Retired Team GB cyclist, Joanna Rowsell Shand – best known for winning two gold medals at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics – appeared on the TV show Celebrity Mastermind.
Despite coming third, she won £3,000 for Alopecia UK, which provides support and advice for those affected by autoimmune hair loss. Rowsell, who herself has Alopecia Universalis, chose this particular organisation as she is a brand ambassador for the popular charity.
Armed with her specialist subject – the Harry Potter books – the Olympian came up against rugby commentator Eddie Butler, Wolfblood actor Louis Payne and Top Gear presenter George Lewis, who went on to win.
The charity is close to her heart. At the age of 9, Joanna was diagnosed with Alopecia Areata, an autoimmune condition characterised by sudden, patchy hair loss. A year later this developed into Alopecia Universalis, causing her to lose all hair from her head and body.
As a result, her teenage years were extremely stressful and difficult: “I didn’t bother with make-up or clothes because I didn’t want to think about my appearance“.
However, she overcame physical and emotional adversity in a big way, and regularly cites her experiences with Alopecia as key personal motivation – not many people can claim to have won a gold medal at an Olympic Games, let alone two.
The cyclist is a brand ambassador for a wig company and often wears them in her daily life, including TV appearances, though not when cycling. After winning her first Olympic gold, she finished her lap of honour without her helmet, proudly showing her bald head. She recalled this moment:
“I wasn’t consciously thinking, ‘This is a really brave thing to do’. You’re there celebrating your win, but since then I’ve really understood the impact that it had and the difference that it has made to people which I am really proud of, and I really want to help raise awareness of Alopecia”.
Since retiring from the sport in 2017, she has been studying physiology at Manchester Metropolitan University, and has continued to fly the flag for hairloss-related causes, most notably Alopecia UK.
Potential medical breakthrough
While no cures for any forms of autoimmune alopecia currently exist, Belgravia has seen success when treating scalp-only Alopecia Areata. This generally involves using suitable formulations of high-strength minoxidil, from the hair loss clinic’s in-house pharmacies. These are typically paired with additional, complementary non-pharmaceutical hair growth boosters.
While alopecia areata treatment can be beneficial in these cases, the more severe forms affecting the head and body, Alopecia Totalis and Universalis, are currently un-treatable. However, researchers are reportedly closer than ever to finding an effective solution for these phenotypes.
Studies are exploring the use of JAK inhibitor drugs, such as ruxolitinib and tofacitinib, in relation to treating all forms of Alopecia Areata. The initial results have largely been incredibly promising and are still being trialled further to ensure their safety and efficacy.
It is also important to remember that alopecia areata treatment, where available, is only currently available for adults – from 16 years of age upwards. However, for those aged 15 and under, there is the option of contacting British charities, the Little Princess Trust and Hero By LPT, which offer free real-hair wigs to boys and girls with medical hair loss. While this often means due to the effects of cancer treatment, it can also include the various types of Alopecia Areata.
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.