A Co Antrim woman who has suffered with alopecia for more than 25 years wants to raise awareness on the issue of hair loss.
sabel Kirk, who lives in Ballygowan, says she is “delighted and privileged” to speak out about alopecia to people living in Northern Ireland.
“My hair loss started in 1993,” she explains. “I have worn hats, scarves, bandanas, wigs, and gone without a head covering, none of which I was ever happy with. I have tried lotions, shampoos, head massage, acupuncture, and thinking Chinese herbs.”
Isabel’s hairdresser initially told her she had two small patches at the back of her head and urged her to make a doctor’s appointment.
“I made an appointment, went to the doctor and she said it’s a touch of alopecia, nothing to worry about and your hair will grow again.”
She describes her experiences with alopecia as “on and off”.
“Sometimes I would maybe get a period of a year with reasonable hair. The day I was married, 13 years, ago, I had a full head of hair,” she says.
“And then as I would call it… the hair went to sleep. It was as if my hair follicles went to sleep and didn’t wake up again. That could take another two years before it would start to come back. It was come and go.”
Due to a prevailing stigma around the subject, hair loss is often seen as bad hair, with 69% of women in a survey from hair wellness company Vegamour feeling that they are judged for suffering from it, and 56% saying a taboo remains for wearing wigs.
This is despite the fact millions of women are suffering from hair loss in the UK.
In 2008, wanting to find a solution, Isabel Googled “hair extensions Belfast” and La Bella Vita salon in Belfast’s Newtownards Road came up.
“To my surprise and delight, they had a section devoted to hair loss,” says Isabel (66).
“An appointment with Sarah (Gallagher, salon owner) was made for the following day. The consultation was very positive and for the first time someone was going to be able to help me, Sarah had the solution.”
That solution is the CNC Hair Prosthetic System, a combination of 3D printing technology, custom medical grade prosthetics, handcrafted materials and the highest quality human hair. Unlike a wig, the prosthetics precisely mirror a client’s scalp, hairline and direction of growth.
“Sarah fitted me with the hair integration system that I could wear 24/7 as well as wash and style like it was my own. I continue to cycle, hike and climb mountains without having to give any thought to my hair,” explains Isabel.
“They make a net for you to the shape of your head. They pull your own hair through the holes. Then it’s attached with clips, so your own hair will hold that on, then additional hair is sewn on. It wasn’t painful and I was happy to do it.”
The prosthetic doubles as a hair restoration solution, containing cutting edge nanotechnologies and tailored ingredients based on clients’ hair needs, preventing further hair loss and accelerating healthy hair growth.
Isabel says she felt an immediate difference after first undertaking the system.
“Having faith in Sarah at the salon was the main thing. I’ve had to be confident because I was putting all my trust in her to do something for me, to choose colour, to choose style, everything. And that was the main thing.
“I walked out of that salon with my head held high and the biggest smile on my face.
“And I have never ever, ever looked back and it doesn’t feel as if it’s not my hair, it is my hair.”
Though everyone’s hair is different, the clips in Isabel’s hair are tightened every six weeks, with the system being removed twice a year before being refitted.
“Living with alopecia is not a lifestyle choice,” she says.
“There is a huge difference in choosing to live without hair and not having hair. Finding a hair loss solution at La Bella Vita was a true gift. It is the best investment in me I have ever met. My confidence was restored.”
“It does knock you for six because I had a full healthy head of hair,” she says of the diagnosis.
“While you are in and around your own friends and your family there’s no problem with it because that’s what they just see, the person you are, there’s no difference. When you go into other places, it becomes more invasive. It’s more of an issue for other people than it was for me.”
Isabel is “very open” speaking about hair loss and hopes her openness will help others.
“Once you become aware of how many people are affected by some form of hair loss, not just by alopecia, but people who lose parts of their hair because of chemotherapy, or a spot somewhere that doesn’t grow,” she says. “You have male pattern baldness where their hair thins on top, that can be catered for. There is a solution out there for those who want to go and have a look and explore the possibility.
“I have absolutely no problem talking about it. It’s no different to having to wear a pair of glasses or using a walking stick. If it’s something that improves your quality of life, which this obviously has done. I was never an unhappy person but like everything, I prefer not to have it.”
Sarah Gallagher adds: “We are so delighted that Isabel had such a fantastic experience with us and we could see how delighted she was and what a difference it made to her confidence and her life. Treating a client’s hair solution, like Isabel’s, is both an art and a science.
“We need to know how to identify different types of hair, how to match colours and textures, and how to care for hair so it looks its best. On the other hand, we also need to be able to see beyond the conventional uses for hair. We need to be able to envision new styles and techniques and to have the skill to bring those visions to life.”
■ For information on La Bella Vita salon, see www.labellavitahairandbeauty.co.uk