Zoe Lyons is an award-winning critically acclaimed comedian. She has appeared on many TV shows including, Mock the Week, Live at the Apollo, Room 101 and QI. She first experienced alopecia areata when she was a child. 

We are delighted that Zoe agreed to become an Alopecia UK ambassador in January 2023. In this interview, we get to know her a bit more..

Please tell us a little about your experience of alopecia..

I first experienced Alopecia Areata when I was about 11. It coincided with the separation of my parents and then a subsequent relocation from Surrey to Glasgow which I found quite stressful. At first my Mum and I weren’t sure what was going on, we just started noticing more and more hair in my hairbrush when my Mum brushed my hair. Then the patches started to appear, and our Dr diagnosed alopecia. I actually went to school with a boy who had alopecia, so we knew what it meant.

It was of course very distressing to lose my hair as a kid. I guess I lost about a third of my hair at that time but my mum got very skilled at covering it with my remaining long hair. The only treatment I remember having at the time was some bad smelling shampoo. I don’t know whether that helped, or not, but my hair did regrow after about 18 months and I still remember the relief of seeing the soft fluffy tufts appear.

I have experienced the occasional small patch throughout my adult life but my most recent bout was by far the worst I have ever experienced. Again, it occurred at a very stressful time in my life, a lot of life changes and upheaval. This time the hair just kept falling out and I think at its peak I had lost 80% of my hair. That, I will be honest, was pretty devastating for me. I was in denial for a long time about how bad it was getting. I kept thing it would stop falling out but it just kept going and eventually I had to bite the bullet and have a wig made. Being a stand-up comic is pretty exposing anyway but losing my hair and trying to carry on was tough. I didn’t want to be looked at for a long time. There is a sense of vulnerability that comes with losing your hair, part of your identity and I felt it acutely.

What would you say is the most challenging thing about having alopecia areata?

It’s the unpredictable nature of the condition that is the most challenging aspect for me I think. You just don’t know how it is going to develop from one episode to the next. It could be one small patch or as happened with me this time much more severe. It is different for everyone.

If you could go back in time to speak to your 11 year old self with those first patches of hair loss, what would you tell her?

I would love to be able to tell her that things will all work out in the end. It will be tough at the time, but you will get through it. It’s difficult to comprehend as a child that it is life’s challenges that forge who you become as a person.

Working in the public eye, do you think there are still pressures to look a certain way and do you think this is changing at all?

Being in the public eye of course opens you up to more scrutiny but thankfully I think people’s attitudes are changing. We are all sold an idea of conventional beauty and the standards that we should aiming for. Those ideas and standards are there to be challenged and disturbed. I have made a real effort to capture my alopecia in a positive way and present it as an alternative to the old held idea of acceptable beauty. So, yes, things are changing and that is only a good thing.

When you first talked about your alopecia on your Instagram account, you had lots of people share their own experience with you. How was that for you?

I decided to publicly share my experience on Instagram as it was a way for me to take control of my alopecia and it not have control over me. As a result, lots of people got in touch to share their own stories. That feeling of connecting to people was such a help for me and I know it has helped others seeing my pictures. It might sound like a cliché but sharing our experiences and talking about things when you are struggling with something is so beneficial. Just knowing that you are not alone is a comfort.

You’ve called your 2023 tour ‘Bald Ambition’. How have you found it incorporating your alopecia experience into your comedy?

Talking about my alopecia on stage was something I just had to do. Comedy is how I operate, how I survive and comedy helped me take the sting out of my hair loss. By making other people laugh about it, it not only made me feel better but in a small way it also made audiences more aware of the condition. I’m proud of the fact that I have managed to move from not wanting to be on stage because of alopecia to finding the funny in it. It’s how I choose to deal with it.

Why is it important for you to be an Alopecia UK Ambassador?

Very simply I am so aware now of how important it is to share our experiences and offer help, hope and advice. I am delighted to be an ambassador for this brilliant charity. For a small organisation, it provides a huge amount of support to all those affected by the condition. I really hope that that being visible it helps even just one person.

What advice would you give to anyone struggling with their alopecia?

Firstly, it is OK to feel sad and worried about your hair falling out. That is perfectly understandable it is a difficult thing to go through so be kind to yourself and allow yourself to experience every emotion. Do reach out and talk to people, you are not alone. Alopecia UK provide so much helpful information and networking opportunities. Every individual experience will be different but together we can help each other through.

Thanks to Zoe for sharing her story. Find out more about all our Ambassadors here.