Alopecia is a disorder that causes hair loss. The amount of hair loss can range from a few isolated spots of hair loss on the scalp to a more extensive loss of hair.
Alopecia was recently brought into the spotlight after the Will Smith/Chris Rock incident at the 94th Academy Awards. Chris Rock made a joke regarding Jada’s shaved head, which led to an altercation.
Jada Pinkett Smith went public with her diagnosis of alopecia in an Instagram video in December 2021. In the video, she describes that she’s dealt with hair loss for many years, and used steroids to treat it, but finally decided to accept it as it is. Her video shows a close up of various bald spots as well as areas where her head has clearly been shaved. Jada has a positive take in the video. At the end, she states “Now at this point, I can only laugh.”
Dealing with alopecia can be traumatic for many. For some, it may not be as easy to accept as it may be for Jada, but no matter what point you’re at, know that you’re not alone and there are ways to confront your alopecia and treat it.
Who Can Be Affected by Alopecia?
Alopecia is a form of hair loss that can affect both men and women. Some people will lose hair on their scalp over time as they get older, due to hormonal changes or androgens, which is also considered a type of alopecia.
The National Alopecia Areata Foundation has stated that there are approximately 6.8 million people in the U.S., and around 147 million people worldwide, who are affected by alopecia areata.
In addition to Jada Pinkett Smith, celebrities such as Viola Davis, Christopher Reeve, Tyra Banks, Ricki Lake, Neve Campbell, and Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts have suffered from varying types of alopecia.
In a study funded by Alopecia UK, historians have documented its origins going as far back as ancient Egypt, where it was described as “bite hair loss.” By 30 A.D., the Latin encyclopedist Aulus Cornelius Celsus described alopecia as “windings of a snake;” incidentally, his suggested treatment was to use caustic compounds (which often tend to burn the skin) and scarification (such as branding). The modern description of alopecia was first noted in 1813, and during the 19th century, various causes were considered, such as nerve defects, physical trauma, psychological stress, diseased teeth, and endocrine disorders. By 1958, alopecia was first suggested to be an autoimmune disorder.
Different Types of Alopecia
Alopecia comes in many different forms. There are several types of autoimmune alopecia, such as discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE), a very common type of chronic cutaneous lupus (CCLE). Over time, DLE can cause sores and scars to one’s scalp and face (the British musician Seal suffers from this condition). Other forms of alopecia include:
Traction alopecia is a form of hair loss that is quite common in the African American community. It’s believed it can be caused by specific hairstyles where the hair is braided or pulled extremely tight over long periods of time.
Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia
Central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia is a scalp scarring alopecia that often leads to permanent hair loss. This is the most common form of scarring hair loss among African American women, usually between the ages of 30 to 55. However, it can also affect men and individuals of different races. It appears to affect middle aged women more than any other age range.
The most common form of autoimmune alopecia is alopecia areata, which affects roughly 500 out of 1,000 people in the US (1 out of 2), and can appear in different forms:
Alopecia Areata (Patchy)
This type of alopecia features round or oval patches, often the size of a coin, on the scalp and other areas in which there is hair. It can transform to alopecia totalis (complete hair loss on the scalp) or alopecia universalis (full body hair loss, including eyebrows, eyelashes, and pubic hair).
Persistent Patchy Alopecia Areata
This is a patchy scalp hair loss that develops gradually over time without ever developing into extensive alopecia areata.
Diffuse Alopecia Areata
A sudden and unexpected thinning of the hair all over the scalp. It’s often difficult to diagnose, as it can resemble other forms of hair loss, such as male or female pattern baldness.
Ophiasis alopecia areata affects the sides and lower back of the scalp, and can be difficult to remedy, as it takes a long time to respond to any medication.
What Causes Alopecia?
Alopecia can appear at different times in your life, from childhood to adulthood. Those affected by alopecia can often lose their hair in clumps, which leads to bald spots on the scalp. For some, the hair that has fallen out can grow back within a year’s time, but for others, it never grows back.
Alopecia has also been considered a genetic disease by many in the medical field. The NAAF website states: “Alopecia areata is known as a polygenic disease. This means that, unlike a single-gene disease, both parents must contribute a number of specific genes in order for a child to develop it. Because of this, most parents will not pass alopecia areata along to their children. With identical twins — who share all of the same genes — there’s only a 55% chance that if one has alopecia areata, the other will, too. This is why scientists believe that it takes more than just genetics to cause the disease and that other environmental factors also contribute to people developing alopecia areata.”
In addition to the genetic component, stress and lack of proper nutrition can also be a contributing factor. In some cases, those who reduce their stress level and improve their diet can see their hair return over time.
Alopecia: Diagnosis and Treatment
A doctor can diagnose alopecia by performing a biopsy of the scalp, after which pathologists can further examine the skin cells to determine the cause of the hair loss.
If you suffer from alopecia, be advised that you may be at risk of developing other medical conditions, such as diabetes, thyroid disease, asthma, and allergies.
Overall, there is really no cure for alopecia. In some cases, it resolves on its own, and in others, it never resolves.
There are numerous medical treatments to help with alopecia, with varying levels of success. If you suffer from alopecia, you may have to try different medications to find one that helps, and you may have a greater chance of having your hair grow back once the inflammation is treated.
Anti-inflammatory drugs or steroids can be injected into the scalp to help prevent the body from going after hair follicles. Such treatments can be given on a monthly basis and may cause some skin discoloration. Topical ointments can also be applied if one doesn’t want to use an injection.
Other medications such as dupilumab (which also treats asthma and eczema), tofacitinib, and baricitinib have both been used for rheumatoid arthritis, but can also help with hair loss. However, there is a danger in using these drugs as the user may risk lymphoma and blood clots.
If you’re looking for help in dealing with alopecia, please reach out to Refined Hair. Our team of hair loss specialists are dedicated to providing the best hair loss treatment for your condition.