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I'm tackling to alopecia head on after years of hiding away; When teen Laurel Flood's hair began to fall out, she tried covering bald patches with extensions and scarves. Tired of the secrecy, she has now taken back control and is raising awareness of the condition.

Byline: WORDS AMANDA KEENAN

ike most teenage Lgirls, Laurel Flood's flowing locks were her pride and joy.

But when they began to fall out in huge clumps, she turned to extensions and headscarves to hide her heartbreak.

Laurel was 15 when doctors diagnosed alopecia areata - and for two years desperately tried to cover up her condition.

But last Sunday she decided it was time to tackle her hair loss head-on and, cheered on by friends and family, she shaved her head.

The teen took the brave step to raise awareness of the condition and prove to other young people that alopecia is nothing to be ashamed of.

Laurel, 17, said: "I'm fed up keeping it a secret and want people to finally see the real me.

"Alopecia is part of my life and shaving my head is my way of taking control. I also want people to know that I'm OK being me.

"So many people are quick to judge and stare, but I'm still the same person I have always been. I'm just not allowing alopecia to control my life."

Laurel first spotted a small bald patch on her scalp two years ago while on a family holiday, but shrugged it off.

A few weeks later she noticed the hair loss had spread, and after visiting her doctor she was referred to a dermatologist who diagnosed alopecia.

Always proud of her luscious locks, she had to come to terms with her changing appearance, something that she found devastating at the time.

Laurel, from Bannockburn, near Stirling, said: "I told myself it was probably just down to teen hormones, but as time went by, the bald spots grew and grew.

"It got so bad I could see my scalp in the mirror. It made me very self-conscious.

"Deep down, I knew that something wasn't right but I hoped my hair would grow back.

"Eventually, I went to my doctor and was diagnosed with alopecia, which came as a huge shock. I didn't know much about it and had to do a lot of research.

"Reading up on all the facts was quite frightening and it took a while to sink in.

"My hair can fall out, then grow back before falling out again. It's a vicious circle. Sometimes I have a lot of hair and at other times, hardly any."

She decided to share her story to help encourage other alopecia sufferers to embrace who they really are and to raise awareness of the condition.

At her worst, Laurel was left with large bald patches on the back and sides of her scalp.

She was able to use headscarves and extensions to put her hair in a ponytail and chose only to confide in her family and a few close friends.

Laurel, who is in sixth year at St Modan's High School in Stirling, said: "It got so bad that I didn't want to leave the house.

"I would spend hours in front of the mirror trying to style my hair so no one would notice my bald patches.

"I always liked experimenting with the colour of my hair and not being able to style it was hard to come to terms with.

"I didn't speak about it but I'm sure people wondered why I wore a headscarf. I wasn't as confident and kept my alopecia a secret because I felt ashamed. I couldn't cope with everyone knowing and I was worried what people would think.

"I didn't feel pretty at all. Until you're faced with alopecia, you have no idea just how upsetting it is to lose your hair."

Laurel was given an NHS wig, which helped boost her confidence but admits it took a while to get used to.

She said: "I was able to choose a wig similar to my natural hair style

and colour.

"I wore it during my exams because I was suffering with large bald patches at the time. You never imagine having to wear a wig at 17, but alopecia can strike anyone at any age "I hope shaving my head will help people understand what sufferers go through."

Laurel chose to help raise funds for Alopecia UK at the same time.

She added: "The charity have helped me a great deal. If I'm having a down day, I can call them and talk about how I feel.

"Many of the people working there have alopecia and know what it's like to lose your hair.

"I was always proud of my appearance and I wanted to look just like everyone else.

"Being told I had this at 15 has been a hard pill to swallow but I just get on with it as best I can.

"I've been told stress played a big part in my hair falling out, but I don't allow alopecia to take over my life like I used to."

After sharing her story on Facebook, Laurel set up a Just Giving page and was overwhelmed by the amount of support she received.

She smashed her initial target of PS200 and raised PS1733 for the charity.

Last Sunday, Laurel and her family held a fundraiser to celebrate shaving her head.

She said: "It was a big step to tell all of my friends on Facebook that I have alopecia.

"But once I told them, they said how proud they were and supported what I was doing.

"Shaving my head and saying publicly I have alopecia was daunting, but I'm so glad I had the courage to go through with it.

"I feel proud and no longer want to hide away. I was nervous before but I really love my new look. If it helps to educate people about the condition then it has all been worthwhile.

"People with alopecia shouldn't be treated any differently because they have no hair.

People are too quick to judge by looks.

"Now I've realised that just because you don't have hair, it doesn't mean you're not beautiful."

To donate, please visit justgiving.com/laurelamyflood

Until you're faced with alopecia you have no idea just how upsetting it is to lose your hair

CAPTION(S):

BRAVE Hairdresser Angela Ferry shaves Laurel's head with help from her sister Melanie. Left, before Laurel was diagnosed. Below, her alopecia takes its toll. Bottom, just before the shave

GONE Friends and family cheer as Laurel gets used to her new look. Pic by Steve Welsh
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 26, 2015
Words:1066
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