I was 24 when I developed alopecia. I was sitting watching Dominic West’s frankly ludicrously sculpted butt rutting its way through a sex scene in BBC’s Mad Men wannabe The Hour and I reached up to scratch my head and there it was: a fucking huge bald patch. Obviously I freaked out, cried, texted my best friend and forced my boyfriend to take photos of my scalp so I could sit on the bathroom floor and weep at my impending baldness. It was not a fun evening. Four years later, I am a lot more calm and cool and zen about it, and I’ve learned a few things along the way…
You Will Probably Not Go Bald
Let’s get this one out the way, because the first thing I texted my best friend about this was 'I’M GOING FUCKING BALD!' except with maybe 10 times more exclamation marks. That was four years ago and I am not, currently, bald. This is because, according to the NHS, most cases of alopecia areata end up correcting themselves.
So no, you’re probably not going to go bald. You will have bald bits, though, for a few months at a time, but as soon as those suckers start feeling a bit fuzzy, I find the hair grows back well quickly. Something to look forward to, even if it does mean you have to furiously backcomb a section of your hair because the regrowth hair is literally poking out of the top of your head like an actual antenna.
Do Not Avoid Your Hairdresser
Unless your hairdresser is a) very new and inexperienced or b) a dick, then they won’t make you feel bad about your alopecia. They deal with people’s heads every day, and should have been trained on this kinda issue. Things I have heard from hairdressers since getting alopecia:
'My mum has alopecia too.'
'Love, I’ve seen worse.'
'Hey! It’s getting better at the back here!'
'We can cover that up with layers.'
That last one is the most important because, and I cannot stress this strongly enough, you may need regular haircuts to keep your alopecia hidden. It definitely seems like the best thing you could do is to grow your hair so you have more to deal with, and I’ve fallen into that trap twice in the last four years. But once I got to know my own baldness/regrowth pattern, I realised that a bob with a lot of layers and ‘movement’ was the best way to go. If you’ve got a big ol’ patch of nothing at the back of your bonce, growing your hair down your back will mean it’s going to get caught on your shoulders, parting like a curtain when you least need it to. Take it from me – talk to a hairdresser about this.
It’s scary. I know it is. But look around for hairdressers that visit your home. They’re not just for old ladies; I had a home hairdresser who was super-cool and young and, as a bonus, well fit. If you can’t find someone to do a home visit, make the salon aware of your needs before you visit. Maybe they have a booth they can pop you in, or a chair that’s out of the way. Give them a heads up and they’re likely to try and help you out.
Accessorise, Accessorise, Accessorise
Currently, my hair looks banging when I go at it with products and this awesome hairbrush/hairdryer hybrid. If I can’t be arsed with all that palaver, it’s going up in a beanie if it’s winter and a silk scarf, land-girl style, if it’s summer. Get thee to a Pinterest scarf tutorial. It will enrich your life.
Go To Your Doctor, But Don’t Expect The Earth
Obviously the first thing I did when I discovered that first bald spot was seek medical advice. My GP made me feel like a silly little girl complaining about nothing. He also pretty much told me that dying my hair was ‘probably’ the culprit for my hair loss. The dermatologist he referred me to told me that was bullshit; alopecia areata is caused by an autoimmune response, i.e. the body killing the hair. She gave me lotions and potions and stuff to rub into my scalp.
None of it worked, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. There were options to get light treatment and injections in my head but honestly, I didn’t fancy them, especially when the dermatologist said that in all likelihood, this whole situation would sort itself out. Maybe I’ll change my mind in a few years and get needles stuck in my head. Maybe.
Get To Know Your Head
Alopecia areata is a tricky beast. The bald patches ambush you without so much as a clump of hair on the pillow, so you occasionally need to recalibrate your styling. What you may find, though, is that the patches will tend to come up in some manner of routine. If you know that the patch behind your left ear is likely to come up all Grant Mitchell while the spot at the nape of your neck is growing back, you can at least prepare yourself.
Kit Yourself Out
Scarves, a backcombing brush, volume powder (OH, HELLO VOLUME POWDER, CAN I KISS YOU?), good hairspray and a go-to fill-in product. I’m a big fan of A La Carte Cosmetics brow ink because it dries down matte, lasts for days and is a good match for my roots, which are literally always showing. You might prefer a matte eyeshadow for bald patches and a brown mascara for when the fuzz comes in (it starts off blonde). I tried the special cover-up products for hair loss, but I didn’t get on with them. Whatever works for you, do it.
Don’t Buy A Cheap Wig Off eBay
You might be there, three or four Riojas deep into a self-pity session about how shit your scalp is and how your nail beds suck (alopecia can also cause nail pitting, so buy some of that Sally Hansen shit) and you might go on the internet and you might end up somehow, SOMEHOW, spending £150 on a wig off of eBay. And you might think hey £150 is not a small amount of money maybe that wig will be OK and the wig will come and you will be like DAMN how can this be so shit and have cost so much money and you will get into a PayPal dispute where you get your money back but at the cost of having to handle and even try on the worst wig in the world.
If you need a wig, or want a wig, go to a wig store. Try on the wigs. Talk to the wig ladies. Be wig wise. Don’t be a wig idiot. Trust me on this.
It’s Only Hair
Look. At the beginning I said you probably wouldn’t go bald, but you might. I am not bald and I probably won’t go bald, but I might. If it happens, it will be really upsetting, but it’s just hair. You’re more than just your hair. You’re a really great and cool person who is alive and kicking and capable and interesting. With or without hair.
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Picture: Eugenia Loli
This article originally appeared on The Debrief.