- Nicola Hanratty, in Edinburgh, first noticed her hair falling out at 18
- By the age of 20, it had completely receded revealing large bald patches
- She now has a glue-on hairpiece that she gets done once a month
A woman whose thick hair began to fall out when she was just 18 years old has revealed the heartbreak of going bald by the age of 20.
Barista Nicola Hanratty, 27, was devastated to be diagnosed with male pattern baldness – a condition that normally affects women in their 50s.
As clumps of her hair fell out, doctors also diagnosed her with agoraphobia as she became too self-conscious to leave the home she shared with her boyfriend Cameron in Musselburgh, Edinburgh.
Nicola Hanratty, shows off the result of her male-pattern baldness which began when she was just 18 years old
But in February, Nicola was browsing Facebook when she discovered a revolutionary treatment to hide her bare scalp – which involved gluing human hair over bald patches to cover them.
Nicola splashed out £250 for a glue-on hairpiece at Salon 99, Edinburgh in time for a family party in March, where she revealed her new hair for the first time.
She said: ‘My hair had been falling out constantly since I was 18 and as my hairline receded my confidence went with it.
‘A lot of people define a woman’s beauty by her hair, so it was devastating to see mine disappearing.
‘When I heard about this new solution I was desperate to try it’.
Since the treatment, Nicola, who has the hairpiece removed and reglued every month, has returned to employment and now works as a barista – and says she won’t let her condition beat her.
She adds: ‘Gluing on hair might sound odd and it hasn’t “cured” me – but it has changed my life.
‘Reality TV stars have normalised hair extensions so why is there still a stigma attached to hair pieces – what’s the difference?’
Nicola, who has been dating her partner Cameron Gentleman, 38, a council worker, since 2005, was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome in 2006, aged 16.
She was 18 when she first noticed her hair becoming thinner, but assumed it was linked to PCOS, a condition with several side effects caused by cysts growing on the ovaries.
She recalls: ‘Before then it had been quite thick and I’d often get compliments for the rich auburn colour.
‘Doctors had said PCOS can cause mild hair-loss, so while I was upset, I wasn’t too worried.
‘I tried to cut down on how often I washed and brushed my hair to avoid exacerbating the problem.’
But over the next two years large chunks of hair began to fall out, leaving her with noticeable baldness, which she tried to disguise by wearing hats.
In 2011, age 20, she was told a disproportionately large amount of testosterone in her body was causing the hair loss, and she was diagnosed with female pattern baldness.
The condition mainly affects women going through the menopause and there is no ‘cure’ – though in some cases hair re-grows naturally.
Nicola says: ‘When I realised I had no way of stopping my hair-loss I sobbed.
‘As a woman, it felt like I was losing my femininity and I felt painfully self-conscious about it, even when Cameron insisted I was beautiful.
‘Everywhere I looked I saw women with luscious hair, and couldn’t help but compare them to my patchy scalp.’
By the age of 24, Nicola had around 60 per cent baldness, and the top of her scalp was totally exposed.
She says: ‘When I went out I would hear people laughing in the street and be convinced it was aimed at me, even if it wasn’t.
‘My confidence hit rock bottom and I skipped shifts on my job as an NHS support worker.
‘In time, I became afraid to leave the house.
In February 2015, she was diagnosed with agoraphobia and signed off work.
She says: ‘I stayed indoors crying all day. Even watching hair adverts on telly would set me off.
‘I’d ask Cameron to leave the lights dimmed with the curtains drawn, because I didn’t want my scalp to be obvious in the light.’
Nicola’s turning point came one day in February when she was scrolling through Facebook, a year after she was signed off work.
She says: ‘A hairdresser called Ashley Miller shared a post about glue-on hairpieces for people with alopecia or patchy hair.
‘Immediately I messaged her and booked a consultation.’
That month she went to Salon 99 in Edinburgh, where hairdresser Ashley, 41, explained that she could glue hairpieces – called crown extensions – to Nicola’s scalp with a medical adhesive.
Unlike a wig, the glue-on hair can be brushed, styled and washed as though it is natural – but must be removed and re-glued once a month, to prevent infection on the scalp.
Nicola says: ‘It sounded like the answer to my prayers and I ordered two hairpieces for £250 each.
‘I thought, reality TV stars have made extensions acceptable, what’s the difference between gluing hair to your head to build length as opposed to on top?’
In February, Nicola had the auburn hairpiece stuck on top of her head – in time for her dad George Hanratty’s 50th birthday party.
She says: ‘Friends and family were full of compliments, and I posed for photos for the first time in years.’
Since then, Nicola has got her new job making coffee and says her confidence is going from ‘strength to strength.’
She says: ‘I want to urge other bald women to do whatever it takes to feel confident – whether it’s stepping out bald or wearing wigs or hairpieces.
‘These hairpieces haven’t cured my condition but they have salvaged my confidence.
‘One day I may be completely bald, but having the option of gluing hair to my scalp helps me accept that.
‘Nobody would ever guess that the hair’s fake – now I look like any other woman.’