Volunteer hair stylists help patients look and feel their best


Even when recovering from major surgical procedures and lengthy illnesses, our patients don’t want their hair to look like its in critical condition. To help these patients look and feel their best, UCLA Health volunteers are now offering free hair services.

“We currently have five licensed cosmetologists who volunteer their time at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica and UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital,” says Carey McCarthy, director of UCLA Health Volunteer Services.

The haircut service is part of Volunteer Services’ Comfort Care Program. “We have many patients, such as transplant patients and those with cancer, who are in the hospital for months. We heard from patients and families asking if there was a way for patients to get a haircut,” says McCarthy. “The way a person feels about their appearance can greatly affect their mood and morale.”

The stylists also help patients and their families through difficult treatment milestones. “I recently shaved the head of a little girl undergoing cancer treatments. She sat on her mom’s lap and held her dad’s hand,” says volunteer stylist Jevonne Williams. “Then I shaved her dad’s head and gave her mom a very short cut. The mom donated her hair to a program that makes wigs for cancer patients. It was an incredible bonding experience for this family.”

Volunteer Services receives about three requests every week for hair services, and many of them are from pediatric departments. “Your hair is a big part of your body image when you’re growing up,” says McCarthy. “We want to do what we can to help these kids feel better about themselves even when they aren’t physically feeling well.”

Ideally, patients should be able to sit in a chair during the cut and style. However, stylists are able to do basic trims on bedridden patients. To prevent any risk of cross-contamination or infection, volunteer stylists use new sterilized, disposable hair-supply kits with each patient. The kits are purchased through a generous grant from UCLA Health Auxiliary.

In addition to haircuts, volunteer stylists also do some light styling to help patients deal with problems that arise from being in the hospital. Hair matting and tangling is a common problem among patients who spend extended periods with their hair pressed against a pillow. To prevent this problem, stylists can either cut the hair short or braid it. “Ideally we’d like to braid long hair early in the hospital stay to stop knots and tangles from forming,” says Williams.

To keep up with the growing number of requests, Volunteer Services is currently reaching out to local hair salons to recruit more volunteer stylists. One stylist who regularly volunteers came from our very own emergency department. Shiou Udagawa, a nurse at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, is also a licensed cosmetologist.

Udagawa’s dual expertise in nursing and cosmetology comes in handy for patients in isolation who require special care. “There was a gentleman in isolation who had just come off a ventilator. His family thought a haircut would lift his spirits and help him feel more like his old self,” recalls Udagawa. “At first, he didn’t want to look at himself in a mirror. Later, I heard that he was sending selfies of his new haircut to his family.”

Patients or their families can request hair service directly through Volunteer Services or by talking to a nurse. Staff members interested in volunteering can learn more at https://www.uclahealth.org/volunteer.