By Alyce Collins
THIS MAKEUP ARTIST developed alopecia at just SIXTEEN and was so embarrassed that she would hide it from her friends using DRY SHAMPOO – but now she is finally embracing her baldness and wants others to do the same.
In April 2013, receptionist and makeup artist, Emily McClelland (21) from Londonderry, Northern Ireland, UK, was told by a hairdresser when she was just 16 that she had a small bald patch at the back of her head, but she thought nothing of it as she was so young.
The bald patch became larger and other patches developed so Emily went to her doctor who immediately diagnosed her with alopecia areata, after noticing that all her patches were perfectly round. Emily hid the patches by wearing her hair in a pony tail, but sometimes areas of her exposed scalp would show, forcing stares and comments from Emily’s peers at school.
As for many, getting ready to go out is important for Emily and her friends, but it was very difficult for Emily to manage her alopecia alongside looking glamorous. While her friends would experiment with new hairstyles, the only hairstyle that hid Emily’s patches was a pony tail.
A vital trick that Emily learned when going out was to use brown-tinted dry shampoo to conceal the patches by matching the area to her hair colour, making the patch stand out less.
At the age of 20, Emily started wearing a hair piece over her thinned-out hair, but it put an immense strain on her natural hair, causing it to fall out. Emily could no longer wear the hairpiece and had to cover her scalp with a hat instead. Soon after, Emily found the best wig for her through the NHS and ended up getting it just a week before her 21st birthday, so she felt her most confident while celebrating.
In October 2018, Emily shaved her head to get rid of the wispy hair she had been holding onto. Embracing her scalp has enabled Emily to grow in confidence and she often shares photos on her Instagram to normalise alopecia.
“I was sitting in the hairdresser’s chair when the hairdresser said there was a small bald patch at the back of my head,” said Emily.
“I was completely unbothered by the statement and just carried on with my life, until I noticed it had got bigger.
“I’d say when I first found it, it was the size of a £2 coin. Then from there it gradually kept getting worse. It was right at the back of my head, right in the middle, so I would have never seen it myself.
“I didn’t really think much about it to be honest. As it got worse, I Googled it and that’s when the fear started to kick in and when I went to the doctors. It was quite easy to diagnose because the bald patches appear in a perfect circle.
“In school I used to always have my hair up in a ponytail. Before, I used to do a lot with my hair, even at school – I would get up early in the morning to plait it a certain way or curl it. So, after losing my hair, that’s when I started going to school looking a little sloppy.
“I ended up hearing from my friends at school that someone said they had seen a bald patch. I remember feeling embarrassed at the time because I tried so hard to hide it, but they still saw.
“Another time that sticks out in my head is when we were sitting in the lunch hall at a big table and a friend was standing beside me and he was completely oblivious to my alopecia.
“He was staring at a patch that I didn’t cover properly on my head and he said so loudly in front of everyone ‘Emily what did you do to your hair, you’ve got a bald patch right there?’
“Of course, everyone burst out laughing, including me. I told him what it was, and he felt awful, but now it always makes me smile.
“I feel like it made me more mature because I had to be stronger for myself. I needed to be able to not take silly words that people said to me to heart. Whereas I think some people would take it badly.”
Emily loves going out with her friends and getting ready to go out is an equally important element to that. However, living with alopecia took its toll on Emily and getting ready for nights out became increasingly difficult.
By 21 Emily had found the perfect wig for her and now she is happier to play around with different styles as she embraces her alopecia, rather than trying to hide it from people.
“My friends and I are really into our glam. So, they would always have hair extensions in and their hair would be so long and thick,” said Emily.
“Then there was me, having to have my hair in a very thin ponytail because it was the only way that properly hid my patches.
“As well as pony tails, brown dry shampoo worked really well to hide the patches. I would spray it in all my patches so it would blend in with my hair as my scalp was so white and would stand out if I didn’t. It was a life saver.
“At first, I had a hair piece in, so whatever hair I had left was plaited, then the hair piece was sat on top and sewn into the plaits with a needle and thread.
“This put so much strain on my hair and dried it out completely. When I went for my appointment to get it off, the hairdresser went to unplait my hair and the whole plait just lifted off my head. The hair had died and was sitting under the wig for too long.
“We struggled to even get the hair piece back on, so we decided to leave it for a while and I had to go back to wearing a hat, which I absolutely hated.
“I didn’t want to go anywhere, of course I still did some things, but I hated how I looked. I would be out for dinner and people would tell me I should take my hat off inside, or say, ‘are you cold or something?’ I would always laugh it off, but it did annoy me.
“However, thankfully, I got an appointment with the NHS to try on wigs and ended up getting my wig a week before my twenty-first birthday, so I was very happy about that. Now, I love the positives of wearing wigs. I can change my hair colour three times a day if I want to.
“A few months ago, I decided I would completely shave my head. I didn’t want to have the random bits of hair I was holding onto for so long.
“I want it to be a more normal thing to be bald. I want to educate people about it and how normal alopecia is. People message me saying how ashamed they feel to have it, but I think that’s due to how unknown it is. There’s no point worrying about something you can’t change.”
To see more, follow https://www.instagram.com/emilymcclelland1/