GAIL PORTER’s £495 eyebrow tattooing procedure 

Hair loss: Gail Porter suffers from alopecia

Gail Porter slowly peels back her hands cupped over her face and looks at the mirror. Within a split-second, she dissolves into tears. ‘I’ve got a face again,’ she whispers between sobs. ‘Usually I feel ugly and useless and can’t bear to leave the house. Today I feel like a mini rock star.’

Gail, 46, is staring at her new eyebrows – until now another casualty in her highly documented battle with alopecia. In 2005, her thick, caramel-coloured tresses fell out overnight and her career ground to a halt. Her eyebrows and lashes also vanished, leaving her, as she puts it, ‘without a face’.

Her new appearance is thanks to microblading, an increasingly popular technique that’s taking both the beauty industry and the medical world by storm.

The £495 procedure – in essence a form of tattooing – involves using hair-fine blades dipped in ink to create tiny incisions on the skin. The results are semi-permanent marks that resemble eyebrow hair and look incredibly realistic, even under close scrutiny.

A-list advocates include Madonna and Girls actress Lena Dunham, both of whom suffered thinning eyebrows due to over-plucking.

But the procedure can also be used for those who have lost their brows for medical reasons. As Gail knows only too well, small things can make a huge difference.

Today, we meet at her second microblading session. She first had the procedure a year ago, and is attending a ‘top-up’ session, as the ink begins to fade after 12 months. 

She says: ‘When you lose your eyebrows, it’s like your face has been rubbed out – you have no expressions. I did once try to draw my eyebrows in with a pencil, but I just looked surprised. Today, thanks to these brows, I have a face.’

The former TV presenter, whose nude image was beamed on to the Palace of Westminster in 1999, has been open about her condition.

Aged 33, she was diagnosed with alopecia universalis – total hair loss. ‘I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,’ she says.

The cause of the condition, which affects both men and women, is not fully understood, but a combination of genetic and environmental influences are believed to contribute. Patients often say that it occurs around a period of high stress. Understandably, sufferers report high levels of anxiety as a result.

Indeed, Gail has struggled with her mental health since losing her hair. She has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and anorexia, and she was sectioned for 17 days in 2011.

Despite this, she often insists there are positives, such as ‘no longer needing to buy shampoo’. Today she jokes that ‘I look like a big baby with boobs’. Having spoken so honestly about her condition, she has become one of the most recognisable people with alopecia in Britain, and receives hundreds of social media messages a day from fellow sufferers begging for advice. ‘I always want to be there if people want to talk about their hair loss – so many people have no one to talk to,’ Gail adds.

How 11 tiny blades create a new look 

● First, an anaesthetic cream is applied and left for at least 20 minutes to numb the eyebrow area.

● Brow guides (see picture, above) are used to give the artist the correct measurements and shape of your brows.

● The shape of the desired eyebrow is first drawn on with a pencil to ensure the client is happy with their appearance.

● The microblading tool, which has up to 11 hair-fine blades at the tip, is dipped in a mixture of pigments matching the client’s natural hair colour.

● As the tool is brushed over the brow area, the blades penetrate the lower layers of the skin, inserting the pigment at the same time. The brush strokes are designed to mimic natural eyebrow hairs. Between 100 and 200 strokes are made per brow.

● The skin heals quickly and the pigment remains locked in, creating the illusion of fine, natural-looking hair.

● The treatment generally takes about one hour, and a follow-up session is required four to six weeks later to see how the colour has settled.

But despite her brave stance, she still seems incredibly fragile. Speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday, Gail reveals the daily battle she faces with her appearance. ‘I have been so insecure about my looks since it happened,’ she says. ‘I always come across as positive but I still cry. I really don’t like the way I look. I go through times when I don’t want to leave the house.

‘It may sound crazy, but I don’t want people to see me. I don’t even want to see myself – there are no mirrors in my house.’ However, Gail also does her best to keep things in perspective. ‘I lost my mum to lung cancer when she was just 60 – that was the worst thing in the world. There are people much worse off than me.’

Even so, being diagnosed with alopecia or losing hair through other medical conditions can be traumatic. ‘People really worry about losing their hair,’ says Gail, who lives in London and has a daughter, Honey, 15. ‘My mum had cancer but the thing she was most upset about was losing her hair.’

In fact, the pain Gail and other alopecia victims feel is completely normal, says Karen Betts, a leading permanent cosmetics and microblading artist.

One of the earliest pioneers in the field of so-called paramedical tattooing, she supports the charity Alopecia UK by offering sufferers discounted treatments. She also works with the Katie Piper Foundation to help people with scars.

‘In people who are fortunate enough to survive cancer, their body hair often does grow back after chemotherapy,’ Karen explains. ‘But with some forms of alopecia, such as Gail’s, it may never grow back.’

One question Gail is often asked is why she doesn’t simply wear a wig. Indeed, she has spoken openly about being offered a number of TV jobs, but only if she covered up her baldness – something she steadfastly refuses to do.

‘I never experimented with wigs – I didn’t want my daughter, when she was younger, to be freaked out if she got used to me wearing one and then saw me without one.’

Bizarrely, on the day we meet, she has been sent a wig in the post.

‘It was exactly like the hair I used to have,’ she says. ‘I tried it on and cried – it was so overwhelming after all this time. My daughter loved it but I’m not so sure.’

A nude picture of Porter was projected on to the Houses of Parliament for the launch of FHM magazine's 100 Sexiest Women in the World 1999 campaign

A nude picture of Porter was projected on to the Houses of Parliament for the launch of FHM magazine’s 100 Sexiest Women in the World 1999 campaign

While Gail is delighted with her brows today, when she was first offered them a year ago she was reluctant. ‘My first reaction was ‘not in a million years’. I’d already lost all my hair and I was adamant no one was touching my face. But then I met Karen, who was absolutely lovely, and she showed me how they’d look, which boosted my confidence.’

The result, she says, was better than she dared hope. ‘I opened my eyes, looked in the mirror, and was like, ‘Wow! Check me out!’

‘I even flicked my hair before saying to myself, ‘Gail, you don’t have hair.’

‘It’s been a year now and they have been absolutely amazing – I’d recommend them to anyone. I just wish my mum had done this when she had cancer – it would have made such a difference to her. The treatment doesn’t hurt: I’ve had 18 tattoos, I’ve been divorced and my mum died – that’s real pain.’

And despite losing all her hair, Gail wanted her new brows to be quite small. ‘A lot of the young girls today look as if they’ve got caterpillars on their faces,’ she quips. ‘I don’t want to go that far.’