There are genuine treatment options out there for people who are experiencing alopecia, however some solutions simply don’t work. Get the facts and achieve real results without the heartache of false promises and ineffective remedies.
Tackling alopecia head on
There are alopecia treatments and cover-ups available, however at this stage there is no cure. Our understanding of alopecia simply hasn’t reached a point where a viable remedy with high efficacy can be found.
Alopecia is an autoimmune disease that can affect almost anyone. Alopecia is not specific to any age group, gender or ethnicity. Men, women and children from any ethnic background can get alopecia.
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- SMP versus alopecia totalis: Not a cure, but perhaps the next best thing.
The nature of autoimmune diseases is that your immune system attacks your own body. Alopecia is an autoimmune disease that causes your body to attack its own hair follicles, causing the hair to be lost.
The extent of hair loss differs for everyone. For some, the condition is mild, affecting only small areas and for a short period of time. In mild cases, it is normal for the hair to eventually grow back. For others, alopecia can last a lifetime and cause total hair loss on the head, face or body. Once the hair is lost, if your alopecia is particularly aggressive, it may never grow back.
Types of alopecia
There are several strains of alopecia, each with their own characteristics and symptoms. Although they all result in hair loss, exactly how that hair loss is experienced varies depending on the type and severity:
- Alopecia Areata (AA)
- Alopecia Totalis (AT)
- Alopecia Universalis (AU)
- Androgenetic Alopecia
- Scarring Alopecia (Cicatricial Alopecia)
- Anagen Effluvium
- Telogen Effluvium
- Alopecia Barbae
- Traction Alopecia
Alopecia areata, traction alopecia and alopecia barbae are the most common forms of abnormal alopecia (except androgenetic alopecia, see below), whilst others are quite rare. .Click the links above for more information about each alopecia type.
What alopecia treatments are available?
Drugs with anti-inflammatory properties that are injected, taken in pill form or applied as a cream, ointment or foam.
The scalp is applied with chemicals to provoke an allergic reaction, which sometimes makes the hair grow back.
A DHT-blocking lotion or foam used for the treatment of standard hair loss. Sold under many brands like Rogaine or Kirkland as a lotion or foam.
A specialized tattooing technique based on pointillism. Does not treat alopecia but provides an effective camouflage.
Hair systems and wigs
A last resort for long term alopecia sufferers, sometimes a hair system is the only remaining option for those not comfortable with their appearance.
Alopecia areata (AA)
The most common form, alopecia areata is symptomized by round patches of total hair loss on the scalp.
These patches can appear anywhere on the scalp and can also change shape, position and size over time. Sometimes they go away on their own, other times they may persist over the long term or even result in total scalp hair loss, referred to as alopecia totalis (AT).
Many people experience alopecia areata during childhood. Later in life, symptoms can return then go away again.
Although alopecia areata is distressing for all sufferers, it can be particularly challenging for women and children as men at least have the option to shave their hair to minimize the visual change. It can also be difficult to use wigs or hair systems to hide this condition if it is frequently changeable and recurrent. The usual remedy for women is to wear their hair differently to cover the patches of hair loss, although this is not always easy.
The hair on the scalp is the most common casualty of AA, however eyebrows and eyelashes can also be affected.
Alopecia Totalis (AT)
Alopecia totalis is the total loss of all head hair including the eyebrows, eyelashes and any facial hair. This is actually an aggressive form of alopecia areata, however unlike its less invasive cousin, alopecia totalis is very likely to persist long term.
For this reason, many sufferers seek cover-ups like scalp micropigmentation or hair systems once doctor-prescribed medications have failed. Many people with AT also consult a permanent makeup artist to have their eyebrows tattooed or microbladed, and some have lash enhancement eyeliner to reduce the impact of losing their eyelashes.
Ultimately its a personal choice of acceptance or covering up. When faced with a potentially lifelong condition, it is understandable why some people simply give up with treatments, hats and hair systems and just embrace their appearance the way it is. This is an admirable choice to make and we applaud anyone who is able to do that, however for most, it’s not something they feel comfortable with and instead seek a permanent solution to hide their hair loss.
Alopecia Universalis (AU)
This is the most aggressive form of alopecia. Affecting sufferers in much the same way as those experiencing AT, alopecia universalis is symptomized by the total loss of all hair on the head and body. Whilst some people do experience regrowth over time after intensive treatments, the vast majority of alopecia universalis sufferers will never regain their hair.
With this in mind, very personal choices need to be made about how to approach the situation.
If you are able to accept the situation as it is, one option is to simply embrace the fact that you’re not getting your hair back and just live your life as normal. On the other hand, if the fact you have alopecia really bothers you, then long term options like hair systems or scalp micropigmentation should be considered carefully.
Androgenetic alopecia is unique in that it’s not technically a disease or dysfunction.
This phenomenon is often referred to as genetic hair loss or male pattern baldness, and is accepted as an inevitability for many men, especially if there is a family history of going bald.
Ironically, the hair loss gene is usually passed from mother to son, not from father to son as you might expect. Therefore when trying to work out if you’re likely to experience hair loss, it is worth looking at the older generations on your mothers side.
There is no cure for male pattern baldness, however there are treatment options available to slow down or cover up your hair loss. These include finasteride and minoxidil, hair transplant surgery, hair systems, scalp micropigmentation and concealers.
Scarring (Cicatricial) Alopecia
This condition is often mistaken for alopecia areata, but scarring alopecia, sometimes referred to as cicatricial alopecia, is actually it’s own unique strain.
Hair loss is usually gradual with small patches of hair loss that may get progressively larger. In some cases the hair loss is gradual, without noticeable symptoms, and may go unnoticed for a long time. In other instances, the hair loss is associated with severe itching, burning, and pain, and is rapidly progressive.
Scarring alopecia can be differentiated from areata visually because the patches look more jagged around the edges. The destruction of the hair follicle occurs below the skin surface so there may not be much to actually see on the scalp skin surface other than patchy hair loss. Affected areas may be smooth and clean, or may have redness, scaling, increased or decreased pigmentation, or may have raised blisters with fluids or pus coming from the affected area.
A hair loss condition that causes shedding during the anagen (growth) phase of the hair cycle, anagen effluvium can cause rapid thinning of the hair and is common among those receiving chemotherapy treatment.
There are a variety of documented causes however, with people experiencing alopecia areata or pemphigus vulgaris sometimes affected. Generally, most cases can be traced back to a toxin or drug, infection, radiation or an autoimmune disease.
For those who experience anagen effluvium as the result of an infection, hair growth is usually interrupted in a specific area of the scalp, causing a single bald patch or sometimes a cluster of patches. Hair is likely to pull out easily from the infected area which may be swollen or crusted.
As the cause of anagen effluvium is usually the result of, or lack of, medical intervention, the first step is to identify the root of the problem with a suitable medical professional before seeking treatment.
Telogen effluvium is a surprisingly common but temporary condition that does not cause total hair loss, but can make the hair noticeably more sparse. Women are affected more often by this condition and is usually triggered by a disturbance to the hair cycle.
This condition is caused by stress, a traumatic event or shock. Here are the most common reasons why you might experience telogen effluvium:
- Severe stress
- Poor diet, specifically a lack of proteins, iron, B vitamins and zinc
- Sudden weight loss or an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa
- Childbirth. Referred to as postpartum hair loss, this is caused by hormonal changes 3-6 months after birth
- Medications and recreational drugs
- Exposure to toxic metals
Affecting beard hair in men, alopecia barbae is similar to alopecia areata in appearance, but only causes hair loss on the face. For some men it’s temporary, but for others alopecia barbae can last for many years.
Like other strains of alopecia, alopecia barbae is an autoimmune condition where your body attacks its own hair follicles, treating them like a foreign invader.
We do not know what causes this condition, and as yet there are remedies but no cure. However it appears the triggers are the same as areata, primarily focused around physical and emotional trauma.
Men who experience alopecia barbae may find medical help hard to access, simply because in many countries, the condition is not seen as a priority for resources or research. Most people who have it turn to minoxidil, as in lotion or foam form, it can be purchased over the counter without a doctors consent or written prescription. Scalp micropigmentation is also a viable solution, however this is best suited to those who maintain stubble rather than a full beard.
This unique form of alopecia affects mostly women, although not exclusively. I say unique because traction alopecia is the only type, save for the taking of medication, that is self-inflicted.
Traction alopecia is caused by prolonged and regular stress on the scalp. This usually happens by wearing a tight hairstyle that pulls on the hair, like braids and tight ponytails. It can also be caused by ongoing use of hair extensions, wigs and damaging styling products. Basically anything that pulls on the hair or damages it can cause traction alopecia.
Aside from hair loss, symptoms include tenderness of the scalp, redness, soreness and irritation. The frontal hairline is usually worst affected, and this is the area where hair can appear to thin first.
This condition can last for a while, but as long as the routine that caused traction alopecia in the first place is stopped, hair usually grows back over time. Some people use minoxidil to try to speed up the regrowth process, but the best remedy is to stop wearing any hairstyles that pull at the hair and using strong chemicals on the hair until the scalp is healed.