Alopecia hair loss left Cornish mum too scared to leave her home

Hair loss is frequently the butt of a joke, something which men are usually mocked for as a sign of ageing or following in the old man’s footsteps.

But, for one woman, hair loss has been crippling for her mental health, self confidence and identity.

Clinical hair loss, known as alopecia areata, is often caused by an autoimmune disease which leads the body to attack hair follicles – where it grows – which, in turn, causes it to fall out.

It’s not just hair on the head, either, with alopecia normally taking hold of all hair on the body, including facial hair such as eyebrows and even eyelashes.

Up until eight years ago, 34-year-old Shakira Clarke from Launceston had hair almost down to her waist. But her alopecia, caused by immune system disorder lupus, robbed her of around 75 per cent of the hair on her head.

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“I can’t believe I used to moan about how long my hair took to straighten,” she said, “If only I knew what was coming.

“The initial alopecia took 75 per cent of my hair and I was forced to shave it. I also lost my eyelashes and eyebrows.

“It changed me from a confident person into someone who was too scared to leave the house, in case people pointed, stared or asked questions.”

Shakira said her confident self took a devastating hit due to the hair loss, making even talking over the phone with people a stressful experience.

Alopecia can be permanent, or it can peak and trough. For Shakira, an initial dramatic hair loss has been accompanied by periodic hair loss of up to little under half the hair on her head.



Alopecia hair loss left Cornish mum too scared to leave her home
Shakira before alopecia

She had to wear a headscarf for years afterwards while her hair slowly grew back – but eight years on she still has incredibly thin hair.

Shakira continued: “Before alopecia I never realised how much I used to hide behind my hair when I was anxious or nervous.

“I understand people think it’s just hair, and this comes from a place of vanity – but it’s so far from that.

“Hair, to a woman, is like a crown. It makes us feel good about ourselves, and I just want that feeling back again.”



Shakira's head during an alopecia flare-up
Shakira’s head during an alopecia flare-up

Shakira’s alopecia was caused by lupus, an incurable condition which sadly took the life of her dad – also eight years ago.

Lupus itself is not curable, but if caught early it can be controlled.

Shakira said: “Lupus is the root cause of my hair loss. My dad’s lupus was diagnosed late and the damage to his kidneys had already progressed too far, catching it early could have saved his life.”

Causing the body to effectively turn on itself, lupus symptoms also include fatigue and headaches, ulcers, rashes, joint pain and raynaud’s disease.



Shakira wearing a headscarf with son Koda
Shakira wearing a headscarf with son Koda

The NHS, and Shakira, advises people to see a GP if you have joint and muscle pain, as well as the extreme tiredness and rashes common with the condition.

Despite the anxiety, depression and general confidence shattering Shakira admits the experience has been “character building”.

She added: “It’s helped me build up a resilience and probably made me less of a shallow person overall.”

Even so, Shakira said she’s pushing for a hair replacement treatment from a salon in Plymouth.

“It’ll last around two years,” she explained, “And it will literally change my life.

“To me it will mean being able to just brush my hair and go in the morning, not spending hours finding bald spots, trying to spray them to match my hair, brushing and restyling my hair ten times to hide them and then getting out and putting on a hat – even in the sweltering heat.

“And I do this because I’m worried the wind will blow my hair and reveal all my patches. I worry my kid’s friends will notice and bully them because of it.”

You can support Shakira’s efforts to get the hair replacement treatment here, where she is raising money for the expensive programme.