Throughout her acting career — from starring in the Netflix series “Lucifer” to appearing in multiple Hallmark movies — Tricia Helfer has used a variety of common hair extension products to portray characters with different hairstyles. She’s had them glued in, taped in and sewn in, but in late 2018, she tried metal clip-in extensions, Helfer told People in an exclusive interview on September 15, 2023.
That decision unknowingly would alter her life, leading to a mystery illness that, ironically, caused her to lose her real hair in addition to causing other symptoms. After pushing to find an answer, Helfer was finally diagnosed with heavy metal poisoning that has required extensive treatment, according to People.
Here’s what you need to know:
Tricia Helfer Discovered After 3 Months That Her Hair Extension Clips Had Turned Green
Helfer, who hung out with some of her Hallmark pals, including Cameron Mathison and Paul Greene, at Christmas Con in December, told People that she tried the metal clip hair extensions in 2018 “for a potential indie film that ended up not happening.” But she decided to keep them in for “a couple months” because she was used to doing that with other kinds of extensions. But after two months, Helfer noticed her scalp felt tender and sore, and she was suffering from other strange symptoms.
“I would lay in bed and just press on my head because my scalp was hurting,” she told People. “I couldn’t really floss my teeth because my gums were hurting. I would wake up and feel like my skin under my eyes looked a little sunburnt. Just everything was kind of irritated.”
After another month, she said, she was filming for the CBS show “SWAT” when the hairstylist on set asked if she was suffering from alopecia, which causes hair loss.
“(She) started going, ‘You have alopecia happening? You’ve got six or eight bald spots on the top of the crown of your head.’ So I immediately had [the extensions] taken out the next day because by that point I knew something was wrong.”
When Helfer did remove the metal clips in early 2019, she discovered they had turned green. Helfer kept them to show to her doctor, who sent her to a dermatologist right away. That doctor then sent her to an allergist, but Helfer told People that “nothing came up on the allergies in terms of metal.”
Tricia Helfer Said Metal Poisoning Symptoms Started Impacting Her on Film Sets
Feeling “overwhelmed and frustrated” that no one knew why she was having such strange symptoms, the only comfort for Helfer was that without the clips, her scalp had started to feel better. Still, Helfer said, she still didn’t feel quite right.
“I was still just feeling off and I couldn’t really put my finger on it,” Helfer told People, adding that her symptoms ranged from brain fog to exhaustion.
Helfer, who co-starred that year in Hallmark’s “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” with Eric Mabius, recalled, “When I was filming, I was having trouble remembering my lines, I felt foggy, just general malaise. I was sometimes kind of nauseous. I’d walk up a flight of stairs and start huffing and puffing. I just felt like I couldn’t remember things.”
When an acquaintance at a friend’s birthday party heard her story, she suggested Helfer get tested for heavy metal poisoning. Willing to try anything to get better, she went to a doctor the person suggested for testing.
“The results came back that I had heavy metal poisoning, and the lead was off the charts,” Helfer told People.
Heavy metal poisoning is caused by exposure to toxic metals like lead, mercury and arsenic, according to the Cleveland Clinic, which says that problems occur when the heavy metals “bind to parts of your cells that prevent your organs from doing their job.” It says symptoms “can be life threatening and they can cause irreversible damage.”
Relieved to have an answer, Helfer began treatment for heavy metal poisoning, which included receiving cortisone shots on her bald spots and undergoing chelation therapy, which uses an IV to remove metals from the body, according to the Los Angeles County Public Health Department.
“I probably did about 15 chelation treatments over the next year, and that gradually started making me feel better,” Helfer told People, adding that every few treatments, they’d see her metal levels decrease with testing.
She posted a photo in June 2021 of herself receiving an infusion. Helfer said it took a few months to feel more like herself, and a couple of years for her hair to grow back, and now she hopes telling her story will keep others from making the same mistake.
“I think it’s something that is important for people to know or think about if they are using those types of clips in their hair,” she said. “Because those types of extensions are meant to stay in for three or four months at a time. And that’s when the damage can happen.”