Cesare Ragazzi Laboratories creates a hair replacement product that allows for users to sweat and swim
When Jamie Pleva-Nickerson was diagnosed with breast cancer almost a decade ago, she wasn’t particularly bothered about losing her hair.
“I thought it was temporary and I would find some sense of normalcy afterwards,” the 37-year-old mother of two tells Moneyish. “I absolutely didn’t mind walking around proudly bald.” But the expected hair regrowth didn’t quite happen. Though she only found out a year ago, Pleva-Nickerson had undergone a form of chemotherapy that caused permanent hair loss. She’s been in remission since August 2009 but despite spending “tens of thousands of dollars” by her own estimate on everything from rogaine, to hair extensions and wigs, her daily routine in front of the mirror was often marked with tears.
“I would sit for hours and cry and my husband would come and hug me,” says the Connecticut-based insurance account manager, who spent between 60 to 90 minutes daily preparing her hair. “Sometimes it feels silly or vain but when getting ready, I was still seeing cancer even though I was done.” The ineffectiveness of the products she tried had a practical consequence: she hadn’t gone swimming in years and when the wind blew, she would be terrified that it exposed a bald spot among her carefully arranged hair.
Pleva-Nickerson is hardly alone. About 1 in 8 American women develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetimes, according to breastcancer.org, a non-profit, and a quality wig made from human hair can cost anything from $800 to $3000. Now, companies are increasingly realizing that there’s profit and goodwill to be had by catering to alopecia patients and breast cancer survivors. One such firm is Cesare Ragazzi Laboratories, an Italian hair solutions enterprise that creates hair replacement products. Earlier this year, Moneyish set up Pleva-Nickerson with Cesare Ragazzi, which provided her with a 3D-printed hair prosthetic, pro bono.
Here’s how it works: a client goes to a hair clinic that works with Cesare Ragazzi and has two moulds of their head made. Information about hair and scalp color is also taken down digitally. The details are sent to the company’s lab in Bologna, where a 37-step production process takes place. This includes having an exact membrane of the scalp produced via a 3D printer, before unprocessed human hair is hand-implanted into the membrane. The prosthetic—known as CNC— is then sent back to the hair clinic where a trained technician puts it on the client using a medical adhesive. Maintenance and upkeep is required about every month or so.
“The technology allows for a perfect replica,” says Stefano Ospitali, chief executive of Cesare Ragazzi. “It’s like a second skin that offers freedom for people in terms of functionality.” Because the CNC is a permanent prosthetic and not a wig, users don’t have to take it off nightly. It also allows for them to sweat and swim in it. Production of the CNC runs upwards of $3,600 and takes between 8 to 12 weeks.
After receiving the prosthetic earlier this summer, Pleva-Nickerson went swimming for the first time in years. Her daily mirror time now involves just combing her hair and a swab of mascara. “I haven’t felt [this] good in front of a mirror in a long time,” she says. “My husband now jokes that I get ready faster than he does.”
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