Local woman starts wig business to help cancer patients and more

Rhinehart started losing her hair inspiring her to operate "Change It Up."

Once a woman starts to notice the loss in the mirror, she wonders if others can see it, too.
Then it gets to the period when it’s clear to see. According to Brighton resident and “Change It Up” Wigs owner and specialist Maria Rhinehart, a round of doubts and questions swarm through a woman’s mind when her hair is falling out.
“I’ve always had very fine hair,” she recalled. “Over the last couple of years it had been thinning. I had a surgery about three or four years ago that has hastened the process. In the last year is when it became real noticeable because of the amounts I was losing.”
Rhinehart didn’t want to face the world and leave her house of 24 years in Tipton County. It was then she started to sympathize with others who have endured hair loss because of diseases and chemotherapy.
“The size of about a hockey puck of hair was going down my drain every time I washed my hair,” Rhinehart said. “It was getting very emotional for me. Women, we always hear — especially in the South — that a woman’s glory is her hair. When it’s going, it makes you feel like you’re no longer pretty. Even though your husband consistently encourages you, praises you and loves you, it still as a woman affects you.”
Maria’s husband, Wayne, was right by her side when she was adjusting to her sudden hair loss. Sons, Andrew, 32, and Jake, 24, kept their mother encouraged. Then Rhinehart found a solution to assist her in facing the world – wigs.
Inspired by her discovery on a website, Maria wanted to become a consultant and be a representative creating “Change It Up.”
“My oldest son, Andrew, helped me because I get bored easily,” Maria recalled on the naming of her business. “When he threw that out there, I was like, ‘Perfect – Change It Up Wig.’ So many women will use that when they say something. I said, ‘That will be the name of my company.’
“It was probably about early fall of last year it was getting so bad that I was spending about an hour a day pretending like I had some hair,” Rhinehart continued. “It was all kinds of products to cover my scalp. I finally got to the point that I had to do something because I can’t spend an hour every morning just trying to make my hair look like I have some.”
Not able to use toppers, Maria was in the market for a full wig. She tried cheap alternatives but they were not satisfying. Then it was a 20-minute video on Youtube.com that helped Rhinehart discover the wigs and company she would join.
“The day I got this one I have on now was the day I decided I wanted to sell them because I knew I was not alone,” she said. “I knew there were more women out there like me but in different situations. They have medical challenges, cancer treatments or they’re losing their hair faster than I did. When you’re having chemo treatments, it’s about day 19 or 20 it starts to go.”
Since starting “Change It Up,” Maria has educated herself on diseases like alopecia areata and breast cancer. Alopecia is a disease that causes sudden hair loss that stars with one or more circular bald patches that may overlap. It occurs when the immune system attacks hair follicles and may be brought on by certain stress.
When cancer forms in the cells of the breasts, it leads to a lump or bloody discharge from the nipple. The medical industry recommends routine mammograms to help detect breast cancer. It was estimated in 2019, about 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women. Nearly 63,000 of those will be in the United States. Treatment for most stages of the disease involves radiation and chemo. And that will lead to a hair loss stage in the patient’s recovery.
“Most of my clients take cards for friends going through the treatments,” Rhinehart said. “I have clients who just have bad hair days, put it on and you’re out of the house in 3 to 5 minutes. It just ranges. I have clients who have two weeks to go until their next hair appointments. They can’t wait so they just put it on. But I have a few who are facing real challenges.”
Rhinehart, a Texas native, said she wants to be a resource for the women in her demographic. In addition to her research on the needs of alopecia and breast cancer patients, Rhinehart has studied her product’s different textures, styles and lengths by attending a conference in California.
“I want to minister to those who are in my conditions,” she said. “I have cried with ladies – hugged on them and loved on them. A woman’s hair is very important to her.
“In my particular situation, I wasn’t one of those women who had a lot of hair,” Rhinehart continued. “More and more the women are in my particular situation with their hair thinning. In my case, it was not thyroid. It’s probably hormonal.”
Whatever the cause for sudden hair loss, Rhinehart said the event is a punch to the soul of a woman.
“Seeing your hair in the bottom of the shower in that huge of a clump, I took it to my hairdresser,” she recalled. “She said, ‘Maria, that is a lot. A lot lost at one time.’ A woman’s glory is her hair and once that starts to go that’s very traumatic.
“When your hair is going, it’s a whole different area of emotions to deal with,” Rhinehart acknowledged. “My husbands and my boys always tell me how beautiful I am. But when something like that happens you don’t feel beautiful. It doesn’t matter what clothes I put on, what colors I wear or what makeup I put on, to me if I am talking to someone, I know you can see right through to my scalp. That’s very traumatic for a woman.”
Since starting her business in February, Rhinehart has met a few clients with alopecia. Recently she has gained two breast cancer patients.
“They were ashamed to be out looking for (wigs), the quality wasn’t good and the person selling them didn’t take the time to counsel them properly,” she noted. “I will take the time to look at color, style and find what looks best on them. There are different kinds and I will approach them from a place of love and understanding.”
Attending expos and conferences throughout the Mid-South is spreading the word about “Change It Up” and Rhinehart’s purpose.
“By doing these events, I get my name out there a little bit more often,” she said. “A lot of it is ladies who take my cards because they know a friend who is suffering. And they go to the website and get my information there to call me. The ladies who are going through the cancer treatment, I have only had a couple.
“I am wanting to reach out to more of these ladies because a lot of them are lost,” Rhinehart added. “They don’t know where to go. A lot of them end up with inexpensive wigs. They will get these particular types and brands, and it doesn’t look good on them. From my situation, it’s not that different from somebody else’s. I am going to love on them and ask the questions. I’m going to find out if they like chin length or extra-long.”
No matter the look her client is going for or their plight, Rhinehart wants to erase some doubts that come with hair loss.
“I want them to feel cherished and loved,” she said. “That someone cares about them whether it’s their process or their journey through this situation. Most cancer patients, when they are on the other side and cared, they don’t need them anymore.
“I encourage them, if they are not going to use their wigs and they’re still in good condition, donate them,” Rhinehart concluded. “But of course ladies who have alopecia or it’s severely thinning, I just want them to know there are options. There’s something out there for them that doesn’t have to look cheap.”