Alopecia is a hair loss condition that most of us would have been vaguely familiar with before Oscar night in March 2022. After that event, it became the most talked about medical problem on the planet for a short time. We all got to know about Jada Pinkett Smith’s struggle with alopecia, while it seemed like every talk show on television had found an expert who could explain the condition to us.
The only thing is most of us weren’t really listening. We were too busy arguing about whether Will Smith should be stripped of his Oscar award and charged with assault or commended for his gallantry. Some of us worried about Chris Rock. Jada and her alopecia were kind of pushed aside.
Now that the dust has settled, it’s probably a good time to take a closer look at what alopecia is and what can be done about it. Scroll down to find out more!
Alopecia is a general term for hair loss that takes different forms. The most common of these is alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder. This happens when the body’s immune system malfunctions and attacks healthy cells. Since your hair follicles make up some of those healthy cells, your hair suffers. Hair follicles are found all over the body, but with alopecia areata, it’s mostly the hair on your head and face that is affected.
There are three different types of alopecia areata. In some cases, it causes the hair to fall out in small patches roughly the size of a coin. This is known as patchy alopecia areata. More general hair loss from the scalp is likely to be evidence of alopecia totalis, while a complete loss of hair from all over the body is known as alopecia universalis.
Causes of Alopecia Areata
Science has yet to establish a definitive cause for alopecia areata. Studies have identified that it is an autoimmune disorder but have not fully explained why the immune system attacks healthy cells. There appears to be a genetic link, as your chances of developing the condition increase if family members have also had it. There are also schools of thought that link alopecia with other autoimmune disorders such as vitiligo, which attacks the body’s melanin-producing cells, and thyroiditis. Studies have identified similarities in the cells and cytokines behind the three conditions, as well as shared genetic risk factors.
It may also be that alopecia affects some races more than others. Studies have turned up evidence that African American and Hispanic women are more likely to experience the condition than their white or Asian counterparts. How much these differences are due to pathophysiological factors and how much to behavioural or environmental factors is not yet clear.
Just as there is no definitive cause of alopecia, neither is there a definitive cure. It can be treated with a mix of topical, oral and injected medications that aim to help stimulate hair regrowth. The five main types of treatment are listed below. It should be noted that three of the five are strong drugs that carry the risk of side effects in some circumstances. They should be used only on the recommendation of a medical practitioner for that reason.
- Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs that come in different forms, including oral, topical or through injections into the scalp.
- Topical Minoxidil is the most widely used treatment for hair loss. It is a vasodilator class of drug that stimulates hair growth in the patchy areas affected by alopecia.
- Finasteride is both a topical and oral medication used mainly to treat hair loss in men.
- Laser therapy is probably the simplest treatment to apply and has no known side effects. It’s also a therapy that can be used at home, thus cutting down on the need for salon or clinic visits. A laser cap used for just a few minutes a day can stimulate hair growth. It’s often used as a supplementary treatment to a surgical hair transplant.
- Natural treatments for alopecia include adding probiotics to your diet and eating foods that are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. The list of these is too long to write out here, but a quick internet search throws up plenty of informative sites. Applying natural oils like rosemary and lavender is also recommended.
Alopecia is a term that strikes fear in the heart of anyone who cares about their hair. And let’s face it, that’s most of us. Fortunately, it doesn’t always mean that you’re going to experience permanent hair loss or that there isn’t a treatment that can mitigate the worst effects.
If you’re concerned about hair loss, it’s crucial that you seek advice as soon as possible. Hair loss, as a rule, is treated more effectively the earlier you catch it. Vinci Hair Clinic offers a free consultation to all our new clients. Get in touch today and arrange your appointment!