Anyone who has ever been through the sudden and extreme baldness caused by the autoimmune disorder Alopecia Universalis will quickly come to appreciate that this is about as severe as hair loss gets.
While the fact that all scalp and body hair falls out because the body has mistakenly attacked healthy cells is an explanation for what is happening at a biological level, this alone doesn’t reveal the cause. As there is still relatively little known about autoimmune hair loss conditions, doctors often struggle to pinpoint exactly why Alopecia Universalis happens, which can be frustrating. However, despite the irritation of ‘not knowing’, one of the most prominent issues related to this condition is the negative effect it can have on a person’s self-confidence.
One of the most famous cases of Alopecia Universalis in the UK is that of former Blue Peter presenter Gail Porter who started losing her hair more than a decade ago. She has spoken openly about her experience and how it affected her mental health.
In many cases extreme stress is thought to be to blame for triggering the condition. For Gail, the breakdown of her marriage, post-natal depression and health problems are all thought to have played a part in the Scot losing her long blonde locks in a short space of time.
While Gail did see some regrowth in 2010, she has since lost all of her hair again, including her eyebrows and body hair. People with Alopecia Universalis often say that losing their eyebrows makes the condition doubly vexing, the eyebrows being one of those physical features you only really appreciate when they have gone. This is also true of those affected by its sister condition Alopecia Totalis which causes total baldness of the scalp and often leads to facial hair, including eyelashes and eyebrows falling out too.
Having spent much of the past decade without eyebrows, Gail has learned to pencil her eyebrows on as the mood takes her. Unfortunately though, as she recently explained to The Daily Mail, she isn’t very good at it.
“Honey [Gail’s daughter] told me to just stop drawing them on,” she told the newspaper. “I could never really get them to look right.”
As there is currently no cure or effective treatment for Alopecia Universalis, the solution was to have new eyebrows tattooed on instead, using a technique known as microblading.
Microblading eyebrow tattoos
The procedure uses extremely fine needles to lightly puncture the skin and allows for much finer strokes than a regular tattoo needle. Individual eyebrow hairs are drawn on – first in pencil, then using a precision pen-like needle tool. The process generally takes around two hours to complete with future retouching appointments taking around 40 minutes.
Unlike permanent makeup, microblading is a semi-permanent solution. The eyebrow tattoos could be visible for up to around 18 months though a touch-up is generally advised every 12 months.
Medical tattooing known as micropigmentation is a similar, though longer term, technique. This is the way model and alopecia awareness campaigner Brenda Finn chose to go. Thanks to the resulting boost to her self-confidence she has been calling for medical tattoos to become available on the NHS.
Alopecia Universalis is related to Alopecia Areata, which is more common and leads to rounded bald patches on the scalp only, although its severity varies greatly. Whereas AU is currently untreatable, this milder version can often be treated at a specialist hair loss clinic with a custom alopecia areata treatment course. Belgravia uses a combination approach featuring topical applications of high strength minoxidil alongside hair growth boosters to promote regrowth. This has seen many success stories and positive feedback from Alopecia Areata clients.
For those with Alopecia Totalis and Universalis, several medical teams around the world are currently exploring potential treatment options. Some of the most promising of them focus on the use of JAK inhibitors, a suite of drugs designed to tackle bone cancers and rheumatoid arthritis, among other things. These are being trialled as oral and topical treatments in order to develop drugs which are safe and effective, with the lowest possible side-effect profile. As these studies are still in their relative infancy, it is likely to take a number of years for them to become available. However, with the number of companies exploring the various options it is definitely an exciting and promising time.
The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.