In the latest edition of our LOOKFANTASTIC Fearless Campaign, we spoke to former Ex On The Beach star, Influencer and model, Zaralena Jackson on her experience with Alopecia Universalis (an autoimmune condition that causes hair loss over the head and body). After discovering she had the condition during covid, Zaralena shares her personal experience of loosing all of her hair in just 6 weeks, how it has affected her mentally and how she is adapting to living with Alopecia.
Did you notice anything different in the lead up to your Alopecia?
The week before my hair loss I was covered in rashes from head to toe. My body completely seized up. I was covered in prickly heat all over, I even had it on my face. There wasn't a patch of my body that I didn't have it. I had lymph nodes in my neck so obviously, I was concerned about my health wondering what was going on. I felt fine. I didn't feel poorly.
I noticed a patch a week later at the front of my head, a little bald patch probably like a one p coin. I thought that was a big deal at the time, I was like 'Oh my God! I'm loosing my hair, I'm bald!'. I didn't anticipate what was going to happen. At the time I didn't know a lot about Alopecia. My boyfriend was actually rubbing my head the night before and I thought that he'd rubbed it too hard and rubbed my hair off. I was actually blaming him thinking he'd rubbed my hair off!
When did you first notice your hair coming out? How did you feel?
I was actually on my cross trainer. I'd put my hair in a ponytail and was wiping the sweat off my head on the cross trainer and it felt like it had just been waxed. I thought, this is just not right and as most girls would do, I started taking pictures, sending them to my boyfriend saying something's not right. It was about two weeks later that it started getting progressively worse to the point of not being able to brush my hair without it literally coming out.
I can't explain the feeling of desperation. You almost want to pick it back up and put it back on your head. You don't know what's going on, you're worrying, thinking 'is this normal? Am I ok?'. It happens so fast, I was bald within 6 weeks. When it was half way, I knew I was going to loose it all and it was really strange because I woke up one day and all of my leg and arm hair had gone and I thought this is definitely going.
What happened after you noticed?
When I shared the video on Instagram, my hair was all patchy and I was about to go on my first night out wearing my first wig and thought this is my life now. It's not even like I can just clip in some extensions to cover it. I am going to be bald, I knew it. It was quite a big shock to the system. I had two weeks before I had it shaved. The fall was definitely the hardest point for me. This is where my heart really goes out to girls that have patches (Alopecia Areata) because even though they're not as severe as me with loosing it all, they are still going through the fall all the time.
Did you share what was happening straight away or receive any advice?
At the time I put it on social media and said, I've noticed this bald patch, can anyone help me? Then a friend messaged me and said about this company that basically 'helps people loosing their hair' which turned out to be a big scam and a complete waste of time. Unfortunately, when you're loosing your hair, you don't have time to waste. Ultimately, if you're going to loose all your hair, no one can help you; there's not a cure for it.
What's the hardest part about living with Alopecia?
The fall is by far the hardest bit. When I was going through that, I did get to a stage where I actually went to the doctor and said 'I need help'. I'm going out in my car and wanting to drive it off a bridge which is not like me. It's the panic and the anxiety that you suffer which adds to the stress and then adds to the process which makes it ten times worse, so If I'd had some guidance it would have definitely been a lot easier to process and deal with (and not being told to go to a scam company would have helped but unfortunately, that's just what happens).
How important do you think it is that you shared your experience on social media?
Social media almost helped me because the support I got back from sharing and embracing it and being like 'I'm not going to let this win. I'm not going to be depressed. I'm not going to go on anti-depressants' (I did for two weeks). Sharing it kind of reminded me that I have got this support and it's not the end of the world. I can wear wigs and there's ways of being 'normal' without hair.
How has your Alopecia changed your daily life?
I used to be very natural in the sense that I used to just shove a cap on, shove my hair in a pony, not wear any makeup. When you have Alopecia Universalis like me, I have no eyebrows, I have no eyelashes, so now when I don't have any makeup on, I look poorly. When I don't have my wig on, I look poorly. I wear a hat around the house and I never go out without anything on, ever. I'm just not comfortable doing it and I don't feel like it's necessary. Even now, when I've got to strip back and take everything off, I'm a shell. It's still difficult to process even though I'm used to it. It's really strange and something that you never really fully adapt to.
How did it feel trying to find a cause or solution?
The darkest time was the fall; the desperation of finding answers and not knowing what's happened and being told it could be my implants. I had to have my implants checked at one point and thought that I might have to face loosing my boobs and my hair and that for a woman is like you're femininity is being taken away from you.
Fortunately, my implants were fine, they hadn't ruptured or anything but I do still have them on the top shelf of potentially being BII which is Breast Implant Illness. I'm hoping it's not that. I haven't had any other symptoms. I have had lymph swelling every now and again and they've calmed down now which is great and I do still get rashes but I've always had skin that gets rashes. I had juvenile arthritis so I've always had problems with my skin every now and again. Hopefully it's not my implants...
How did your family react to all of this?
Because it happened during covid and my Mum lives in Marbella, my Dad lives in Monaco and my brother lives in Ibiza, I literally just had my boyfriend to depend on and he's not the best bless him. I mean what do you say when your girlfriend's loosing her hair? It's not really a scenario you think you'll have to deal with one day. It's out of the norm and you don't know what to say. you I had to sympathise with him because I probably pushed him away. I probably still push him away now because I wonder how can he want me sometimes, which is awful but you do question yourself.
When I sent my Mum pictures, they said 'Zara's a drama Queen, she's not loosing all of her hair. She's going to be fine'. However, when I sent my Mum some pictures of my hair when a lot of it had gone and I had only a few areas and she rang me hysterical. That was pretty s*#t!' It must be hard for a Mum to see her daughter go through something like that because it does almost trigger you. You see it on films when people loose their hair and think it must be awful, then when it actually happens to you, I'd imagine from a Mum looking at her daughter, that must have been quite difficult.
How important do you think it is that you share your worst days as well as your best?
Social Media is so fake and there's so much pressure and I just thought that this is me. The sooner other people accept me, I can accept me, so I thought sod this, I'm just going to get a post out there, share every emotion with everyone and I'm so glad I did. It could have gone one way or it could have gone the other. I could have had so much trolling but I've not. I've probably been called baldy once and I just thought yeah I am bald, it's not really an insult, I am.
Are you in contact with other people going through the same thing?
My Instagram blew up! When I shared the posts of my hair loss, it started with 'oh what's going on here' and then I got more and more people wanting to keep track of what was going on and what the outcome was going to be. The day I posted the actual shaved head picture, I went for like an Amber Rose Vibe which is weird because I didn't really know Amber Rose until I lost my hair. The media got hold of it and it went everywhere and reached out to an audience that I'd never interacted with. It was really nice. Real girls with real problems. None of this fake malarkey, people thinking they're having a hard time, it's real stuff so it was really eye opening.
How did you find finding a dermatologist? Are there any treatments available?
I'm currently trying different treatments. I'm on steroids. I managed to find a dermatologist that wanted to try me on these which is really good because it took me three attempts to find someone that would actually help. I've been on them for three months now and have another month to go. I have actually started growing hair back which is really good but I've had some girls message me saying that it happened to them and then they lost it all. I don't want that to happen to me but it might do. What I would tell anyone trying treatment is to have an open mind because there's no point going on a treatment if you can't accept the outcome being bad. I'm prepared either way - if I loose my hair then I loose it again, if I don't, then amazing but I will be keeping my hair shaved. I will be continuing to wear wigs, mainly to protect my mental health because the fall was that bad and Alopecia doesn't strike once. It's very rare that it only strikes once. I'd rather just keep myself with a buzz cut if it does come back.
Tell us about your range Zaraliner. How has this helped you?
I've brought out a range of eyebrow transfers, they're the bestseller. It's for people that loose their eyebrows or even people that over pluck their eyebrows when they're younger and they've ruined their eyebrows and they have nothing, or girls that need chemotherapy and don't want to get them tattooed for when their eyebrows grow back.
I've brought out adhesive eyeliners. When you loose your eyelashes, trying to stick on a duo glue eyelash with no eyelashes on blinds you, it just goes in your eye. The eyeliners that I've launched help stop any stickiness going into your eye and are easier to apply. The products have definitely helped so many people and that's another thing that I get messages about. That's my silver lining to my Alopecia. Zaraliner cosmetics is giving it a happy ending.
Watch the full interview on the LOOKFANTASTIC YouTube channel.