An eight-year-old girl with alopecia has defied her bullies by ditching her wig and embracing her baldness with pride.
Niamh Lewis from Glyncorrwg, South Wales started to lose her hair when she was just three years old and now has no hair, eyebrows or eyelashes.
Despite being taunted by cruel bullies at school Niamh refuses to let her condition dent her confidence and has instead chosen to celebrate her unique looks.
“I am so proud of how she has dealt with comments from other children and strangers who stop her in the street," says her mum, Amy, 43.
“Niamh is confident in her own skin and is an inspiration to us all.”
Though she was born with a full head of hair and went on to have long hair as a toddler, at the age of three Niamh's hair started falling out in small patches.
By the time she was five, the hair loss had rapidly increased until Niamh was left with no hair, eyelashes or eyebrows.
“It started as three patches," her mum, an events manager, explains. "Niamh didn’t notice and it grew back.
“We tried different styles to cover the patches, but the hair was becoming very fine and tangly.
“When Niamh turned five in December, it became more noticeable and by the summer holidays it was all gone.
“It took only four months to go from having hair to no hair at all,” Lewis continues.
The condition can be genetic and experts are unsure if Niamh’s hair will ever grow back.
“Niamh said to me, if my body needs hair it will grow it," Lewis said. “So now we only speak positively about hair loss.
“The terms ‘suffering with’ or a ‘survivor of’ are not words we use.”
Despite Niamh's positive outlook, her mother admits she has sometimes struggled to come to terms with her daughter's hair loss.
“As her mother, I grieved for her hair and found the loss hard to deal with," she explains.
“I worried about her future, especially as a female with no hair.
“I always worry how she will be treated by others who don’t understand.”
When Niamh first started to lose her hair, she was donated a wig from The Little Princess Trust, but she has decided she doesn't want to wear it anymore.
“It was too much for her tiny little features and it would get hot and itchy," her mum explains.
“She loves to swim and hang upside down outside like a typical child and the wig got in the way so she said no.
“We tried head scarfs and sometimes she wears accessories for fun, but normally she prefers not to wear anything."
The family say they are determined to look on the bright side.
“Face paint can go everywhere and she is the first to get ready for swimming, and of course we never had to brush out painful tangles," Niamh's mum says.
Remaining positive, doesn't always help when having to deal with strangers staring and cruel comments about Niamh's appearance though.
“Kids would call her baldy and some of the girls wouldn’t play with her," Lewis says.
“Wherever we go people stare. They assume she has cancer or a terminal illness.
"I’ve had strangers hug me and cry and give her money or sweets.”
Thankfully, now that she is older Niamh is able to explain that she isn’t ill at all and that her hair loss is not cancer related.
While there are some potential treatments available, such as steroid injections, which may help to reduce the hair loss, the family has decided against it, feeling it was a lot to put Niamh through.
“You can also buy steroid-based creams, but I chose not to try that as it may irritate her eczema," Lewis adds.
"It’s about weighing up what’s best for each person."
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Determined to embrace her beauty, Niamh has recently joined a number of modelling agencies and is loving the experience so far.
"She hasn't lost her confidence in front of the camera," Lewis smiles.
"I'd like alopecia to be seen in mainstream modelling."
Niamh also has an Instagram page to connect with others who have the condition.
“Niamh started to question what she might look like as she gets older so we follow women and children all over the world with Alopecia and it’s great to have that support," her mum says.
Niamh and her mother are also supporting the charity Alopecia UK and are hoping to set up the first support group in Wales.
What is alopecia?
Alopecia is a physical health condition that causes hair to fall out.
According to Alopecia UK, Alopecia Areata is thought to be an autoimmune condition, which often starts with isolated patches of hair loss on the scalp and/or across the body including the beard, eyebrows, eyelashes or body hair, including pubic hair.
"In Alopecia Areata, cells from the immune system (a specific type of T cell, known as NKG2D+ T cells) gather around the hair follicles," the site explains. "These cells attack the follicle, stopping it from producing more hair. The exact way in which this happens is not yet understood."
Sometimes Alopecia Areata can develop into either Alopecia Totalis (hair loss across the entire scalp) or Alopecia Universalis (hair loss affecting the whole body), but in most cases the hair loss remains patchy and eventually regrowth occurs.
While the condition is often associated with stress and anxiety, it still isn't fully understood what triggers the immune system to attack healthy hair follicles when people have Alopecia Areata.
At the moment there is no cure for the condition, but treatments are available to slow down the loss of hair.
Common treatments for Alopecia Areata include corticosteroids (designed to dampen down the immune response) and topical immunotherapy (to distract the immune response).
Additional reporting Caters.