Alopecia Areata Patients Grateful to Martell for Baring Her Bald Head

Alopecia areata, which causes hair loss, won't stop Miss America contestant.

ByABC News
January 4, 2011, 5:39 PM

Jan. 5, 2011— -- Kayla Martell, crowned Miss Delaware in June, will have to prove she has the confidence and poise to become Miss America at its annual pageant next week.

But many people argue that she has already done just that by appearing in several photos and interviews with her bald head out in the open for the world to see.

Martell suffers from alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that attacks hair follicles and results in the loss of hair on the scalp and other parts of the body. The skin disease affects more than 4.7 million Americans and about 2 percent of the world's population. Alopecia areata will be Martell's platform in the upcoming pageant.

"I decided to use my crown to show that it is time we redefine what it really means to be beautiful," Martell wrote in an email. "To me, beauty is a part of your soul...You can be 'beautiful' on the outside and 'ugly' on the inside...But confidence and compassion are the real makeup of a beautiful person."

While some people prefer to let their baldness run its course unhidden, many people prefer to use wigs, makeup, hats and scarves to cover up.The condition is not fatal, but alopecia areata can have a major effect on a person's psychological and emotional well-being.

"Alopecia areata is not life-threatening, but it is life-altering," said Dr. Wilma Bergfeld, senior dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic and past president of the American Academy of Dermatology.

But now, as Martell steps into the limelight, not only as a person in the public eye, but also a beauty queen, many people are encouraged by her confidence as a beautiful bald woman.

"[This] lets people with alopecia areata know they are not alone and that they can do anything they want to do," said Vicki Kalabokes, president and CEO of the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.

Martell, now 22 years old, was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder when she was in the fifth grade after noticing her hair part was becoming wider. She eventually lost all her hair.