The UK's leading hair loss
charity for people with the autoimmune disorder Alopecia Areata
is campaigning for those affected to receive one free real-hair wig per year on the NHS in England.
Alopecia Areata is both an umbrella term for a group of conditions which cause varying extremes of baldness, and the name of the most mild form of the disorder which causes patchy hair loss to the scalp only. In its most severe iterations it can cause the whole body from head to toe to become hairless, including the loss of eyebrows and eyelashes.
It can affect men, women and children of any age and race, and frequently has negative mental health effects, not least due to the sudden nature of the conditions' onset.
is the leading British charity for people affected by all forms of this disorder. It works tirelessly to promote alopecia awareness and to offer support to those affected, including the family and friends of people with autoimmune hair loss.
Standardisation of wig provision across England
According to the BBC, NHS England currently has 'no nationally set limit' for how many wigs are provided to patients experiencing hairloss. Each local NHS board currently decides for itself how wig provision should be allocated.
Alopecia UK is campaigning for this to be standardised across England with the remit being for each person affected to be given one free real-hair wig each, per year.
Alopecia UK is now bigger than ever, having merged with AAR-UK in 2017, and is throwing its weight behind this call to action on behalf of all those affected across the country. The British Association of Dermatologists has also backed the sentiments of this leading hair loss charity
Jen Chambers, development manager at Alopecia UK - who herself has experienced various forms
of alopecia - told the BBC: "Some people literally will not leave their house without hair on their head. So if we want people with alopecia to contribute to society then there should be help there for all those who need it."
Chambers used to receive real hair wigs from the NHS until funding was cut. "I remember when they told me," she says, "I just couldn't hold it together and I burst into tears."
So much more than a 'cosmetic issue'
The BBC also reports that the charity sent freedom of information requests to the 209 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England in 2015, enquiring about wig provision in their area, noting 'Of the 169 that got back to them - six said they don't offer wigs because they view alopecia as a "cosmetic issue".'
This is far from being the case for many people with autoimmune alopecia, as the psychological effects can be extensive. Hair is - for many - inextricably linked to their identity and sense of self
. So, when this is taken away, it can trigger emotional turmoil to the extent that psychological issues
develop, such as anxiety and depression.
Alopecia Areata treatment
is possible in cases of the scalp-only phenotypes - Alopecia Areata and Alopecia Ophiasis
. However, the most severe cases - Alopecia Totalis and Alopecia Universalis
- do not have any treatment options available yet, though researchers are working hard to develop some and are reportedly making strong headway in this area.
In the meantime, however, those left bald by the condition need support - not just from specialist hair loss charities - but, according to Alopecia UK, from the NHS as well.