I Couldn't Bear to Look at My Twin; WHEN ALOPECIA ROBBED GWENNAN N THOMAS OF HER HAIR, SHE WAS FACED HE HAD ONCE LOOKED. BY JANE COHEN WITH A DAILY REMINDER OF HOW SHH

The Mirror (London, England), October 26, 2012 | Go to article overview

I Couldn't Bear to Look at My Twin; WHEN ALOPECIA ROBBED GWENNAN N THOMAS OF HER HAIR, SHE WAS FACED HE HAD ONCE LOOKED. BY JANE COHEN WITH A DAILY REMINDER OF HOW SHH


Byline: JANE COHEN

For identical twins Gwennan and Elin Thomas, life was like looking in a mirror. Even their parents struggled to tell them apart.

As little girls, they insisted on matching outfits, right down to the ribbons in their blonde pigtails.

But when they were 25, a shocking event would mark the sisters apart. Gwennan, from Cardiff, developed alopecia, which causes hair loss.

It was the most extreme form of the condition, alopecia universalis, and caused her to lose all her body hair, including her eyebrows and eyelashes. And ironically, it all started with a trip to a hair salon in April 2002.

"A girl's hair is her crowning glory and I used to love having mine cut," says Gwennan, now 35. "Elin and I would book appointments together for a treat.

"During one visit, my hairdresser discovered a bald patch on my head about the size of a 50p. Soon that bald patch turned into two patches and then three. One morning I found clumps of my hair all over my pillow.

"I was completely distraught. Why was this happening to me?" Alopecia is thought to strike one in 100 people at some point. Affected celebrities include comedian Matt Lucas, TV presenter Gail Porter and swimmer Duncan Goodhew.

It occurs when the body's immune system starts to attack its hair follicles.

Medical experts say alopecia can be hereditary, but Gwennan, a centre manager at Cardiff University's School of Medicine, and Elin, a kitchen manager at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, say they have no family history.

What made the situation even more curious - and devastating - was that Elin still had a full head of hair while Gwennan was almost bald.

"We were identical in every other way," says Gwennan. "It made it so much worse having a sister who was the mirror image of me, but with hair.

"I did not want my sister to lose her hair, but whenever I looked at her I was reminded of what I'd lost."

Gwennan's alopecia was originally mistaken for a simple skin infection and her GP prescribed antifungal cream. But it didn't work and her hair grew increasingly thin.

Desperate for answers, she went back to her GP, and in October 2002, she was finally referred her to a dermatologist, who immediately diagnosed the problem.

"He said my hair was unlikely to grow back," she says. "He said it could be stress-related or genetic - but it was unlikely as Elin hadn't lost her hair."

Devastated, Gwennan decided to take drastic action.

"That night I shaved off all my hair," she says. "I couldn't stand waking up with clumps on my pillow any more. It was quite liberating and Elin told me that I looked so much better."

Afterwards, the sisters celebrated with a few glasses of wine.

Gwennan was also supported by her parents Janet, 66, and Huw, 69, and brother William, 36. But, despite their love and support, Gwennan struggled to cope with her hair loss over the next seven years. "I'd look iow ef we d u in the mi reflection," myself. Lo eyelashes w they define my last eye "My conf low. I just colourful he scalp and a pencil, bu Gwennan put a brave But she she spent human hair. "It was a wig," she sa to have hai "But it w like a real h take a whol brush it. I c "And the I was cover was alway realised I She adm full head of "We were her brush h would reall "I couldn irror and recoil at my " she says. "I didn't recognise osing my eyebrows and was even more traumatic as your facial features. Losing elash was horrible. fidence was at an all-time wanted to be normal. I'd wear eadscarves to hide my bald drew on my eyebrows with ut it wasn't the same." n carried on working, and e face on her hair loss. missed her hair so much, PS4,000 on a wig made of r. custom-made dark blonde ays. "At first, it felt amazing ir again and I loved it.

r aiwhlc was hard to look after, not head of hair at all. It would le evening to wash, dry and couldn't sleep in it either. …

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