We make it our aim on IMAGE.ie to highlight the myriad challenges faced by Irish women on a daily basis, and create a community in which each and every one of us can feel empowered, inspired and confident, no matter what it is we're facing. Currently, we're tackling a series of physical difficulties. Most recently, Sinead Burke shed light on the challenge of dwarfism and today, we're talking all things Alopecia.
Though not life threatening, Alopecia Areata is an undesirable autoimmune disease for any woman to experience where circular patches of hair are lost, along with eyelashes and eyebrows, depending on the type of alopecia and the severity. Quite simply, the immune system attacks the hair follicles. It affects thousands of Irish women and men too. For some, Alopecia can merely manifest as a phase, with the hair returning at a later stage, but for others, it's an incredibly dramatic life change in which every strand of hair is lost for good. Alopecia sufferers commonly experience a loss of confidence and for some, it can lead to depression. In 2015, however, there's a wealth of cosmetic options out there, especially in Ireland, to make your life easier, restore your self-confidence and correct some of what's gone awry to magical effect. Here, we send IMAGE Magazine fan and Alopecia Areata sufferer Hazel on a journey back towards confidence. With the wonderful art of Eyebrow Embroidery by Justyna Soreil of Clara Hand and Foot Spa, and top of the range wig fitting and styling by Aidan Fitzgerald (both of whom are based in Blackrock), Hazel's 'Happiness Transformation' is complete. Here's how she got on.
Were you nervous about the idea of eyebrow embroidery?
No, I wasn't nervous at all. I had previously checked out tattooing but got cold feet when I looked at before and after photos in the clinic; they looked too dramatic, not my style at all. I then did some research into the eyebrow embroidery and realised that it's much less severe. There are just three treatments over a period of about two months so each time I went back, Justyna made adjustments to suit my own requirements.
And how do you feel about the end results?
I'm delighted with the result. Before, I had no eyebrows at all - apart from some patches of very fine white hairs (which come and go). Now I have eyebrows that could easily pass for real ones. For the first week after each treatment, they were quite dark. From days 4 to 6 they peeled, a bit like sunburn, and got quite itchy. Justyna said this was to be expected though and gave me some cream to soothe them. They were then much less dark than when you first leave the salon, which suited me just fine.
Is it a painful treatment?
The first treatment was a little bit painful - but no worse than say leg waxing, or plucking your eyebrows (neither of which I need any more!). Justyna put some anesthetic cream on first. I could hear the sound of her cutting me, lots and lots of little cuts, not a pleasant sensation but something I could handle. The second treatment was more painful - perhaps because it was only two weeks after the first. The third treatment was a month later and was more like the first - not that painful.
So having had it, would you recommend this to another Alopecia sufferer?
100%, and not just for Alopecia but for anyone with poor eyebrows. The improvement shows immediately after the first treatment. Getting my brows done was a brilliant boost to my confidence. I used to pencil them in every day but am not great with makeup. I now make more of an effort with my make-up and feel confident enough to do so.
Tell us about your experience of getting and living with Alopecia.
Alopecia is a strange condition. You are not sick. So what do you do when your hair starts to fall out in clumps? I had had some small bald patches on and off for years. It started after I had children but that might have been a coincidence. And I never really worried about it because it always grew back. Until one time, 16 years ago, when it just got worse and worse over a short period. It happened at a very stressful time in my life but also after a bad flu-type infection (stress and viral infection have been indicated as causes of alopecia). My husband Des's mother had just died after a few years of failing health (Parkinson's, dementia) and we were her only family. Then my aunt died unexpectedly and two close friends were diagnosed with cancer all in the same week. I was trying to run my own business and had two young children. Life was busy! I was desperately upset and just wanted to hide. I am a very private person and tend to hide my feelings outside my family. I was working for myself at the time but luckily mostly from home without many face-to-face meetings. For anyone who needs to go out to work, I recommend that they take time off if possible. You need that time to get used to it, or get at least a wig sorted unless you are super confident. It's so traumatic that, in hindsight, I suspect it's not too different from anxiety attacks or depression.
Do you feel there is a stigma around hair loss?
I don't think it's a stigma really - just more of an awkwardness. How many people do you know that have alopecia? I have only met two others in my life. One was a parent in the school who moved abroad before I developed the condition myself. The other, a good male friend, was fortunate enough in that it all grew back again within about a year.
How do you tell people that you have alopecia? Why should you tell them at all? My friends all know and I really don't mind who else knows, but personally, I've struggled with the idea of telling anyone who doesn't need to know. I told my dentist and he asked why I told him - I said in case my wig shifted while he was fighting with my tooth extraction! We both had a good laugh. But generally people get embarrassed and say they are sorry. So if someone admires my hair I usually just say thanks.
When it comes to wigs there are plenty of options but it must be difficult to lose your eyebrows and lashes as they frame your face.
Definitely. Looking back through old photos, I think this is why I looked so very tired a lot of the time. Lashes protect your eyes from dust. Without lashes, my eyes were frequently red, irritated and itchy. And everyone looks weird without eyebrows. Which is why I think Alopecia is almost more difficult for men. While bald man are accepted by society, they can't disguise their brows and lashes with makeup as easily as women can.
Do you feel it's time now that women (and men, of course) feel more at ease with discussing this condition openly?
Yes, it is time that we speak more openly about Alopecia and not hide it. We certainly should lobby the health insurance companies to have wigs and other treatments covered. I suspect it could develop into a more serious mental health issue if you could not afford wigs and other treatments. Perhaps this is already being done.?At this stage I have totally accepted that my hair will never grow back. You just need a little planning for some things - water sports in particular. I use an old wig with a hairband. I've snorkeled, kayaked and zip-wired along with my regular sports of badminton and hill walking, with no problems.
Justyna Soreil gives us the expert insight into this eyebrow treatment.
Eyebrow Embroidery is a semi-permanent make-up that can help with Alopecia, over-plucked, fine eyebrows. It can also change a shape if we are not happy with the present one. Basically it is like adding extra hairs to your arch with strokes of pigment drawn with a special manual tool. The possibilities are endless- add more hair strokes to make your eyebrows look fuller, change the shape that suits the best and frames your face perfectly, cover scars that have no hair growing on it, restore missing ends of arches or completely restore your eyebrows due to medical conditions.
With eyebrow embroidery every single hair stroke is thin and added for a reason- to give you the most perfect shape that suits your face.?Special instruments allow for complete control when drawing hair strokes and that's why the results are more natural. The whole procedure is divided into 3 sessions to make the pigment stable.
As for how long it will last??It depends on your metabolism and skin cells' turnover time. It also depends on how deep the pigment is deposited. For example, if someone wants a very natural look you will use lighter pigments that will be deposited at a more shallow level. Results will last about a year. If someone wants darker and stronger eyebrows, we use darker pigments, deposited at a deeper level. Those results would last between 2-3 years.
Why is it a better option than tattooing??The technique is less permanent and visually more appealing than a tattoo. With tattooing, it is much harder to achieve the appearance of natural looking hair strokes. Tattoo pigments are oil based, and that's the reason they are permanent. Even after few years they fade and the colour of them would appear a bit blueish.
Can women facing chemotherapy avail of this treatment??Yes. The best option would be to have them done before medical treatment, so they would not have to experience the loss of their own eyebrows during chemotherapy. I would advise against having it one during the Cancer treatment, as it has quite a strong chemical impact on the skin, and you might be more vulnerable to discomfort.
Aidan Fitzgerald talks wig fitting and styling.
For most women, the worry and stress associated with hair loss is more about losing their identity and that people will not recognise them. So finding your perfect new hair piece/wig is essential to give you the comfort and confidence to go on with your normal life.
It is important to choose a reputable hairdresser/wig supplier. Here at the Aidan Fitzgerald Salon and Wig Boutique we are part of the Trevor Sorbie ?My New Hair Group?. Our team have worked extensively with the McMillan nurses in dealing with all aspects of helping clients through this difficult journey. All our consultations are carried out in our Private Wig Boutique which provides our clients with discretion and comfort while choosing their new hair.
During the consultation we discuss style options, colour and hair length also the density and weight of the piece which is very important as clients will be wearing their piece all of the time. With new technology, wigs have improved immensely from the wefted heavy based wigs that can be very warm and uncomfortable when worn for long periods of time to new feather light pieces with a natural scalp that are very easy to wear. We can provide a wig/hair piece tailored specifically to the client's request as all our wigs are personally styled to suit the client.
Most of our clients suffering with alopecia will choose human hair as this can be styled and coloured just like their own hair. On human hair pieces you can use hairdryer, wand, hair straighteners and curling tongs. We ensure that the piece fits perfectly. This gives that extra confidence when wearing their new hair in public. A full wig is not always required for alopecia and top pieces are available. They come in different scalp sizes and lengths and can be coloured and styled to blend with their own natural hair.
Wig consultations and fittings are by appointment only. There is a €50 charge which is fully refundable against the purchase of a hair piece from our extensive collection. If we don't have your preferred choice in stock, we can have it supplied within 48 hours from our agents. Guidelines for wig supply fitting and styling start from €450.