Ella Parkinson was just four years old when her hair started to fall out.
Her parents Lorna and Keith, from Clifton, were understandably alarmed when the hair loss continued.
“Over a couple of years she lost most of it,” said Lorna. “The doctors said there wasn’t much they could do. They tried steroids but we didn’t really want her to be on them long-term because of the risk of damage.”
The cause of Ella’s alopecia was unclear, although the condition can be related to a major shock or illness.
Lorna wonders if her daughter’s hair loss began as a result of a serious ear infection. “That’s the only thing we can think of,” she explained.
Today Ella, who is now nine-years-old, has a small collection of wigs to replace her natural hair. Her most recent acquisition, which came about after St Andrew’s Junior School, at which she is a pupil, held a fund-raising day, is a blonde wig that her friends say make her look like singer Taylor Swift.
“She feels like a celebrity when she wears it,” said Lorna, who has been impressed by her daughter’s stoic approach to the alopecia.
The £450 wig was supplied by Brighouse hairdresser Gary Taylor, who runs Edward & Co, and is made from real human hair,
Gary says he has more than 80 clients with alopecia who rely on wigs - and that’s on top of those with temporary hair loss caused by chemotherapy, burns and surgery etc. Ella, however, is one of his youngest clients.
“Losing hair is more common than you’d think. It can be caused by age, medication or stress, even poor diet,” he said.
“People get to the point where they can’t disguise it any more and want a wig. When people lose their hair they can begin to feel as if they are losing their identity - I find this a very rewarding side of hairdressing.”
Gary washes, trims and styles Ella’s new wig - treating it like a normal head of hair.
After losing her hair Ella, who is the eldest of three sisters, was given a real hair wig from the Little Princess Trust, a charity that helps children suffering from hair loss. She has also worn synthetic NHS wigs in different colours and lengths.
Because most wigs have a limited lifespan, Ella’s parents know that they will have to find hundreds of pounds each year for replacements. They are grateful for the school’s fund-raising efforts this summer.
Ella clearly enjoys wearing her new wig and copes amazingly well with her hair loss. “I don’t wear it when we go swimming at school,” she said. “I’m not bothered about people seeing me without it. It’s the real me.”
Lorna, who works for a travel agent and runs her own business, Shine Tiaras, is impressed by her daughter’s confidence: “It has carried her through,” she said. “She is very strong, but I think she has to be quite resilient. She has been bullied because of the hair loss and called baldy. But she took her wig off in front of the whole school to show them. I’m very proud of her.”
The family, all members of Huddersfield Christian Fellowship, has also found strength through the support of the church community.
“We have not given up hope that Ella’s hair will eventually re-grow,” said Lorna. In the meantime Ella would like to meet other young alopecia sufferers who share her experience of growing up with hair loss.
CELEBRITIES are certainly not afraid to harness the powers of a good wig on a bad hair day. Christina Aguilera, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga achieve their wildly coloured, sculptural styles with wigs, and Kim Kardashian has experimented with platinum and red versions — and those are just the celebrities who own up to it. A real human hair wig can costs hundreds of pounds and will use about a head and a half’s worth of hairs - usually from India or Asia.
THE HISTORY of wig wearing is as old as the history of civilisation itself, beginning with the Ancient Egyptians, Assyrians and other Middle Eastern cultures. The practice was revived in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries when it was a practical solution to the problem of lice-infested hair - shaving the head and wearing a more easily de-loused wig. Wigs could also cover male-pattern baldness.
THERE are many causes of hair loss and while conditions such as male pattern baldness cannot be reversed, others such as alopecia areata can resolve within months.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition. While the immune system should only attack the cause of an infection, sometimes it damages the hair follicles as well.
Fortunately, the hair follicles usually recover and new hair grows after a few months.
People with thyroid disease, diabetes and vitiligo are more prone to alopecia and one in five hair loss sufferers have a family member with a history of the condition.
Telogen effluvium is a type of temporary hair loss that can be caused by your body reacting to stimuli such as hormonal changes, emotional and physical stress or an illness.
Long-term illnesses can also affect hair growth, as can crash dieting, medications that reduce the ability of the blood to clot, or beta blockers used to treat high blood pressure.
It is thought that up to 1m people in the UK suffer from alopecia at some point in their lives and around 60% of patients developed the condition before the age of 20. However, because many mild cases of alopecia go untreated the incidence may be much higher.