On a Wednesday morning at 104 E. Market St., cosmetology students at Tiffin Academy of Hair Design are waiting for customers to come in for services at the school's clinic.
While they wait, they style each other's hair or work on assigned projects. Each has a head form with real hair on which to practice.
Christina Ward of Bloomville is rolling hair onto dozens of small rods for a spiral perm. Bethany Miller of Fremont is styling the hair of classmate Shanae Ankney of Sycamore. Tamara Steinberger of Clyde is working to make her styling head look like Pocahontas, and Nicole Scott of Willard is practicing braiding cornrows.
PHOTO BY MARYANN KROMER
Bethany Miller uses a round brush and blow dryer to create a sleek style for Shanae Ankney of Sycamore.
Therese Vogel, president of Tiffin Academy, said 57 students, including three men, currently are enrolled. The classes usually run 55-65 students, and the average age is 24-25 years old. Vogel said they have a few men each year.
"Typically, they want to be barbers, rather than cosmetologists, but now, with the economy the way it is, we do see more. ... Barber schools are not as prevalent in the state so that causes them to come here rather than barber school," Vogel said.
A woman from Upper Sandusky founded the school as the Georgianne Academy in 1962. Another owner took over in 1966 and stayed until Vogel purchased the school in 2001. She grew up in Tiffin and graduated from Calvert High School.
"I remember coming down here as a kid to get a haircut. I never thought this is where I would end up," Vogel said.
While in high school, Vogel told her guidance counselor about wanting a career in cosmetology. She was surprised when he suggested she was "too smart for that job." Luckily, her parents wanted her to find a career that would make her happy. After graduating from Tiffin Academy, Vogel worked a few years at a salon in Tiffin.
In 1985, she returned to the school as an instructor and later did administrative work before becoming the owner. During her career, Vogel said state regulations have changed minimally, but national standards for accreditation have become more strict. One thing that has not changed is the hands-on training. No machine can duplicate what a cosmetologist does.
"You wouldn't be able to do this job without hands. Everything we do, obviously, pertains to the hands. There's nothing we do that we don't use our hands for," Vogel said.
Students start out learning to use their hands for basic techniques of massage and facials, nail care, make up application, cutting, trimming, styling and coloring hair and using various appliances. Vogel said dexterity improves as the students practice skills, such as holding scissors and using curling irons properly.
"Perm rods are especially tough for them when they're first starting out. Even just using their fingers to mold the hair into the shape you need it to be in can be a challenge for some people," Vogel said.
For now, style with smooth straight lines are more popular than curls. The students are doing fewer perms and using flat irons rather than curling irons for a sleeker look. A "nice, firm shampoo" also requires training of the hands. Having one's hair washed can be very soothing and therapeutic.
"A lot of people say that's the best part of getting their hair done, that shampoo," Vogel said. "We have a touch that everybody likes. People enjoy our touch ... It's a good touch. It's a healing touch. It's a relaxation. For some people, it's the only good touch they ever get."
With so much dependence on their hands, cosmetology students need to be aware of potential hazards from chemicals, burns and injuries. Gloves can protect hands from dyes and irritating solutions, but some stylists may develop allergies from frequent exposure to certain compounds.
"The chemicals we use are all relatively mild. That's not usually an issue," she said. "They're supposed to wear gloves whenever they're using the chemicals. We have had some students in our history that have developed a contact dermatitis where they couldn't work any longer. That happens to some cosmetologists. After years and years of being fine, suddenly they develop this allergy, and that causes them not to be able to do their profession. It doesn't happen very often."
Spending hours on one's feet and holding the arms above the waist can cause back strain and other discomforts until the student can adapt to the movements and positions required. A more serious condition is carpal tunnel syndrome, a nerve disorder in which a person develops weakness, tingling and numbness in the thumb, index and middle finger of one or both hands.
"Carpal tunnel is a big thing in our industry, because of repeating the same motions all day long. That's probably our biggest one with the hands," Vogel said.
Academy classes provide instruction for a variety of techniques and styles to cover anything a client may request. For styling classes, the students are given projects with specific themes. They may be required to research 1950s hair styles and use photos of famous people of the period or motion picture characters to recreate a popular style. Around Thanksgiving, they might have to craft the style of an historical figure.
When students complete their classroom work, they are assigned to the clinic floor, the shop in which the public can receive services for about 50 percent less than in a private salon. The hours are 9:30 a.m.- 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. A haircut usually is $10 for an adult and $5 for a child. Vogel said the clinic is busiest Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Students often beautify wedding parties and do "tons and tons" of styles during prom season.
"Our goal is to give the students as much practice as they can get while they're here. The more practice they get here, the better stylists they're going to be when they get into a salon," Vogel said.
When it comes to her own hair, Vogel chooses students at random to demonstrate their skills on her. She tries not to ask any one student more than once, and she selects someone who is ready for the challenge, rather than someone who is new on the clinic floor.
"I figure, if I don't trust them to do my hair, then why would I let them do anybody else's hair?" Vogel said. "Some of them get nervous, but most of them are OK with it. ... We wouldn't put them down there (on the floor) if they weren't ready."
The program at Tiffin Academy of Hair Design is 1,800 clock hours and requires about 14 months to complete for full-time students. Vogel said the students come from all over northern Ohio. Most commute to class every day from as far away as Defiance, Huron, Toledo and Marion. Once a person receives a license, he or she must renew it every two years. During that time, the cosmetologist must complete eight hours of continuing education.
"You can get some of them online. They can go to trade shows, hair shows, different seminars," Vogel said.
In the past, the academy offered its own workshops, but now it focuses on helping students get the coursework for their initial license. Vogel said the seminars she attends usually pertain to administration and regulatory changes. The instructors go two or three times a year. All six current instructors are former academy students.
As director of a school, Vogel has been able to travel extensively and help other schools receive accreditation. She calls it a way to promote her profession while learning about successful new programs and ideas being used at other schools.
"It's just a really great experience I would not have had if I had not chosen this," Vogel said. "Our industry, unfortunately, has a stigma that you don't have to be smart, that anybody can do this, it's not a very good profession, and you won't make any money."
But those notions have not been true for Vogel. She has discovered other opportunities for cosmetologists beyond working in a salon. People who cannot work "behind a chair" can teach. Professional product lines hire educators and sales people who work for their companies. One of Vogel's students is doing makeup work in California. Another does makeup for CNN television reporters.
Vogel pointed out cosmetology training can take a person as far as he or she wants to go. At any level, clients leave looking better and feeling better about themselves.
"I would have missed out on a great career that has been very good to me and continues to be very good to me," Vogel said. "A lot of people don't realize ... it's one of the most rewarding jobs that anybody can have. There's so many good things you can do for people. A lot of professions don't get to have that."
Besides, college is not for everyone. Heather Witt said her favorite task is doing hair color. Having enrolled in a traditional college, she did not find the required courses very helpful. So she switched to cosmetology.
"I would rather learn what I need to learn," she said.
Brittany Chapman of Tiffin said she appreciates having a variety of products available and trained friends to do her hair. She especially enjoys creating a new hairstyle for a client.
"I like everything, but haircuts are easy for me," Chapman said.
June 19, students at Tiffin Academy of Hair Design had a guest presenter from the National Aphasia Foundation in New York and also one from the DaZy Aphasia Centre in Toledo. Aphasia is an acquired language disorder which affects producing or comprehending spoken or written language. Staff and students learned how to make the business environment Aphasia-friendly. Some of the clinic's regular clients suffer from this condition.
"We are the first cosmetology school in the country to train their students with this class," Vogel said.
A person trained in hair and skin care also can save lives in some situations. A cosmetologist with regular customers may observe changes in the person's skin, scalp and hair. Those signs can indicate a more serious health problem that should be checked by a physician.
A client may not notice a bald patch on the back of her head, or a mole with suspicious coloration.
"We certainly can't diagnose if there's something wrong, but when somebody sees a change in their client, they can say, 'This is different than it used to be. ... This wasn't here before.' That could be huge for that client," Vogel said. "There's so much that people just don't think about. They think all we do is cut hair in a salon."