’s not lost on us that getting their hair done could be one of the first real treats some of our customers have allowed themselves since our state has begun lifting restrictions due to Covid. I think that makes it even more special. And we once again are reminded to do our best!

Is it scary going to work now?

I’m not going to lie, the first week back was extremely unnerving. But, I was quickly reminded that our curated clientele has the same priorities we do. This like-mindedness makes it feel much safer now. Most of our customers respect that this virus is dangerous and value the precautions that we are taking. It's been amazing to see a community work together to keep everyone safe.

What keeps you motivated to continue your work as a stylist and salon owner during this time?

That’s simple. I love my work and I love my clients.

What advice can you offer to anyone struggling with an autoimmune disease, especially during a pandemic?

Set boundaries and know your limits. I know what’s going to make me feel safe and I take those extra precautions. Try to manage the stress. I’ve always hated how most doctors would just tell me to “cut down on stress.” Like, what does that even mean? But my current endocrinologist put it in a way that made sense and was actually helpful: “Instead of thinking about less stress, take something that you love and do it more”. This advice was huge for me!

Also reach out to your doctors and read up on the risks associated with your specific autoimmune disease and Covid. Hashimotos isn’t the riskiest and hearing that from the pros definitely brought me some peace of mind.

Do you think some people can be insensitive to people with autoimmune diseases and other high risk conditions? And if so, how do you handle it?

Absolutely! I think it’s human nature to first only think about what affects you personally. We also live in a society that values individualism and “self,” making it harder for people to have empathy. I try to just educate or explain, especially with Covid, that sometimes personal decisions affect the safety of others. We all want to feel safe and secure in our “new” world and now more than ever, it’s important to try and see things from each other’s perspective. I’ve always been able to handle things of this nature pretty well, but nonchalant comments can still be very hurtful.

Any pearls of wisdom you can offer that can help people who don’t have an autoimmune disease better understand the challenges of those that do?

Always remember that those with autoimmune diseases don’t “look sick.” Don’t assume that just because people look okay that they are healthy or aren’t struggling. There is a great metaphor popular within the autoimmune community called the spoon theory. The concept goes “If you had [10] amount of spoons a day how would you use them?” For someone with autoimmune or mental health issues, it may take them up to four spoons just to get out of bed, one to eat breakfast, another one or two to care for pets and family, and then up to five to go to work and be productive. Pretty soon they are all out of spoons for the day--or even spent more than they had! There have been times in my life when it was all I could do just to work, and clients—sometimes even friends—weren’t aware. You just never know what kind of day it’ll be.

Even still, I refuse to let this dampen my outlook on life! No matter what you’re going through, there’s always hope. There’s always something to be grateful for, something that can provide you happiness—I’m living proof!

I believe a positive mindset, as well as showing kindness and respect toward others, plays an intricate role in our overall happiness and wellness, especially in times like these. And this is how I think we’ll overcome this virus and anything else that’s thrown our way.

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