Thursday, 30 April 2015

The significance of hair...

As you might have spotted in this blog post about alopecia, and this one about my own hairloss, I've had some very diverse experiences with Trichologists, and whilst they can't cure all forms of hairloss, they do really understand it, and know what's going on...

A few weeks ago, I started tweeting with Iain Sallis, a trichologist with a particular fascination for the psychological impacts of hairloss, and he certainly has some interesting things to say. Here he kindly guest blog's for us here at Pretty Bald, giving insight into his own experiences with patients that he's met along the way... Enjoy!

So what! You're not going to die from going bald or loosing a bit of why are you worrying! It's not life threatening
These types of statements are all too common if you speak to some misguided (and lets face it ignorant) people about hair loss; the medical profession has a tendency to dismiss hair problems as frivolous or people having a ‘slight case of vanity’. This, coupled with the socially awkward problem of talking to someone about it in the first place can leave sufferers upset, vulnerable and confused as to their problem.
As a Trichologist my job is to help people with hair loss and scalp problems; I see the devastation it can cause in a person's life almost daily and it always amazes me how attached people are to this dead fibre that serves no physical purpose to our lives! More so than our nails or skin, our hair seems to have become a manifestation of our psychological well being. People know how important hair is to them (especially if they have suffered hair loss or thinning) I just think people do not realise why hair is so important to us socially and psychologically.
The importance of hair is ingrained into our history and our psyche from us being little... just think of stories such as Rapunzel, Samson and Dahlia, these stories teach us that beautiful princesses have beautiful hair, and a man with a full head of hair denotes strength and power (much like a mane of a lion). Through the ages ‘hair’ has denoted social standing:
  • It told us who the warriors are in a tribe (the Mohawk) or who we should be ashamed of; socially the cutting off of a woman’s hair used to be a punishment for promiscuity in some parts of the world until the mid 1900s... of course the men never had their hair cut, just the women!
  • Even the colour of hair has a large affect on us; red hair used to be the sign of a fiery temper, blondes are supposed to have more fun but may also be seen to infer a person to be dizzy or dim? 
  • Many women (and men) change their hair colour and cut when something significant has happened in their lives; it is a signal to them and everyone else that says I have changed or moved on...I’m a new person!
  • Grey hair is now seen as a sign of ageing, however, when we were more of a tribal animal, grey hair may have been a rarity (as we would not live for very long) so grey hair would denote the seniority and wisdom that would come with being around for so long! Again a positive unfortunately turned into a negative.

The lack of knowledge of hair disorders makes for very frustrated and worried people who quite easily fall into the hands of companies who tout their ‘miracle cures’ at a great cost (both emotionally and financially) to the sufferer. Hair loss on its own is not life threatening, but in many cases it acts as a ‘red flag’ to an underlying problem that need to be addressed. The psychological effects of losing your hair usually far outweigh the physical effects though!
  • Men - Usually feel as though they cannot talk to friends or family about hair loss as they shouldn't be bothered about it...just one of those things, right? If you’re worried about your hair, you’re classed as vain and it’s definitely not masculine to be worrying about your hair (the average bloke down the pub will have little sympathy with a mate who starts talking about his worried hair line).
  • Women – To admit that you're losing your hair can subconsciously feel like you're losing your femininity, youth, looks and in turn your self confidence...not exactly the easiest subject to bring up with friends or family!

We live in a world where perfection is rammed down our throats through every media, magazines, T.V and Films. This only serves to isolate the person with a hair problem as you very rarely see women suffer with hair problems in the media (unless they’re unfortunate enough to suffer from it in whilst the glare of the media spot light, and be strong enough to confront the problem in the full glare of the supportive but fascinated media). The common disguise is hair extensions, which can mask thinning and fine hair, but which can also lead to exacerbating the very same issues they are trying to cover. Hence every now and again you will see a drastic hair change as the hair would have got so bad it cannot hack it any more…fortunately for them, they also have a army of stylists to cover the problem in a different way!
With men the last resort is the shaved look, frowned upon until the past couple of decades, but thanks to celebrities such as David Beckham this look hit the mainstream and all of a sudden a shaved head is cool…not strange; a guy who shaved his head before this were looked upon as a thug (a bovver boy). When I was growing up the only bald guys on TV were Kojak and Yule Brynner (and Duncan Goodhew of course!) all of which stood out due to their complete lack of scalp hair. Other follicularly challenged men such as Bruce Willis decided to go down the toupè route until he decided to shave his head too…then he became hot property again?!
A New scientific study show that men and women who tried to hide a hair problem were rated, less confident and less attractive by a survey group, whereas people with a shaved / bald head were rated more confident and so more attractive; why? The scientists behind this social experiment concluded that the survey group subconsciously realised the subjects in the first group were trying to hide something, which then transferred to a lack of confidence in the person's mind. The group who did not show the tendencies to hide, were rated more confident…hence more attractive!
For women, the cultural change of “fashionable baldness’ has not taken place as hair and ‘beauty’ are far more intertwined in the female psyche than the male!
Take all of the above then focus it through the lens of medial consumption, the obsession with ‘whoever’s’ new hair cut, colour, style…we are consumers and we CONSUME our idols, celebrities (for want of a better word)...They are not allowed a ‘bad hair day’ therefore, (sub-consciously) neither are you!
It’s only when our conscious brain takes over, which argues the fact that “you are not your hair”, you can be feminine, beautiful and worthy WITHOUT this strange ‘dead’ fibre growing out of your scalp that you can place hair loss into perspective….so why does it still niggle you, prick the back of your mind??
I have been told that our subconscious is not logical; it is there to keep us alive, so, if in the past the females that ‘looked’ healthy (i.e.: fit, good skin, healthy hair etc) made our brains think they would make good mates, they henceforth had a better chance of perpetuating our species…this may be the reason why we ‘feel’ hair is important, the same way good teeth and good skin are, as a marker of ‘health’.
So, how important is hair really? Well, in truth the answer is “it is as important as you make it”  as the lack of hair has no significant health implications. Hair is all important to our psychological health and well being, so what happens when you have to learn to live without it, to re-program your brain to let go of this superfluous fibre!...maybe you can tell me?
Iain Sallis M.I.T A.I.T Twitter: @PrettyBald

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Am I normal?

As you might expect, I keep track of a lot of fellow hairloss sufferers, am engaged in a lot of hairloss groups / communities and read up a lot about it, not to mention the emails and tweets I receive along the way! Thinking specifically of Alopecia here, something many are keen to know is 'Am I normal?'

Some of the questions I've seen / received in the last few weeks:

  • The areas of regrowth on my son's head is hurting him; is this normal?
  • The hair on my head is regrowing, but it's white; am I normal?
  • After years of no hair, it's suddenly regrowing; has anyone else had this experience? Is that normal?

The answer? Yes! Totally! Or maybe I should say no as well!

Let me explain! The longer I've had alopecia, the more I have read and the more people I have met, the more I have realised that actually, there is no normal, or everything is normal, whichever way you prefer to look at it! Every single person's story is different, and whilst there are similarities in the behaviour of each person's alopecia, there are no two stories which are exactly the same.

Answering the questions above:

  • Some people answered yes, and some people answered no. I don't personally experience pain at regrowth, but I do when it's about to or falling out. I have however also met others who have pain when it grows, but not when it doesn't, and people who've advised they never get pain at all!
  • Personally, mind always grows back white (expect for the eyelashes), and it's never reached the stage where it's later turned brown again. I've also met people where it grows back the natural colour immediately and those where it grows white then changes. It seems there is no normal regrowth behaviour with alopecia.
  • I've had years of no hair, and despite as mentioned short bursts of regrowth that never reach any considerable length, I've never had it back. I've also met people who suddenly had a full head of hair which has stayed permanently, and those where the growth later fell out again!
When it comes to questions like these, I've come to realise that either everything is normal, or alternatively that there is no normal. Every single individual case I have come across has similarities and differences and as yet, I've never found two the same! I've met identical twins where one has lost hair, people on immuno-suppressants who shouldn't lose their hair but have, even a person born with an alopecia condition who has never grown hair! Baffling! Yet at the same time reassuring to know that whilst it may seem strange, abstract and even unsettling, there is no right or wrong way to have and experience alopecia and therefore the answer is yes, you really are normal!

Victoria x Twitter: @PrettyBald

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Feeling peachy...

For some reason at the moment, I am having a hair growing spurt and right now feel like I should be auditioning to play the 'Peach' in James and the Giant One!

Along the way in my alopecia journey, I have had lots of short spurts of hair growth; always blonde / white and always incredibly short. Now the colour hasn't changed, but the length of hair growth and location certainly has...

I am fuzzy! There is no other way to describe it than fuzzy - whereas before my hair growth has been isolated to the areas you'd expect, eyebrows, lashes, some arm and leg hair and of course my head, right now, it is growing on my... face! Yes you did read that right; my face is currently covered in small, soft, white downy hairs that didn't grow even before my hair fell out. In fact, I can safely say I've never had visible hair there before and right now, this is kind of a bit odd!

The first thing I noticed was the sideburns - they have reached the grand old length of just over 1cm, which is the longest individual hairs I've had since I lost it all to alopecia. Nothing normally makes it past 2-3mm, so this in itself is worth a mention! My sideburns have grown (as you'd expect), but nothing else has - they stop short of my hair and are sort of floating in isolation. They're also blonde, and having been a brunette since the age of two, it's odd to think it might, just might, grow back blonde!

From there, on closer inspection I noticed the light dusting of hair across my forehead - no, not at the original hairline, but my actual forehead! The area between my head, where my hair should be and isn't, and my eyebrows which also should be and aren't, is now covered in these little soft hairs. It is spreading too - my cheeks are getting covered, as are areas of my skin! If it decides to go back brown, I risk looking like a werewolf / ape / human crossbreed!

In amongst all that, I have regrowth of eyelashes on one eye, while on the other they are falling out, my scalp is as smooth as a baby's bum and my arms are positively bereft of hairs! It's just my face that isn't and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it!

For now, I intend to leave it be - any hair growth before has soon seen fit to stop and bail, and I'm sure it won't be long until my hairy face follows suit! If it doesn't, then I'll be starting a Shakira-inspired she-wolf blog and you'll have to follow me there instead!

I guess all these ramblings simply serve to highlight the strange foibles of alopecia and medical hairloss, which extend beyond the hairloss itself; alopecia in particular is an unpredictable disease and everyday, I feel like I uncover something new!

Victoria x Twitter: @PrettyBald

Monday, 27 April 2015

PRODUCT REVIEW: Eye of Horus Eyebrow pencil

Eyebrows are fabulous for defining the face and adding character, but once you've lost some or all of the hairs, they can be a right pain to perfect and getting the right make-up is a challenge!

A few weeks ago, I got my hands on three eyebrow pencils from Eye of Horus, a gorgeous make-up brand with a really cool image. According to its blurb, the Australian brand pencil adds shape, colour and definition to sad looking brows, and is also enriched with Castor Oil which is known for its hair-growing properties. An added bonus is that the products aren't tested on animals and are paraben-free, as well as being rich in natural essential oils. The packaging is great too! (Photo by Kayleigh - thanks chick!)
Now, it would be really unfair to put these hair growing properties up against alopecia (we know which one will win), but we still thought it would be a good idea to put the pencil to the test... People who don't have alopecia, but have thin brows, gaps or slow-growing hairs, may well find this particular property useful, but will have to try it for themselves!

With three individual pencils clutched in my paws, I kept one in 'Dynasty' colour, sent a 'Dynasty' to Kayleigh and 'Husk' to Jenny; the only colour not tested was 'Nile' which was simply too dark for any of us...

The general consensus for this product? A positive one...

My feedback:
Bearing in mind I never used an eyebrow pencil or powder before I lost my hair, learning how to freehand eyebrows was a serious challenge. I did initially have semi-permanent make-up, but cost, time and laziness meant I've let these fade out. Anyway, two of the biggest challenges I faced during this learning was 1.) Finding a product that was easy to use, and 2.) Finding one to last as long as I did, which didn't inadvertently fade, leaving me with no, or worse one eyebrow left on my face!

For me, this eyebrow pencil was a revelation! I cannot stress how handy I found it, and the single biggest reason is the teeny-tiny nib. About half (or maybe even a third) of the thickness of any of my other eyebrow pencils, this wind-up end offers incredibly precise application, enabling you (and even me) to deliver individual 'hair' strokes, creating a very natural and realistic eyebrow look. In fact, even my mum commented at the 'hair growth' on my face, assuming I'd put pencil through some natural regrowth! Sorry mum!

The pencil itself is lovely - not too soft that it goes on thick and dark and not too hard that it hurts to apply; a winner. The colour (Dynasty) is perfect for my brunette colouring and is a fab match to my chosen wig colours. The other bonus - I actually have to remove it with a make-up wipe at the end of the day, because it stays put with zero re-application! That said though, it's not a case of scrub it off either as they come off easily with make-up remover.

I adore this product and the only downside as far as I'm concerned is the price - they're £15 each and I've never spent more than £5 on an eyebrow pencil - then again, that might be the reason they always slide off!

See my scores below...
With the Eye of Horus pencil
With powder - thicker and less precise
Before going to work
After work the same day - long-lasting
Before a day at Alton Towers
After a full day at Alton Towers - sorry for the grumpy face! #Tired!
Jenny's feedback:
Jenny is a lighter hair colour so she opted for the 'Husk' colouring which is advertised for blonde or greying tones. Commenting on the colour, she said it was "just right and went on smoothly". What's more, she comments "The coverage was good and looked natural over my semi permanent make up. It stayed really well and lasted all day."

For Jenny however it wasn't all good and she comments "The only down side was it doesn't seem strong enough. The actual pencil part is very thin and I find you have to be very gentle with it, otherwise it snaps off. Also it sort of slides out and that could also cause premature breakage."

She her scores below...

Kayleigh's feedback:
Like me, Kayleigh opted for the Dynasty to suit her brunette colouring. She is a huge advocate for the product and gives an even more glowing reference than I do! She says...

"The Eye of Horus Ultimate Brow Define - Dynasty pencil may be my favourite make up product! Now coming from a make up novice, this will not mean much but I hold this gorgeous pencil in very high regard!

From first impressions Eye of Horus seem to be a very glam brand. Their packaging is extremely stylish and, if it's possible for a bag and tissue paper, sexy!

The pencil itself is sleek and lightweight, making it easy to handle. It has possibly the smallest nib I've seen on an eyebrow pencil which means you can be as precise as you need with your brows! Now, I'm lucky enough to still have my eyebrows but I do like to pencil them in to give a more defined look. The texture of the pencil also means that it's virtually impossible to go overboard while doing this and end up with huge dark slugs on your forehead. Winner! The product does claim to contain a component (Castor Oil) that encourages hair growth on the area used, but I haven't noticed any difference; although I have only been using this product for a week or so and it may be you need continued usage over a prolonged period of time for this to take effect.

Another bonus with the Ultimate Brow Define pencil is that it comes with its own brow comb meaning you can switch between drawing and shaping your brows with so much ease it's no effort at all. I found that once my brows were done in the morning, they stayed looking great all day - even during work outs! - and washed off easily at the end of the day.

The Eye of Horus Ultimate Brow Define pencil is a fantastic product to have in your kit and I will definitely be investing in the future!"

Kayleigh's Brows - Before and After...

See her scores below...

Overall scores:
As part of the review process (and to stop us gushing too much), we also agreed to give scores out of ten for different aspects.

Branding / Packaging:
Victoria: 9 /10
Jen: 8/10
Kayleigh: 10/10

Victoria (Dynasty): 10 /10
Jen (Husk): 9/10
Kayleigh (Dynasty): 10/10

Victoria: 10 /10
Jen: 6/10
Kayleigh: 10/10

Durability (Staying Power):
Victoria: 10 /10
Jen: 7/10
Kayleigh: 10/10

Price (£15):
Victoria: 7 /10
Jen: 7/10
Kayleigh: 8/10

Overall scores:
Branding / Packaging: 27/30
Colour: 29/30
Usability: 26/30
Durability: 27/30
Price: 22/30

Grand Total: 131 out of 150 or 87%

Video blog:
I haven't had a minute to record one yet, but I absolutely promise that I will! As soon as I have, I'll share a link on Twitter / Facebook so you can take a look!

So there you have it! The Eye of Horus Brow Define Pencil Review - an overall winner and one we'd like to stock through Pretty Bald in the near future! In the meantime, you can buy the product online through Beauty Bay.

Victoria x Twitter: @PrettyBald

Sunday, 26 April 2015

#100HairFreeDays Part Eight - all the ones that you've emailed in to us!

So if you've missed us doing #100HairFreeDays for the last 49 days, you've either just joined our readership, or you must be unobservant! This week, despite having more of my own reasons to share with you, I'm going to share some of my faves from the ones you've emailed in to me!
  • When you take off a static jumper, your hair isn't Frizzy! #NoFrizz
  • No trimming of stray nose or ear hairs that women loathe! (For men that is)
  • Was out in the garden battling with a shrub and no hair means no twigs stuck in it!
  • No stubbly hairs sticking through your tights when you KNOW you left it too long, even for winter!
  • My baby is at the stage of throwing her food around! No stray banana mush in my hair!
  • If there's a hair in the food, I know it's DEFINITELY not mine!
  • When your other half runs his hand up your leg, you know they're silky smooth!

Thanks for all the suggestions guys! If anyone has any more, tweet us @PrettyBald or email us!

Victoria x Twitter: @PrettyBald

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Out 'little' trip to @AltonTowers; well done @Alopecia_UK

When you're suffering from hairloss, there are two types of concerns with your experience; the first is the earth-shattering realisation of the obvious effects on your life, from the inability to achieve the latest hairstyles to the moments watching too much hair disappear down the plughole. Once you've got past some of these, there are then the not-so-obvious realisations, both good and bad, of how else your hairloss will affect you - from lower shampoo costs and less time spent hair washing or shaving, to the stomach-flipping fear that somehow your wig will blow off on a windy day.

For many, one such realisation is that they just can't enjoy a theme park in the same way any more. For those who opt to cover their head's with wigs, hats or headscarves, they face a difficult choice - opt to enter the corkscrew turning, upside-down, earth-spinning rides, hoping that the covering won't inadvertently fly off mid-spin, or face the prospect of unchecked stares as they opt to go bald and free. Not to mention that it can be a bit nippy up there if the sun isn't shining, and sunburn is a real risk if it is!

So what do you do? Well some clever clogs at Alopecia UK decided that a trip to UK theme park Alton Towers as a large group would a) provide an opportunity to offer support, guidance and advice and b) create an opportunity for a people to go bald and free in a group where each feels less conspicuous. So, on the 11th April (yep this post is a little late), around 150 people including alopecians and their friends and family descended on Alton Towers to enjoy a day of riding everything from CBeebies Land to The Smiler.

As a volunteer with the Adult Group, I was given the chance to meet with and chat to faces I knew and a great many more that I didn't. Electing to be the bag lady (I'm terrible on rides), there was a little waiting around, but it was awesome to spend a day catching up with old friends and meeting new. As you might have seen in this blog post earlier in the week, we also had the opportunity to share a great many personal experiences and to find commonalities we didn't necessarily expect in our hairloss journeys.

For me, what I personally get out of this event is a chance to talk to and engage with people who truly understand, and who've 'been there done that'. They have also helped me grow in confidence and I've had the pleasure to see this in others too; from those who wouldn't be seen dead without a wig suddenly exposing their head for all to see, to those who've never spoken of their experiences sharing with others! It's wonderful and helps put everything in perspective and I can safely I'm grateful to Alopecia UK for staging such great events!

I'm pretty sure everyone else enjoyed it and there were many screams of delight as people dropped into Oblivion and corkscrewed around The Smiler. The only downside for me - it was a little bit nippy which meant I was a little bit chilly so couldn't go truly bald, but I guess you really can't have it all!

Thanks to Alopecia UK and to Alton Towers for having us rowdy rabble! Here's to next year when I'll definitely be back again!

Victoria x

P.S. If you want to find out about next year's event and other great ones too, I suggest you sign up to the Alopecia UK newsletter on their website where they'll keep you up to date with this and much more.

P.P.S For those of you keen beans who loved seeing Jen in too ugly for love, you might have spotted a number of us wearing #TeamPete badges in the pictures! Yep, he was there too!

 P.P.P.S please ignore the timestamps on the photos - apparently my camera decided it was acceptable to reset it! Twitter: @PrettyBald

Friday, 24 April 2015

Yep, it's still not stress...!

Continuing on from my post on Saturday about Alya Mooro considering her feelings of failure, I've been thinking about a few other things that were written in the article, and it has inspired a series of a few posts - sorry if that's tedious!

Something which Alya advises in the article is that her hairloss was related to stress - stress she 'didn't even realise she had' and which made her friends and family feel guilty for inadvertently contributing to! Sorry, but it seems that when Doctors and 'experts' investigate our hairloss, they default to 'stress' simply because there is no other obvious trigger and no other nice, neat box! Seriously, I have done a heck of a lot research into this and spoken at length to a number of researchers and there is little if any indicators that hairloss is related to stress. In fact, much of the current research is identifying that it is anything but stress in the traditional sense of the word, as case studies show incredibly varied experiences, with little or no presence of cortisol or stress hormones.

What bugs me is that putting hairloss in the 'stress' box, simply diminishes the effect of it, and in many cases triggers the feeling of failure or leaves people feeling like they somehow could have prevented it. What's more, taking up yoga, meditation or some other 'stress reliever' that works for you personally won't make you sprout a plethora of new hairs on your head! What's more, if you think of it the other way, as I've said before, if stress was a factor, every person living through poverty, hunger, natural disasters and other intensely stressful situations would surely have no hair left?!

This is definitely something that GPs, Dermatologists and other practitioners need to be educated on. My own dermatologist was incredibly knowledgeable and said that the link to stress was unproven, any more than other triggers. The only thing which has been proven is that sometimes, intensely stressful situations can be a single trigger e.g. car accidents or similar, but that this seems to be a side-effect of the event, rather than the stress. Hairloss can have many other triggers too, including diet, general health and wellbeing and a genetic predisposition, but these are no more understood than stress!

You can read more about my own 'stress' experiences here...

Victoria x Twitter: @PrettyBald

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Some random things about hairloss that you just might not think about...

At the Alton Towers event hosted by the fabulous Alopecia UK, I spent a large amount of time meeting new people and chatting through our own experiences of hairloss, the things we'd felt, the things we'd learned and even the things we hadn't!

As inevitably happens, once you start chatting, it's difficult to stop and along the way we admitted some 'deep, dark secrets' (not really) and there were definitely some revelations that you're not the only one experiencing...

  1. Yes, your nose hair may fall out, and yes it will dribble! Not your average topic of conversation, but we spent over half an hour discussing it! Many of us thought it was our own weird affliction, but no - you're not alone! It makes sense though, just like the hair on your head, many people with hairloss (alopecia or otherwise), will lose the hair in their nose! It isn't glamourous, but a handy pack of Kleenex will be a handbag essential!
  2. Yes, the bits you don't want will grow first. This seems to be an affliction all us baldies suffer from - no, the hair on your head will not come back first - it will be underarm hair, a patch on your leg, or even the monobrow eyebrow hairs in the middle that you used to pluck first! Many also highlighted a hobbit feet affliction, highlighting growth on big toes that wasn't even there before the hairloss! Great that there's hair growth, that's a positive sign, but resign yourself to the annoying bits first! 
  3. It may be sore or uncomfortable. This varies from person to person, but for some hairloss will be a little bit painful. About half of us involved in the discussion had experienced tenderness, itching, irritation or discomfort as the hair fell out and apparently this is entirely normal. One theory behind this is that the immune system is attacking the healthy skin cells at the same time, but this is entirely unproven.
  4. You may be more prone to ear infections! This won't affect everyone, but some have experienced an increase in ear infections. There are thousands of tiny hairs inside the ear which act as protection from falling debris, insects etc. just like your lashes - it is thought that loss of these hairs can increase susceptability to ear infections, but only about 25% had experienced this side effect. 
  5. You may get a little more deaf. The ear has about 18,000 internal hair follicles, which are used to measure and interpret sound waves enabling you to hear. Obviously, they are not the only factor in hearing (otherwise we'd all be deaf) but some people will lose a percentage of these hairs and will experience a change in your hearing. 
  6. You're nails might well be rubbish. Just like hair, your nails are made from Keratin, and whilst Alopecia is focussed on the hair, a great many alopecians also experience problems with their nails. From ridges to pitting and not to mention long periods of non-growth, it's quite likely your nails will become weak, brittle and very short. This is something I have experienced since before my hairloss, but it is definitely worse now, but again there were an equal number of people who'd never had a problem!
We spent a long time talking about this and that's one of the things I love about support events - sharing experiences and realising that big or small, you really aren't alone!

Whatever your hairloss cause, find others in the same boat as you and it will help make things so much easier!

Victoria x Twitter: @PrettyBald

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

My first wig experience... A lesson in determination whatever the odds

Losing your hair can be terrifying particularly if like me you don't know the cause, trigger or likely outcomes and instead feel like you are wading through mud just trying to get through each day. Don't worry, that feeling does pass, but in the meantime many opt to select a wig in a bid to maintain a sense of normalcy and identity. That's perfectly natural and can help recreate a feeling of control, and if you're anything like me, that first wig will blossom into multiple ones, and potentially even a collection to rival the one in your shoe cupboard!

Despite my obvious enthusiasm for wigs, and my encouragement to look on the bright side of your hairloss (search #100HairFreeDays on the PrettyBald blog), it's not always been easy and my first experiences with wig shopping were a complete and utter nightmare. Before I get started telling you that story, it's probably best that you understand a little more about me - I am incredibly lazy in many ways, and growing up, that laziness stretched to the way I looked; when other teenagers became obsessed with rolling up their skirts and applying some then wonky lines of eyeliner, I could always be counted on to appear with my skirt the right length and my face make-up free, regardless of whether my spots had flared up or not. Writing it like that, I sound horrifying and a little like the class freak; but in reality for me, I simply couldn't be bothered to get up earlier to put make-up on, when an extra half an hour in bed seemed just the ticket! Even to this day I treat make-up as a luxury; something I wear for important meetings or nights out, but not as part of my daily routine - I just don't care enough what others think of me and don't need make-up to give me confidence personally.

Switch back then to the beginning of my hairloss journey; my hairloss was fairly slow and I was officially diagnosed by the Dermatologist as having Alopecia Areata. I initially underwent steroid injections into the scalp, but despite stimulation of small patches of soft, downy hair, regrowth was restricted to the injection site and the hairloss elsewhere didn't slow even marginally. The Dermatologist suggested we didn't persevere with the treatment and that in all likelihood I could expect progression to Alopecia Totalis. He wasn't wrong, but at the time that situation seemed hopeless and so I did my research and toddled off to visit a Trichologist (I can confirm not Mark Blake who wasn't a Trichologist at the time, but another local to me); I walked in and she must have cottoned on that the untreatable nature of alopecia can make sufferers desperate to try something, anything to stem the loss. I was no different and aside from starting the session with "Your hairloss is progressing and there's no sign of the follicles, so you'll lose it all", which nearly made me vomit in fear, she then progressed to talking wigs (which I "wasn't ready for yet") at the same time plying me with some expensive Forever Living Aloe Vera Juice, some specialist concealing make-up and a bottle of Minoxodil. I left that clinic hundreds of pounds worse off, and despite religiously applying Minoxodil and drinking bucketloads of Aloe Vera for two months it did absolutely nothing and I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth about this 'specialist'. I decided then I wasn't going back to her for wig advice and to this day I'm glad I didn't - I think the lack of empathy would have killed me and her commitment to high commission would have bled me dry too. 

From there I was at a loss where to go, but speaking to people I knew in the area, a number of people mentioned a male wig specialist who seemed to be the only one in Cheltenham. His mainstay day-to-day work was hair extensions including many of the ladies who work in Stringfellows, but he also offered a wig consultancy service to help and support those with hairloss. He seemed really positive and seemed to know his stuff, and most importantly his focus was on me, my hairloss and how I felt, not on the commission he could gain from me. We talked through a number of options, from a full wig (synthetic or human) to a hair piece, and even extensions to fill out my thinning hair. In the end (after adamant support from him), I opted to purchase an off-the-shelf human hair wig to be cut up and formed into 'patches' to be glued in place on my head. At the time, it sounded perfect - my natural hair wouldn't be covered, the patches would blend in and most of all, it could be maintained just like my own hair!

Despite my initial positivity, this 'low-maintenance' option was anything but. The human hair wig wasn't the perfect shade, and needed to be dyed, the patches of hairloss grew faster than the patches of hair could be made and don't talk to me about the glue which was oozy, slimy and took 3-4 hours to take off, clean and reapply. I was devastated. Far from feeling my glamourous, normal self, I was left feeling bereft and helpless, and this was incredibly higher maintenance than my own hair had been. I was gutted, but at the time, couldn't blame his advice, so decided to return for 'solution' number two. This time, the hairloss was too bad, so a 'cover' was the only option - it was a lace-fronted synthetic wig, into which clips were sewn for added security. It was hot, bulky, changed the shape of my head, itched like hell and generally made me feel even less comfortable and at that stage I entered my 'social recluse' phase, avoiding situations with people I didn't know and operating a 'zero camera' policy wherever possible.

This was one of my lowest points and it was directly linked to my wig. The unnatural appearance of my locks, coupled with the discomfort of the wig, not to mention the 'tugging' sensation on my scalp from the clips and I was pretty much at rock bottom. From here, I didn't know where to go and I wasn't sure there was a solution for me! Still, when it reached the stage where there was barely enough hair for the clips to cling on to, I returned again, this time looking for a more permanent solution - a human hair one preferably.

This time, a custom-made, hand-produced, European Remy hair wig was proposed and I went with it - finally, hair that would look just like mine, on a cap that fitted my head so perfectly it would be like a second skin. What's more, the cap would feature a silicone strip which would not only grip my head naturally, but which would enable tape or glue to be applied for added security - I was in my element! The only thing left to do was wait eight little weeks for it to arrive and I'd be happy!

Sixteen weeks later, the wig still hadn't arrived - there was no sign of it and the factory 'couldn't trace it'. I was devastated. My synthetic wig was loose, uncomfortable and in very bad repair and my confidence was at rock-bottom! When it finally arrived, the worst possible thing happened - it was wrong! The cap was far to big - in fact I could put it on my head with my hand up inside and even worse, it was 8, not 18 inches! I was gutted and refused to pay for it, and that's when I realised, no matter how well-intentioned the individual, it's very little use when they're not qualified.

Despite a pretty poor start to my wig journey, I did eventually find someone who was qualified and well informed in all things wig. They also talked me through each different type and then combined with a lot of my own research, I finally felt in control of my own destiny. As a result, I now have a small addiction (14 wigs and counting) and have a full range of synthetic and human hair ones that give me a lot of variety and choice! The best thing of all? Even though every one of mine is an 'off-the-shelf' one, they fit like a glove and still look incredibly natural - nothing like my very first ones!

For me, what I have learned from this experience is not to give up in pursuit of what you want. If a wig is the right way for you to go, then be honest and don't give up in finding and gaining what you want. What's more, if you are opting to visit a wig shop and not to buy them online, then check out the reviews and ask how they are qualified! It just might save you a whole heap of heartbreak!

Victoria x

My first wig - bulky, frizzy and unnatural

First wig - not doing well in the heat either

Loving my synthetic bob!

...and this curly one too!
Twitter: @PrettyBald

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Meet Miss April - The very gorgeous Julie... #PrettyBald #Calendar

We of course cannot let this month pass by without mentioning the very gorgeous and lovely Julie (Juliana), our Miss April.

Julie is the epitome of hairloss 'success' if you can call it thay; someone who has battled the demons associated with hairloss and emerged as a gorgeous butterfly, full of confidence and at her happiest! You might have spotted her in Sunday People telling others of her story, but if you didn't, don't forget to give it a read...

Julie is 52, and has been a mental health nurse since the age of 18 (kudos). She has been a sufferer of Alopecia Areata for much of her life, with bouts at the age of 12 and 16 initially. Steroid Injections did the trick and then Julie went unaffected until the age of 32, getting progressively worse until not only was her hair affected, but her confidence and self-esteem too. The hairloss ultimately led to a divorce at 43 as she hit rock-bottom.

Slowly, engaging with her hairloss, telling others and slowly coming to accept it, made her a stronger, happier person. She met a new man, who accepted her as she was without the hair and they married in 2012. Since then, she's embraced the hairloss, going wig-free after the Alopecia UK Liverpool Flashmob and even opting for a gorgeous floral tattoo on her head (ouch)! She's vivacious, funny, charming and a delight and her story is one of personal tradegy and ultimate happiness which I believe is possible for anyone!

Well done Julie

Victoria x Twitter: @PrettyBald

Monday, 20 April 2015

Could you be a model for this University student?

Yesterday, I spent much of the afternoon in the company of Christoph Soeder, a University of South Wales student of photography.

In the third year of his degree, Christoph is preparing for his final exhibition, the last project before he qualifies later this year. One of the key projects in his degree was a 'Barber Shop' portraiture series, focussing on male haircuts and their effect on identity. Called 'clear-cut', it was presented as an accordion book and was a project that Christoph particularly enjoyed. For his final project, he decided to extend this photographic style, creating a juxtaposition between the barber pictures and those without hair, suffering from hairloss. His chosen subjects? Individuals with alopecia.

If you feel up to taking part in his project, letting him photograph you with gorgeous make-up, a bare head and a vibrant back-drop, Christoph is looking for additional models over the next three weeks. Due to his base in South Wales and his need to cover as many individuals as possible, his preference is for people to come forward in South Wales, The Midlands or The South-West, which are all easily accessible for him.

Whilst it's a little awkward sat on a chair in front of a screen and smiling on cue, it was a really lovely way to spend an afternoon. Christoph is intelligent, chatty and lovely and very passionate about what he does! I'm hoping I did his project justice, and that he doesn't opt for the one where I'm about to sneeze ;-) As soon as I have a copy of his favourite picture, I promise to share it with you, but in the meantime, here's a picture of me and my make-up:

Initially, the images will only be used for Christoph's University project and you of course will be given a copy of the image for personal use. Any usage/publication beyond that will be subject to individual consent after having seen their images.

Please visit in case you would want to find out more about Christoph's work.

If you are interested in taking part, please get in touch with Christoph directly:

One final point, if you're not in the regions specified, it's worth getting in touch anyway, as Christoph may consider extending the project even after his final University project is over.

Victoria x Twitter: @PrettyBald

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Sarah Vine and a BBC Radio Five Live interview...

You may or may not know that famous British journalist Sarah Vine (also married to Michael Gove), suffers from thinning hair and has had since she was 14. Well yesterday, she shared an in-depth insight into her own experiences, in her Daily Mail column; from covering it up, to destroyed self-esteem and even a few treatments she tried along the way!

Whilst she and I have differing hairloss conditions - for Sarah it's female pattern baldness AND telogen, for me it's Alopecia Universalis - it seems our own experiences have seen many similarities along the way.

For example, Sarah says "I stopped exercising, not just because I was embarrassed about the way the thinning strands would separate and cling unflatteringly to my scalp when I sweated, but also because there didn't seem much point when my ugliness was on the top of my head for all to see." Whilst my hairloss was slow and wasn't an all-over shedding, when my alopecia was in the initial stages, I remember tipping myself upside down in a yoga class, giving myself a head rush as I straightened suddenly, realising that the patches would be on show for all to see if they opted to look through the window. In a crowded gym, where many attend to 'show off', I remember feeling like a fraud for being there when I was somehow less than perfect! Needless to say I cancelled my gym membership and have failed to rejoin since!

Reading on in her column, this also made me nod vigorously to myself "It fundamentally damaged my sense of self as a female, too. So much of the culture of beauty revolves around having long, thick, glossy locks that I felt I could never match up. I was so pathetically grateful for any male attention I made some seriously unwise choices in that department." Whilst I can't concur in the men department, I do remember struggling with the social 'ideal' that is oft foisted upon us. As my friends posted facebook pics of their new cuts, colours and styles, I was carefully scraping and securing strands of hair over ever-enlarging patches in a hope I'd get away with it a little longer and cringing at the sight of my odd head shape in a bad wig. In fact, sentences like these simply serve to remind me of the survey results from Dove US which highlighted 44% of women stated they were 'defined' by their hair - not just that they liked it, but that it was intrinsic to who they are as people! Sad but true!

One final point that I really related to was this: " the end of the day, it’s true: hair loss may be demoralising, undermining, upsetting and even embarrassing. But it is not fatal." Whilst the phrase "Its just hair" was one of the ones I frequently heard AND hated, at the end of the day it is just hair and I am grateful I'm not sick! Don't forget, search #100HairFreeDays above to check out all the positives of hairloss I've identified.

I'm seriously impressed with how open and honest Sarah Vine's column is on this subject and how brave she is to share the pictures, and I think she makes some very true and valid points! I only hope it serves to help those that read it, hairloss sufferer or not, and at the end of it all will somehow improve and diminish the stigma that many of us feel within society. The only difference (well actually there are many) between mine and Sarah's experience is that she's found comfort in a weave to cover it up, and I've embraced regular wig wearing, and more often than not you'll find me bald-headed too!

Following her fabulous column, which you can read here, BBC Radio Five Live interviewed Denise Hayes on the challenges she faced getting a job with a similar hairloss condition, highlighting just how appearance can contribute. Following the two, I am very proud to announce that in just over an hour, at approximately 10.35pm, I will be talking live on BBC Radio Five Live and you'll be free to listen in here. I'll be part of a much larger feature on hairloss in general and will follow an interview with Sarah Vine! Wish me luck! If I can, I'll share a link tomorrow and don't forget if you miss it you'll be able to listen again on BBC iPlayer!

Victoria x Twitter: @PrettyBald

#100HairFreeDays Chapter Seven - handing over the reins to @Kay89leigh

After launching #100HairFreeDays, you might have spotted us asking others to contribute! We've already had a few in (which are coming up next week), but this week, I HAD to hand over the reins to fellow Pretty Bald blogger Kayleigh, who came storming in with loads more! Here's just a handful of her suggestions!
  • No need to worry about shaving before THAT third date! ;-)
  • Never having to worry about hairy legs in your gym shorts
  • Never having to worry whether your pony tail is sleek enough
  • Humid day? Who cares! #FrizzFree
  • Showers are MUCH quicker
  • Your other half shows off to their friends about how quick you can get ready for date night!
  • You never have to worry about stray hairs while on the beach! #BikiniReady
She doesn't stop there, but we'll share her other reasons in amongst some more of mine and some of yours!

Victoria / Kayleigh x Twitter: @PrettyBald

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Hairloss... Why you're not failing...

Today, I read a really interesting interview in The Telegraph, chronicling the hairloss journey of Alya Mooro at the age of 23. One thing that straight away captured my attention was her assertion that she felt like a 'failure' for suffering from hairloss.

For me, this was never something that I experienced - many other emotions graced my brain, from inconsolable sobbing feeling like I'd never get through it, to a strange denial detachment that felt like burying my head in the sand. Never once though did I feel like a failure - in fact I frequently felt that others were failing me by being ill-equipped to properly advise or support. That said however, something I have definitely learned along this journey - you cannot predict how someone will feel on a day-to-day basis, how they will handle the situation and whether they will focus on finding a cure, or become a #BaldHeadedBeauty who embraces their hairloss. Feeling like a failure wasn't in my remit, but that doesn't mean it's wrong - simply sad.

Whatever the emotion you're feeling, and however it affects you, something you're not is a failure! Yes, it may feel like it, but in reality, it's not like hairloss or alopecia is simply preventable - if it was they'd have found a cure by now and would be advocating a healthier diet, or less chemicals or something else, simply to prevent the 'problem'. Failure by definition is 'not achieving the end goal' and it's not like we have a goal of 'having a full head of hair' or even consider it until the hairloss starts to happen. It doesn't diminish the feelings though and it doesn't mean you'll feel them any less!

I always find reading stories like this so interesting - it reminds me of how far I've come, as well as showcasing the diversity of hairloss experiences, which is just so important to give a sense of perspective!

Victoria x Twitter: @PrettyBald

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

How some brands are striving to change our #BodyConfidence and why we really should listen... #ChooseBeautiful

One of the things I have found most interesting about speaking to others with hairloss is just how intrinsically our hair is to our body confidence, and how much it forms of our identity. Along the way, I have met those who embrace (and even covet) a smooth cranium, as well as those who've spent time covering and hiding their hairloss from others, with every variation in between. Indeed in our interview with Brenda, she highlighted the fact she quit her job as a Children's entertainer after improving her own body confidence, identifying the fact that costumes helped her hide an aspect of herself that she previously struggled to deal with.

A few days ago, my colleague Jess pointed me in the direction of a new campaign by Dove called #ChooseBeautiful. Brands are often criticised for 'jumping on bandwagons' and 'preaching', and whilst many choose gimmicky media to solicit sales, every once in a while you start to believe a particular brand has genuinely good intentions alongside those sales. Over the last few years, I believe Dove has become one such brand, underpinning and helping build customers' body confidence through their campaigns.

Over the past few years, Dove UK and US has become synonymous with inspiringly powerful campaigns about self-esteem, body confidence and natural beauty in general. You may for example recognise the Evolution of a Model campaign from a few years back; a time-lapsed video focussing on the reality of ‘beautiful’. (If you haven’t already seen it, watch it below – you might be shocked!)

Now, they have done it once again...
The #ChooseBeautiful campaign comprises a social experiment approach, being more hands on compared to others in the past. The video campaign shows women from around the world being challenged to re-evaluate their own image and choose out of two doors; ‘Average’ and of course ‘Beautiful’.

As you can imagine, many women chose the ‘Average’ door; maybe to avoid judgement for acknowledging their own beauty or for the sheer fact they didn’t think they were beautiful!
Those who did walk through the ‘Beautiful’ door had significantly different body language and even a bit of a happy strut after being empowered by their decision to be ‘beautiful’ with a smile from ear to ear – one young girl was even dragged through the ‘beautiful’ door by her Mum!

Even though this campaign only seems like a bit of fun, shockingly, a huge 96 per cent of women wouldn’t use the word ‘beautiful’ to describe themselves fully; however 80 per cent would use the word to describe something about themselves.

I think this is a great campaign and one that we should all use to focus our own self-assessments. Not to sound twee, but there is beauty in everyone and why would we judge ourselves to be average? Average by definition means something in the middle, based on a numeric value - an 'average' height, an 'average' shoe-size, but how can we possibly be an 'average' beauty when there is no quantifiable aspect to beauty. I am me and that won't change, so if I don't believe myself beautiful, why should anyone else?

Whilst we are on the body confidence issue I looked at other recent examples of brands getting involved in the Body Confidence issue and lingerie brand Curvy Kate has been praised after releasing an ad that took a shot at Victoria’s Secret. ‘The Perfect Body’ advert by Victoria’s Secret was criticised for ‘body shaming’ women who are larger, as the ad consisted of one particular body shape.
The high fashion brand then changed the advert name to ‘The Body for Everybody’ after Curvy Kate released a similar ad using women with a diverse range of shapes and sizes... You go girls!



Coming back onto the Dove #Choose Beautiful campaign, we want to know what door you would choose? We’d love to know, please leave your opinion in the comments below or tweet us!

Watch the video here...

Evolution of a Model Video

Victoria x Twitter: @PrettyBald

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

What does it mean to have confidence...? Guest post from Kerry Montgomery

Sorry to harp on about it (I think this is my third post mentioning this), but the trip to The Ideal Home Show was brilliant and a great chance for me to meet others! Whilst only Brenda was a fellow #BaldHeadedBeauty, I did get the chance to meet another very interesting lady, before cementing our contact via Twitter! Kerry was another show participant and is also a researcher at Sheffield University, studying the effects of, and potential ways to support those living with visible skin conditions including acne and alopecia. We asked her to tell her story of Body Confidence and this is what she wrote...

If someone had told me ten years ago I would be on a catwalk in front of a large crowd of people I would have laughed, but over the last month I have spent three days taking part in Katie Piper's catwalk show: Confidence: The Secret.

So a bit about me, I was born with a genetic condition called Crouzons syndrome; the condition affects the appearance of the face and skull. It has been a struggle, particularly as a teenager; my parents tried to make things as normal as possible for me but time off school due to surgery and hospital visits meant my teenage years were a little different. School can be a difficult place for anyone who is set apart from the ‘norm’ - looking back I realise now if it hadn't been the way I looked, I would probably have been singled out for doing my homework on time, or getting good grades.  People would ignore me or call me names or threaten me. How I looked elicited such a strong reaction that I was actually assaulted because of it. I remember being chased home by five boys a few years older than me; I managed to make it home, bang on the door and my step dad chased them away - I was about 12 at the time. The reactions of other people severely affected my confidence as a teenager and young adult, it would stop me going out socially and I would be afraid of meeting new people because of worry about their reactions. I felt different to everyone else, and I didn't like my face, so much so that I decided that I wanted to have further reconstructive surgery. I was told it would have no medical benefits but it could ‘improve’ the appearance and shape of my face. I thought long and hard about it and decided that in order to feel better this was what I needed to do. However it wasn't to be, I woke up expecting my face to look different but the surgeons felt the procedure too risky and stopped the surgery - I was heartbroken.

That’s when I realised that this was it - this was what I looked like and it wasn't going to change. For me, this certainty helped. Looking back now, in some ways I'm glad the surgery didn't go ahead. It made me think about appearance and what it meant to me and the people I loved. All the negative reactions had come from people who I wouldn't ever dream of associating with - so why was I concerning myself with that? I don’t feel my appearance defines me as a person, when I describe myself it doesn't factor into it. I wouldn't say I think about the appearance of my face very often. I have everyday worries about my weight, my height, getting the right fit in clothes. I take care of myself and think about what to wear or my hair - as Katie would say it’s about being the best version of myself that I can be.

When the charity asked me about being involved in the show I wanted to be part of it because of the message: that living with a visible difference does not define who we are, and we can be confident, and look confident. Traditionally on catwalks there is a view that to be on stage you need to be what society deems as ‘beautiful’, but who defines beauty anyway - where does this come from. It's changed over time - previously the curvy figures of Marilyn Monroe and such like were sought after, and now this has changed to coveting the size 0 body. Beauty products are modelled by people with flawless skin and perfect hair - so what about the rest of us who don’t fit the mould, who look different to the women on the adverts and on the TV? We still use the products and wear the clothes so surely fashion and beauty needs to take this into consideration?

It’s been a journey getting to this place, to be able to stand on a catwalk in front of people and feel confident and I'm sure there will always be days when I look in the mirror and wish things were a bit different, but that doesn't make me different to anyone else. My appearance does not stop me doing things; sure when I first meet people I wonder how they will respond, but in my head now I think if someone is going to judge me, or respond to me in a negative way based on my appearance then I don’t really want to be around them anyway!

Doing the show I was lucky enough to meet amazing, beautiful women, and their stories touched me in some way. Everyone had overcome something very challenging and difficult and when that happens we have a choice, and the women I met all decided to fight and not let their difference define them. This strength came shining through as confidence, a confidence that they could do what they set their mind to and not be held back by negative views of others. Indeed one affirmation was ‘happiness is not comparing yourself to others.’  

My affirmation was ‘Who I am is enough’. A friend shared this affirmation with me, and to me it means that I don’t need to try and be someone else or seek to be different from who I am. I feel it has a powerful message.

I am passionate about helping people who are experiencing distress related to living with a visible difference, particularly social anxiety. My research at Sheffield university currently focuses on developing support for people living with skin conditions for example alopecia and acne. For me, my experiences have given me insight and awareness into living with a visible difference and I hope to use this to help others.


Kerry at The Ideal Home Show with Katie Piper and fellow models

I hope you enjoyed this post and if anyone has any questions for Kerry about her or her research, please let us know and we can put you in touch! We're looking forward to more updates from Kerry about her work progress in the future and wish her the best of luck!

Victoria x Twitter: @PrettyBald

Monday, 13 April 2015

Interview with a Trichologist - talking everything Alopecia with @Mark_Blake

Mark Blake is a celebrity Trichologist, drawing on years of experience as a hairstylist, to support men and women with hair thinning and hairloss issues. A comment I often hear from Alopecians and an experience I once shared was that "Trichologists can't help and just rip you off". Mark has restored my faith in their profession after my own first disastrous experience elsewhere and whilst he can't help cure my alopecia, he has huge success with other types of hair conditions and hairloss. Here at Pretty Bald, we put him through his paces answering all things Alopecia and here's what he had to say...

Q1: What is Alopecia? 
Alopecia is a generic term for any type of hair loss, including male pattern baldness, but it is commonly used to specifically refer to the Universalis, Totalis and Areata forms of the condition where the immune system attacks hair follicles.

Q2: What is the difference between these three types of Alopecia? 
The main difference between these three types of Alopecia is the amount and pattern of the hairloss, (although there are numerous other types of Alopecia that can affect someone). Alopecia Areata is a patchy hairloss, mostly from the head and usually in circular patches. Alopecia Totalis refers to total loss of scalp hair, and may appear initially as Areata before progressing to total hairloss. Alopecia Universalis refers to total loss of hair, including all scalp and body hair.

People can progress through these different stages quickly over just a few days, or slowly over several years, and not everyone will progress to Universalis either.

Q3: What causes it? 
Alopecia is a disease of the autoimmune system where the immune system becomes overstimulated and attacks healthy cells. The causes are still a bit of a scientific mystery, however more work has been done to solve alopecia in the last few years than ever before. Research shows that this process does not just affect hair follicles, but also attacks cells in the skin and nails too.

Q4: What happens to the hair? Is it dead? 
The body attacks its own hair follicles by mistake thinking they are a foreign body; despite attacking the follicles, they don't die, the hair simply stops growing. Hair growth goes through several phases including the Anagen (growing phase) and a stage called the Telogen phase where the follicle rests before growing again. Each hair enters the various phases at a different stage and because the head has so many hairs on it, despite many being in the Telogen phase the individual will still have a full head of hair. With alopecia, all the hair follicles enter and remain in the Telogen semi-permanently or permanently, waiting for the signal to start growing again which doesn't come. Over time, the likelihood of the hair regrowing is diminished, but in the right circumstances it is always possible that the hair will start growing again.

Q5: What can be done to prevent it happening? 
Unfortunately, not enough is known about alopecia, so nothing can prevent alopecia from happening. Hopefully in the future this will become a fully preventable and treatable disease, however for now you only know about it when you've got it.

Q6: Is there anything that can be done to treat it?
Some treatments are available, all with varying degrees of success. The effect of the treatment will vary from person to person, meaning some will be effective and sometimes they simply won’t work, at the same time leaving you with uncomfortable or difficult side effects. If you do start suffering from alopecia, the best thing to do is ask your Doctor for a referral to a dermatologist, or opt to visit a Trichologist if you would prefer. Some of the treatments available include:
  • Scalp irritants - strange as this may sound, irritants like DCP or Dithranol are painted onto the scalp creating a burning sensation and redness. The logic is that through either an irritant or allergic reaction, they will provide a 'distraction' for the immune system, hopefully improving the long-term balance of the body, and enabling the hair to regrow. The expected side-effect is raw, irritated skin that can be quite painful, but which will heal; the physical response of the body is usually mixed, and whilst it can be really effective for some, and totally non-effective for others. 
  • Corticosteroids - either applied topically as a cream, or injected direct into the scalp, corticosteroids can help suppress the immuno-effects, enabling the hair to regrow. For some people, a single course of treatment will be enough for permanent regrowth, whereas in others the effects will be temporary or even non-existent. Short-term used, particularly when topically applied will have limited side-effects, but if taken orally or used over long periods, side-effects can become more pronounced. It's worth noting that the scalp injections can be pretty sore too!
  • Minoxodil - Minoxodil is a topical scalp treatment; it is a synthetic drug used in the treatment of hairloss, and is most effective for patchy hairloss. It helps to suppress the immuno-effects, enabling the hair to regrow and fill back in. It is not normally effective for long-term use or for widespread hairloss, and can cause skin irritation. 
  • High-dose zinc - zinc is required for healthy growth of the skin, hair and nails and in some cases, has proved effective for alopecia patients. It is however required in very high doses and side effects include vomiting and diarrhoea. 
  • Immuno-suppressant drugs - used to 'switch off' the immune system, providing time for the hair to regrow, immuno-suppressant drugs are almost universally effective; BUT before you get over-excited, use can only be short-term due to the increased risk of contracting infections, and the negative effects on organs such as the liver. This means that although in many cases the drugs will be effective whilst you are taking them, many will lose their hair again when the treatment is stopped.
  • Light treatments - including UVB exposure which has been effective in a few limited cases, but which is more likely to simply increase the potential for skin cancer, and exposure to UVA light when combined with oral light-sensitive drugs. The idea is that the skin will be partially damaged and the body will focus on skin repair rather than attacking itself. 
As well as pharmaceutical solutions which have varying degrees of effectiveness, some people have had success with changes in diet or addition of specific minerals or vitamins if they are found lacking. Realistically however, it is entirely possible that your alopecia will be untreatable and that's why support from organisations like Alopecia UK may be a viable, more long-term solution.

The above list is by no means a definitive list of treatments, but is an overview of some of the most common ones you could be offered. More information can be found on the Alopecia UK website here

Q7: How long will alopecia last?
The time someone will have alopecia will vary from person to person and in some will be weeks or months, whereas in others it will be permanent. Generally the rule of thumb for hairloss is that "the quicker the hair grows back the better the long term stability of the hair is"; the important thing to remember though is that the follicle is not dead and hair could start to regrow at any moment if something in the body’s immune system flicks the relevant switch on!

Q8: What does the latest research into the condition show? 
There has been a lot of different types of research going on, but most recently, the focus has been on JAK inhibitors in a new study by Dr Angela Christiano. JAK inhibitors are already being successfully used for other conditions, and recently reversed hairloss in people with alopecia areata. There were only three participants in the study, but all of them saw their hair grow back after five months of treatment. This theory is now being put to the test on a larger scale in partnership with the Department of Dermatology at Columbia University Medical Centre with a clinical trial in humans.

Q9: Can Trichology help with alopecia? 
Given the unpredictable nature of alopecia and the limited effect of treatments, it is difficult for many professionals to help and support with the condition. Trichologists can help with the early diagnosis of alopecia, identifying the condition, monitoring its progression, at the same time providing reassurance and passing on information about support groups and social networks for alopecia. Some topical treatments (irritant sensitisers) are also available from trichologists.
Q10: Is there anything else about alopecia that our readers might find interesting? 
Yes. All of the world's leading scientists are meeting in Miami USA from November 18th –21st to share the latest research on Alopecia and hairloss. I am one of the delegates attending the ninth World Congress for Hair Research and will be reporting for Pretty Bald as one of only a few British delegates attending.

One final piece of advice, the most important thing is to ask yourself what your ultimate objective is and whether the treatment is really worth it? This is a very personal question, but alopecia sufferers should take care to be true to themselves and to ensure they focus on realistic outcomes rather than risk compromising their health through long-term treatments that aren't working. 

Thanks very much Mark! We'll put you through your paces with another interview again soon! 

In the meantime, anyone interested in talking to Mark, he can be reached through his website, or you can follow him on Twitter @Mark_Blake.

Victoria x Twitter: @PrettyBald

Sunday, 12 April 2015

#100HairFreeDays Week 6 - we're getting there!

We're getting there folks! This week's #100HairFreeDays challenge means we're almost halfway there! Let's hope we can make a full 100...
  • doesn't get in your face when you are playing sport / running
  • provides a comedy act when your wig gets caught on a tree. #TrueStory, but you have to laugh!
  • makes you more aerodynamic which will shave a half second off your winning swim time
  • your hair doesn't get stuck to your lip gloss
  • no more hair washing every other day - once a month will do!
  • has made me a more patient, understanding and compassionate person
  • means I have a whole new set of dad-style jokes that only I can crack!
Don't forget, if you want to let us know the reasons you love your bald head, please email us or Tweet Us!

Victoria x Twitter: @PrettyBald

Friday, 10 April 2015

The countdown is on... Alopecia UK Alton Towers trip - here we come...

Last month, Kayleigh wrote about the importance of group support and the benefit of strength in numbers. She of course referred to the inaugural Alopecia UK trip to Alton Towers, giving individuals the chance to ditch wigs and ride the rollercoasters, without constantly worrying! Sounds great!

Last year, I couldn't make it, but this year, I'm in! I'm joining the group as a volunteer and have been assigned to keep the adults in check (not that they need it). The great news is I am now on my way with pal and fellow Alopecian Hannah and we'll be arriving later this afternoon!

The countdown is on folks and tomorrow or Sunday once I've exhausted myself running like a loon around Alton Towers, I'll of course write it up and share the pics I'm allowed to! I think for me, the best thing about events like this is the opportunity to not be 'the odd one out' and be able to truly embrace who you are, without having to constantly explain if you don't have the energy to!

I'm hoping that everyone else benefits as much as I expect to and advise anyone struggling to come to terms with being a #BaldHeadedBeauty to sign up to the Alopecia UK newsletter to ensure they don't miss out on more great events like this!

Whoop whoop!

Victoria x Twitter: @PrettyBald