Gail Porter

Back in 2005, Gail Porter was in Las Vegas looking for ghosts. Filming for the television series Dead Famous: Ghostly Encounters was in full swing – a strange moment in her professional life. But then something even more bizarre happened: she lost all her hair.

“I was using the shower. And I shouted to my boyfriend at the time and said ‘there’s something wrong with the bathroom because the water is coming up to my knees’. And then he looked at me and said: ‘where’s your hair?!’. And it was all in the shower.”

It was a big shock, Gail, who was 34 at the time, admits. The hardest part, she says, was having to phone her ex-husband (Toploader guitarist Dan Hipgrave) and ask him to tell their three-year-old daughter Honey she was coming back to the UK without her blonde tresses.

The Scottish television personality can laugh about it though: “Do you know what? If you’re going to lose your hair, do it in Vegas!”

And actually, Honey thought her mum’s new do was pretty cool, Gail reveals.

What causes alopecia?

Gail has alopecia totalis – which means the total loss of hair on the head and body. Doctors aren’t sure what causes alopecia, but most experts believe it’s an autoimmune disorder.

An autoimmune condition arises when the immune system, which normally protects the body from infection, gets confused and mistakenly attacks healthy cells – in this case hair follicles.

Alopecia doesn’t usually cause permanent hair loss and many people who have hair loss experience full regrowth. But those who experience near or total hair loss have smaller chances of regaining their tresses. Gail has experienced some regrowth over the years only to have it fall out all over again.

She chooses not the wear a wig and instead uses her profile to raise awareness of her condition. Her alopecia was the subject of a BBC documentary in 2006 called Gail Porter Laid Bare where she interviewed other sufferers.

“I was really concerned about the impact alopecia might have for other sufferers. I’m Scottish and I’m strong so thought I could get through anything, but I wanted to talk to other people with the condition and find out how they cope.”

But while she acknowledges that hair loss can be traumatic, she does her best to keep things in perspective.

“I don’t really care what I look like, though I did find it quite upsetting. But I lost my mum to cancer and she lost her hair. That was a horrible thing to happen because I lost her.”

The power of brows

Until recently, Gail was dealing with her condition with just a penchant for woolly hats. But what’s making the biggest difference to her self-confidence these days she says, is a brand new pair of eyebrows.

“I have total hair loss. All over. So from the neck down – fantastic! No bikini waxing ever again. But when I lost my eyebrows, I was devastated. I felt like someone had rubbed me out.”

Never a fan of makeup, Gail resigned herself to life without eyebrows. But then a year ago medical tattooist Karen Betts got in touch and asked Gail if she fancied trying out microblading – a permanent make up process that would give her beautiful, defined brows.

Gail Porter and Karen Betts

Gail Porter and Karen Betts

But Gail was sceptical at first:

“I was actually really terrified because I didn’t want someone tattooing my face. But Karen talked me through the whole procedure really kindly.”

Microblading involves creating tiny precision hair strokes with a special tool that mimics the natural direction and lengths of your brows. Pigments are then implanted into the channels created by the blades. The treatment takes around an hour. Gail’s procedure cost £495.

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“Karen drew on my face before she did it so then I knew it was going to be fine. And then she did all these tiny little strokes. And now I’ve got eyebrows and I’m going to get a boyfriend at some point,” laughs Gail.

“It’s actually given me so much confidence. I know that a lot of people probably won’t get it, because not everyone’s bald. But she literally made me feel like a proper girl again. I swear to God I feel a million dollars now.”

Gail appreciates that life can be tough if you’re a woman with alopecia and really hopes she help sufferers by making them feel a little less alone.

“It’s not the easiest thing in the world, but you have to be strong,” she concludes.