Gail Mabalane opens up about living with alopecia: The more you cover it up, the more it controls you

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Gail Mabalane is using her voice to raise awareness on Alopecia.
Gail Mabalane is using her voice to raise awareness on Alopecia.
Oupa Bopape

When a big patch of her hair fell off after she did a high ponytail, she was left devastated with little to no explanation as to why her hair was falling after so many years of healthy hair.

This Alopecia Awareness Month, Gail Mabalane is opening up about the condition which shows up as sudden hair loss that starts with one or more circular bald patches that may overlap.

The actress tells Drum she is raising awareness about alopecia and how it affects black women across the globe.

Three years ago she went to the salon to have her ponytail removed.

But she and her hairstylist were astonished to discover the amount of hair that fell out as they removed the attachment.

Her hairstylist suggested a hairstyle that would hide her patch until he hair grew back.

Thinking nothing more of it, Gail agreed. But she's later learn that she has a generic form of Alopecia CCCA.

Read more | ‘A patch grows and then another patch comes out’ – what it’s like living with alopecia

“I was shooting a show and I had my hair in a bun. After shooting I went to remove it and the area where the bun was fell with my hair. I had a big chunk of hair that was missing at the top of my head. When I had the bun, I remember it being sore and itchy but I assumed its because I had it on for so long. I had a chiskop, basically.”

After losing so much hair, Gail says the hairstylist didn’t know what to do or what to say.

She considered cutting her hair immediately, but she covered it up with a hairstyle.

“When we as black women do our hair, we manipulate our hairline, and our scalps are not breathing. I went to a dermatologist who took a piece of my skin and took it to the lab, and it came back and I was diagnosed with a form of Alopecia which is CCCA and its very prominent amongst black women. It then became my passion to create awareness around it and I learned that there is a lot we do as black women to speed up the effects of alopecia.”

Read more | Gail and Kabelo Mabalane celebrate nine years of marriage

Alopecia CCCA refers to Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia (CCCA) a form of scarring alopecia on the scalp that results in permanent hair loss. It is the most common form seen in black women.

“The pixie cut was my look, and it became a part of my identity. My hair has never given me problems growing up until I was diagnosed with Alopecia. Suddenly that was taken away and I remember having to cut my hair and I came home to my daughter asking what happened. I had to make it look normal to her and I didn’t want to show that I’m traumatized by it.”

Black women are known for having protective styles to protect and grow their hair, which includes the pulling and braiding of hair aggressively. These can lead to a receding hairline, hair loss and brittle hair to a dry and itchy scalp.

Because these things have been normalized Gail says that black women put themselves at risk of experiencing massive hair loss.

“Chemicals, pulling, cornrows and even gluing on a weave, we find most of the time that the Alopecia is self-inflicted. I decided to go public with my story and education women about alopecia.”

After two years of testing different formulas for hair growth, Gail together with her team birthed hair products that are aimed at growing and strengthening hair, using natural ingredients such as shea butter: Ethnogenics.

“My products are not medical products because sometimes you need medical intervention to treat and maintain your scalp. The hair products are formulated for hair growth and not necessarily alopecia," says Gail.

“We have made it normal for our hairlines to recede, and we’ve become accustomed to seeing someone with a receding hairline and to think its okay. I got put on treatment after the diagnosis and some people think dermatologists are expensive and I believe that the sooner its diagnosed the easier it is to treat it. I have a patch on my head where my hair doesn’t grow and had I not consulted a dermatologist in time that scar would’ve gotten bigger.”

Read more | Kabelo and Gail Mabalane talk marriage, challenges and communication

She has a seven-year-old daughter, Zoe Mabalane, who has a beautiful Afro and Gail says she does treatments on her daughter’s hair and gives her breaks from protective hairstyles.

“We are raised to believe our hair is our crown, what happens when you lose it? Do you suddenly lose your crown? I’ve had to reconcile with myself and say that I am not my hair."

"My daughter has a beautiful afro and i have to teach her these things. When I'm having a bad hair day and I put on a wig she says no mom, your hair is perfect, you're gorgeous just like that." 

 She hopes more women will take care of their scalps and beware of things that might cause harm to it. 

“Wear your hair out. The more you hide it or cover it up, it controls you. If I never went public, it would mean that I could never sit in salon. I am confident walking around even if the patch shows because people know about it."

The actress is gearing up for the release of Netflix series Blood & Water season and she says there is another Netflix projects in the works that she will share the news closer to its release.

Different types of Alopecia

Alopecia Areata

Androgenetic Alopecia (Pattern Hair Loss) 

Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia (Scarring Alopecia) 

Chemotherapy Induced Alopecia (Anagen Effluvium) 

Frontal Fibrosing Alopecia (Scarring Alopecia) 

Lichen Planopilaris (Scarring Alopecia) 

Telogen Effluvium

Traction Alopecia (hair loss)

Alopecia symptoms

Small bald patches on your scalp or other parts of your body.

Patches may get larger and grow together into a bald spot.

Hair grows back in one spot and falls out in another.

You lose a lot of hair over a short time.

More hair loss in cold weather.

Fingernails and toenails become red, brittle, and pitted.

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