By MEAGHAN CASEY
As we all know, great hair doesn’t happen by chance; it happens by appointment. Just ask Sylvia Caruso’s customers.
“She transforms you,” said Mildred Belmonte of Revere. “You leave feeling sensational.”
Caruso, owner of The Hair Studio and Wig Salon in Saugus, has more than 40 years of experience designing beautiful custom hairpieces, full wigs and cranial prostheses for all types of hair loss. Her cutting and coloring skills make her a leader in this specialized field.
Caruso got her start in the business at age 16, working for a wig factory in Boston. She later sold wigs at the former Jordan Marsh department store while getting her barber and hairdresser licenses. In 1976, she bought the salon, located at 5 Broadway, creating her own niche by exploring custom hairpieces and wigs.
For both men and women with hair loss, temporary or permanent, Caruso has a nonsurgical solution to restore the natural volume, fullness and healthy look to their hair. Her knowledge spans from permanent bonding with a medical grade adhesive for four to six weeks of wear to alternative methods of attachment and daily wear based on the client’s specific needs.
Caruso says the most important thing she’s able to provide is a confidence boost to her clients, by duplicating their natural hairstyles and giving them a full head of hair that looks and feels just like their own.“Hair loss is devastating,” said Caruso. “Whether it’s from cancer, lupus, alopecia or something else, it’s hard to deal with. Our hair is our crowning glory.”
Belmonte, who has thinning hair, wears a custom hairpiece that Caruso carefully matched and styled to her natural hair.
“She measured everything, ordered my piece and colored and custom styled it,” said Belmonte, who visits the salon on a monthly basis. “She takes the time to make you feel good. That’s the best thing. She’s phenomenal. You can’t match the feeling you get when you walk out of here. I remember one time, after
I had just had hip surgery, someone came up to me telling me how great I looked. It was the hair. I feel so much better having done this. You feel human again.”
Over the years, Caruso has helped more than 500 clients. Most are from the North Shore; some come from Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and even South Carolina.
“Every week, we have new people coming in,” she said. “But I see a lot of the same people all the time and it’s so nice to be a part of their lives, sharing stories, swapping recipes.”
Stylist Angelica Gentile has been with the salon for three years.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to help people suffering from hair loss,” said Gentile, a graduate of Lynn Classical High School and North Shore Community College.
The salon also offers full services to children, which Caruso says is particularly rewarding. She maintains a relationship with Children With Hair Loss, an organization that provides free wigs to children with medically related hair loss. Caruso will then style and maintain the wigs at no cost.
One of her clients, Lisa, started seeing Caruso for a custom hairpiece when she was 14 years old.
“My mom had brought me to five or six places in the area and nothing looked good,” she said. “Nothing was age-appropriate. I didn’t feel comfortable. Then we found Sylvia and she made me feel so happy. I wasn’t embarrassed to go to school. Honestly, she’s completely saved my life. She’s been there for every important moment — prom, college, graduations, job interviews, my wedding. She and Angelica are the only ones who I’ll trust for anything to do with my hair.”
Lisa, a Peabody resident, has varied the color and cuts of the pieces, exploring different styles in the past 20 years.
“Sylvia has spent many nights on the phone with companies in China on my behalf,” she said, with an appreciative glance in Caruso’s direction.
Dedicated is certainly a word that describes Caruso. She’s made wigs more accessible and affordable for cancer patients and others suffering from medical hair loss. The Hair Studio and Wig Salon is a recognized provider contracted with insurance companies in Massachusetts and is a registered wig bank with the American Cancer Society. Caruso said she and her staff work with insurance companies and bill them directly, making it easier for patients.
Six years ago, Caruso herself was diagnosed with breast cancer and treated at Massachusetts General Hospital. She took only three weeks off during her treatments, still tending to her clients’ needs before her own.
“I was fortunate to be able to handle the treatment, so I thought it was important to get back to work and continue my normal life,” said Caruso, who is now cancer-free, but wears a hairpiece due to the continued hair thinning from the medication. carefully matched and styled to her natural hair.
“Women coming in here know that I know what it feels like, because I’ve gone through it too,” she said.
In June, Caruso was honored by the MGH Cancer Center as one of “the one hundred” making a difference in the fight against cancer. The event has honored caregivers, researchers, philanthropists, advocates and volunteers worldwide. Other honorees this year included Patriots owner Bob Kraft, Congressman Mike Capuano, Paralympic silver medalist and champion sailor Hugh Freund, radiation oncologist Dr. David Miyamoto and others.
“It was so thrilling to get that acknowledgment,” said Caruso. “Really, I’m so lucky to be doing something that I love. That’s the secret to success.”