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August 20, 2019

Wig Gig

A former SNL hairstylist helps others through medical wig-making.

Paula Hendrickson
  • Christal Schanes (far left and in mirror, center)


The year 2012 was pivotal for Christal Schanes.

She and her husband had their first child, she won an Emmy as part of Saturday Night Live's hairstyling team and she accepted a full-time job teaching wig-making at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

"It was an extremely tough decision to step away from a gig like Saturday Night Live," Schanes says. "But I knew at some point I wanted to start teaching, and this position became available."

Despite the job at UNCSA, she continued working for SNL into 2013, when she was pregnant with twins. "My husband and I drove back and forth every other weekend. I would Skype some of my classes from the studio," she recalls.

In 2015, she established CHRISTALine Studios for her projects outside of UNCSA — like working on the Hulu pilot Reprisal, which recently shot in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Each spring, Schanes takes her graduating class to New York, where she hosts a networking event and arranges backstage tours of SNL and Broadway shows to introduce students to career options.

Medical wig-building is one such option.

Schanes understands the psychological value and sense of normalcy a good wig offers someone suffering medical hair loss.

She and her husband have lost several family members to cancer, and her mother is being treated for the disease. But realistic, hand-tied medical wigs require real human hair, take 80 to 125 hours to make and cost $4,000 to $6,000 each. "That's not in the cards for most people," Schanes acknowledges.

Each student in her medical wig-building class makes a professional-quality medical wig for a patient at Winston-Salem's Derrick L. Davis Regional Cancer Center. The class produces 12 to 15 wigs per term.

Demand for medical wigs is so high that last year Schanes is turning CHRISTALine's philanthropic MedWigs initative into a 501(c)(3). Now named WIGwell, it relies on the Winston-Salem Foundation as its fiscal partner. "Twenty percent of the proceeds from all arms of CHRISTALine Studios goes to benefit WIGwell," she says.

Frustrated that lack of funds has limited the number of medical wigs she can produce, Schanes launched a social-media-driven fundraiser; you can find the Wacky Wig Challenge on

Awareness of her mission is growing. Schanes says, "I'm getting more freelance job offers these days, because people know that 20 percent of all I make is going to be used for this project."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 7, 2019

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