'I was stripped of my identity': Social media star shares alopecia journey and starts cosmetic brand to help other women live with the condition
What started out as a rash all over her body soon turned into clumps of hair falling out in the shower. Now, Preston-born influencer Zaralena Jackson is sharing her alopecia journey with the world.
With almost a quarter of a million followers, Zaralena Jackson has started using her social media platform to share her journey with hair loss after she was told she had the condition last summer.
What first started out looking like a severe allergic reaction, the former Ex On The Beach TV star soon began finding clumps of hair falling out of her head and within weeks, had lost all the hair from her body.
In an ordeal she described as "soul-destroying", the 29-year-old influencer, from Penwortham, said she had spent months trying to desperately find answers and treatments, all whilst dealing with the mental impacts of what was happening to her.
And after spending hundreds of pounds paying for specialists and private dermatologists, Zaralena was told she had alopecia and that there was nothing she could do to stop her hair from falling out.
In a bid to help other women to find their strength, she has remained open about her journey on social media and says she gets hundreds of messages from young women struggling to deal with losing their hair.
Speaking to the Post, she said: "When I started my journey, I was open about it straight away on my social media which I found really helped me. It almost made it easier for me to deal with because I was reaching so many people who had the same experiences.
"It all began last June when I started getting a rash all over my body and had inflamed lymph nodes in my neck. It was like I was just getting a major allergic reaction and before I knew it, I had lost all the hair from my head and my body.
"I was just in complete shock and like most people, didn't really know anything about it until I researched it to find out what it was. I can't put into words the panic you feel when you first find out you have got it and you start losing your hair.
"For a woman, their hair is part of their femininity so when it started falling out it was soul-destroying. Every time I went in the shower, I would lose clumps of hair and it made me so scared to do anything or even touch my head."
Zaralena Jackson first appeared in the public eye when she joined seven other singletons in the Ex on the Beach villa, but had been designing clothes for years before that and managing her brand.
From this, she said her followers, of which there are over 200,000 on Instagram, have remained supportive of her journey with alopecia and are eager to see a glimpse into her real-life struggles behind the luxurious outfits and selfies.
This was her opportunity to be raw and open about her battle with hair loss in the hope of supporting other young men and women who are struggling to deal with the condition, which currently has no cure.
She said: "I have had so much support since I started my journey. I have had so many people reach out to me and message me telling me what they are struggling with. So many people hide it from their friends and families and don't talk about it.
"I get messages telling me that I am making girls feel more confident in themselves. Life isn't perfect and I want people to know that social media is a way of making it look like it is, but we all have our problems behind closed doors and perfection doesn't exist.
"I always remember that there are so many worse things that could happen to me. It has been extremely difficult and I have so many ups and downs but I still consider myself to be very lucky."
It was on her fourth trip to see a dermatologist that the 29-year-old finally felt like she was getting somewhere, as she was offered steroids that gave her a chance of seeing her hair grow back.
And after a successful four months of taking the medication, which had challenging side effects from mood swings to night sweats and weight gain, her hair slowly began to grow back.
But just two weeks ago, after the course had completed, it began to fall out again, prompting her to take fate into her own hands and shave it off on a live video shared to her Instagram account.
In a new venture, she set up Zaralena Cosmetics, offering non-permanent transferable eyebrow tattoos and false eyelashes to give other women a chance at returning to some normality after losing their hair.
Zaralena said: "There are so many types of alopecia and different extremes of the conditions. Mine is the most severe, and when I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes it felt like my whole identity had been stripped from me.
"I had to get used to adapting to another image again and even had my eyebrows micro bladed on which was painful and didn't look right. I cried for four days straight and I felt like I couldn't even look at myself or get out of bed.
"The hardest part is accepting there are no answers and that nothing can be done, so I wanted to do something I could to help. I would always tell girls to not put pressure on themselves and realise it is normal to handle their emotions however feels right for them.
"After looking into cosmetic products I could use to help, I came across these transferrable eyebrows which last three days are so easy to apply. They have saved me and saved so many other women who are struggling to cope with losing their hair.
"I want people to know that I am just like everybody else. There are some days where I wear my wig and feel confident and normal, and there are others when I can't even get out of bed. It is important that people know I am not always confident and empowered and that is okay. The alopecia community is strong and all support each other."
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