I walked out of the dermatologist’s office, having just been told that the hair I’d lost had no hope of growing back. Despite not being an outwardly emotional person, I stood and cried in the street as people walked past. I was on my own – I’d dropped the kids off at school earlier and had almost skipped along to see the dermatologist after being referred by my GP a couple of weeks before. I was feeling positive – hopeful even – that I’d get some answers and be given something that would make my hair grow back. After all, I’m healthy, have never had any hair-loss issues before and didn’t have a family history of alopecia, so was pretty confident my issue could be easily fixed.
Last year was really difficult for me – in fact, it was probably the worst year of my life so far. Our daughter was diagnosed with brittle cornea syndrome and was rapidly losing her eyesight (one of the main symptoms of the illness). Our life, as we knew it, totally changed and was suddenly filled with countless operations and hospital appointments. We were also dealing with an unsympathetic school, which we eventually had to leave, meaning our daughter moved away from her friends. So, when I first noticed that my hair was becoming thinner around my hairline, I wasn’t entirely surprised and assumed it was due to stress. I knew that the two are linked. And, apparently, people of Afro-Caribbean descent have fewer hair shafts than Caucasian people, meaning they are more susceptible.
The doctor told me I had traction alopecia, which was caused by years of wearing my hair in tight ponytails and plaits (stress has also not helped the matter). I had never liked my thick, afro hair and, from the age of seven, had straightened it and worn it in plaits so tight my scalp would hurt. I also used harsh relaxer chemicals to make it more manageable. I longed for straight, easy hair that didn’t require all the time, effort and pain to make it look, in my opinion, half decent.
I have very little say in what happens to my hair from now on, which scares me. However, I’m determined not to let it get me down or make me hide away
Funnily enough, two years prior to sitting in the dermatologist’s office, I had turned a corner and started to embrace my natural hair. I cut out all of the chemicals (on which I had, over the years, spent thousands of pounds), cropped it short and started again. Although I didn’t like my new, boyish haircut, I was determined to give my hair a break. And as it grew back, I loved it more than ever. I loved the freedom it gave me, no longer spending hours in the hairdresser's or taking for ever to wash and dry it. I also felt like a positive role model for my two young daughters. Embracing my natural hair was empowering.
Thankfully, things have calmed down at home now. My daughter’s condition has stabilised for the time being and the kids have settled into an amazing new school where we get a lot of support. But my alopecia is still getting worse. When I wear my hair out, you can’t always notice, but if it’s windy or if I have my hair plaited or in a ponytail, it’s easy to see.
I’ve thought about wearing hair pieces and have even investigated transplants, but what I’ve come to realise is that there is no easy fix. While there is no known cure for alopecia, what I can do is focus on my heath and wellbeing. I've been taking multivitamins every day and rub castor oil into my scalp daily, which, though there is no hard evidence, is thought to help thicken existing hair and stimulate new growth. I also wear a silk head wrap at night to protect the hair I do have.
Many people suffer from hair loss in its various forms and it obviously can affect self-esteem and your general sense of emotional wellbeing. It’s the lack of control that I struggle most with – I have very little say in what happens to my hair from now on, which scares me. However, I’m determined not to let it get me down or make me hide away. For me, an important part of learning to live with alopecia is to talk about it and raise more awareness. I’ve spoken about my experience on my Instagram (@Stylemesunday) and received positive, supportive comments, which have really boosted my confidence. I’ve also found helpful information on alopeciaonline.org.uk.
Whatever happens now, I will deal with it, and I want others to be able to deal with it, too. We need to keep talking and we need to keep supporting each other.
If you're also struggling with hair loss, here are some expert tips:
- Seek medical advice. A GP or dermatologist will be able to help offer a diagnosis and advice. (Find your local dermatologist here.) A tricologist will offer a holistic approach to treatment and will be able to advise on hair and scalp health.
- There are several different types of alopeica, each taking different forms. One of the most common is alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition which causes bald spots. You can find more information about every different type here.
- Hair-loss treatments vary in both approach and effectiveness. Find out about all the options here.
- Stress can play a factor in hair loss. “Around 90 per cent of alopecia areta cases are stress-related," says Zoë Passam, senior trichologist at Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic. "Try to address any obvious triggering factors where possible."
- Although not a nutritionally related condition, eating a healthy diet and at regular intervals is thought to help provide a sustained supply of energy to hair follicles. "Protein especially will help improve hair quality, while iron and vitamin B12 will help maximise the hair's growth potential," says Passam.
- If, like Natalie, you suffer from traction alopecia, then try to avoid tying your hair in very tight ponytails or braids. Sally-Ann Tarver, from The Cotswold Trichology Centre, also advises against using hair extentions, which "can cause quite rapid hair loss. If you must use them, check your hair regularly for thinning or loss".
- An eyebrow pencil or coloured spray the same colour as your hair can help make thinning patches less obvious. Try Josh Wood's Root Concealer and Colour Wow's Root Cover-up cream.
"Try not to panic if you find a bald spot", says Amy Johnson, communications and fund raising managaer of Alopecia UK. "Many people experience alopecia areata and may have one or two bald patches. For the majority of people, these patches will fill in over a few months without treatment. And don't feel embarrassed or ashamed about it. Millions of people in the UK at some point in their lifetime will experience hair loss.
- Don’t suffer in silence. There are lots of forums such as Alopecia Online's support group, various Facebook groups and Health Unlocked where members can share their experiences and tips.