Ask the parent of any child who has lost hair to the autoimmune disorder Alopecia Areata if it has made life difficult and you will hear a resounding ‘yes’ almost every time. Bullying, confusion about feeling different, worry about the uncertainty of the condition and endlessly being asked if the child has cancer due to their hair loss all take their toll.
Hair loss in children is irrefutably cruel. But little glimmers of light can frequently be found the kindness of the UK-based charity the Little Princess Trust, for example, who make real-hair wigs for children who have lost their own. Now young kids with hair loss who are fans of the wildly popular American Girl range of dolls have something to smile about, too.
A story picked up by the Today Parents website in the US explains how young Mia Bailey, from Boston, first lost her hair to Alopecia Areata when she was four. While the condition most often leads to patchy hair loss, in Mia’s case it has led to more severe hair loss of a type more often seen in Alopecia Areata’s related, rarer conditions Alopecia Totalis and Alopecia Universalis.
Mia’s story took on a happier turn last Christmas, when her mother, Meredith, was able to get her daughter a hairless American Girl doll which Mia opened with delight on Christmas morning.
"It was her number one Christmas present,” Meredith told Today Parents. “I knew she wanted the doll, but I didn't realise the happiness it would bring. I can't put it into words she had a doll that was just like her it was a piece of her."
When Mia asked if other children would buy dolls without hair, her mother said that they would likely prove popular with other children who had lost their hair, and maybe their friends, too. So far so good, but when Mia asked why they had to be specially-ordered rather than being on the racks in American Girl stores, her mother was stumped.
A short time later, on a visit to their local American Girl store, the family was stunned and thrilled to see that the bald dolls were now on display. "We both yelled with excitement,” Meredith told Today Parents. “Mia sat her doll right there with the other doll and beamed."
The article quotes American Girl’s senior PR manager Stephanie Spanos who says that the company is committed to creating dolls that girls in various circumstances can really connect with. “We know that when a girl owns a doll that is a reflection of her, it provides a sense of connection and belonging. It's a responsibility we take very seriously,” she says.
It is not the first time American Girl has come to Belgravia's attention the doll makers caught our attention in 2013 after they first launched a range of dolls that represented all kinds of young girls. As well as a doll with no hair, they also make dolls in wheelchairs as well as dolls with hearing aids, helping to normalise and promote an understanding of these types of issues from childhood. Said their spokeswoman at the time: “By creating a doll without hair or with a hearing aid, we’re just providing more options for a girl to create a doll that’s as unique as she is.”
Recognising the desire of young girls to have a doll they they can really connect with, Mattel have also done several limited-edition runs of bald Barbie dolls. These 'Ella' dolls were given out free of charge to children who had lost their hair due to cancer treatment, but were not made available to the public.
Alopecia Areata is a vexing condition that is only partially understood despite being incredibly common. It frequently splits the medical community who do, at least, seem united in the belief that it can be triggered by such things as severe stress, allergies, and seasonal changes.
In those aged 16 years and over, it can be treated, and in many cases a bespoke Alopecia Areata treatment course will prove effective at regrowing the hair that has been lost in small patches. More severe cases - those where all head hair is lost due to Alopecia Totalis or Universalis - are difficult to treat, and treatments are generally only carried out in hospitals, but even then the methods tend to have very low success rates.
Unfortunately, no medications have yet been approved for use on children with Alopecia Areata, Alopecia Totalis or Alopecia Universalis. The good news if there is any is that in around 80 per cent of cases, children with Alopecia Areata will regrow their hair naturally within a year.
The Belgravia Centre is a world-renowned group of a hair loss clinic in Central London, UK. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation from anywhere in the world for home-use treatment.
View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which includes the world's largest gallery of hair growth photos and demonstrates the level of success that so many of Belgravia's patients achieve.