In 2005, Gail Porter, a UK model and TV host was working in Los Angeles and after a night of sleep she noticed her hair was beginning to fall out in clumps. Within 4 weeks she was completely bald; she had a condition known as alopecia areata. As one can imagine, for a beautiful model like Gail Porter this had to be a devastating realization. However, she has not let her condition keep her down. She has refused to hide away or even wear a wig, and has become active in raising awareness for alopecia.
There are three main types of alopecia. First, is alopecia areata, which is most common and the type Gail Porter was diagnosed with. This form causes hair to fall out in clumps from the scalp, eyebrows, and eyelashes. More severe forms of alopecia include alopecia totalis, which is complete baldness, and alopecia universalis, which is total body hair loss.
Alopecia is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks its own hair follicles. T-lymphocytes, a special white blood cell within the body, causes the hair to stop growing. From there, hair enters a resting phase and eventually falls out. Overtime, the hair follicles may begin to produce new hair shafts in the area that was effected. Unfortunately, even with this possibility, its not uncommon for one spot of hair to begin growing back, and another to begin falling out. Alopecia has also been associated with other autoimmune conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, vitiligo, and ulcerative colitis.
In addition to the autoimmune element of alopecia, it can also be brought on by high stress, anorexia, or drug abuse. These could be triggers that caused it to come about for Gail Porter, as she had experienced each of these at some point in her past. Furthermore, its been present within families and may have a component of heredity.
The psychological effects of alopecia are often what has the biggest impact on women, since there are few physical symptoms related other than the loss of hair. Many women experience depression, lower self-confidence or self-esteem, fear of going out in public, or fear of no longer being attractive to their partner. What alopecia sufferers have to realize is that they are more than their hair and their condition is not life-threatening like many other conditions these days. Positive coping mechanisms such as engaging in talk-therapy, finding an alternative to natural hair, joining a support group, and having hope for re-growth or future cures have been found effective in dealing with alopecia. For example, Gail Porter claims that what helped her through was having a strong support network of encouraging loved ones and getting to know others with alopecia.
The condition effects 1 in 100 people, and there is no known cure as of right now. There are many treatment options, but none are guaranteed to be permanent. The more drastic the condition of hair loss, the less likely a person is to have re-growth. The slim possibility of re-growth could result in different colors and textures of hair, or even inconsistency of growth throughout the scalp or effected area. There are a couple different creams that are available, corticosteroid cream, Retin A, or Dithranol, which suppress the growth of outer layer skin cells in hope that hair follicles will remain open and active. In more intense cases, steroid injections or immunosuppressive drugs are available. A major drawback to these is that it may lower all immune system resistance. Thus, many health professionals suggest waiting out the condition or using another alternative such as wigs or joining other women in promoting the idea that bald can be beautiful, too.
Gail with her daughter, Honey
In the summer of 2009, Porter’s hair did begin to mostly grow back. She still to this day almost a full head of hair (except for a few bald spots) with a short hair-do. Porter claims her hair began to grow back as she found happiness and love with Jonny Davies, the lead guitarist of a UK band. Her doctor has warned her that she may lose her hair again, but for now she is enjoying having hair and looks at it as an added bonus. (View her recent article in The Sun, Gail Porter: Happiness has helped my hair grow back.)
It’s a shame that many women, men, and children have to experience such a condition. However, its encouraging to see a great example such as Gail Porter- someone who did not allow the condition of alopecia areata overcome and consume her life. She is as beautiful bald as she is with hair, and has become a voice to other women that physical features like hair do not encompass or define who someone is. Furthermore, this story is a wonderful picture of the impact that happiness and a positive attitude can have on physical health.
“I’m still me at the end of the day. You just have to get a little bit of extra confidence.”
How can you get involved in Columbia, MO? Through the National Alopecia Areata Foundation you can increase awareness and raise funds in your community. There is also a support group in Columbia if you know of anyone suffering from alopecia. Furthermore, if you are wanting to give even more of yourself to those suffering with hair loss, there are many organizations to where you can donate your hair for the making of wigs for those with alopecia and cancer. (Note: It is important to do proper research in this area to ensure the hair you donate is going to the intended cause.)