Hair Loss

What is alopecia, anyway? The Hair Loss Condition That Affects Millions

What is alopecia, anyway?  The Hair Loss Condition That Affects Millions

Diana Andrunyk/Getty Images

By now you’ve probably read (or seen a video of) Will Smith slaps Chris Rock after Rock pranks Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. The joke in question was about Pinkett Smith’s hair loss, which she publicly explained was the result of her diagnosis of alopecia.

Alopecia is another name for hair loss. Although extremely common, hair loss can impact mood and well-being due to how hair is so intertwined with personality and identity. There are different types of alopecia, which have different causes and can present differently. It can also occur anywhere on the body, but it is most talked about when it occurs on the scalp.

In addition to Pinkett Smith, other public figures have opened up about alopecia and advocated for greater awareness and acceptance, including Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley and actress Viola Davis. Alopecia affects millions of people, which means you’ve probably encountered one before, even if you don’t realize it. Here’s what to know about the common hair loss condition.

What is alopecia? What are the causes?

There are different types of alopecia. Genetics predisposes a person to developing certain types of hair loss, but environmental factors can also play a role.

Alopecia areata

This type of hair loss is caused by an autoimmune disease in which the hair follicle attacks itself, resulting in hair loss that may be permanent or temporary. It tends to be unpredictable, depending on the American Academy of Dermatologyand many people with this condition develop it when they are younger or in their teens, but it can also affect older adults.

According to National Alopecia Areata Foundationit affects more than 6.8 million Americans, or just over 2% of people, at any given time.

Although it is an autoimmune disease, people with alopecia areata are generally healthy, according to the AAD. Like other types of hair loss, there is a genetic component to alopecia areata, but environmental factors also play a role, according to the NAAF.

Androgenetic alopecia

Also called male or female hair loss, androgenetic alopecia is one of the most common types of hair loss. Baldness is often associated with men, especially as they age, but it is also a common type of hair loss in women. According to the National Library of Medicine, it affects more than 50% men at age 50, and is also common in women after menopause, although it presents somewhat differently. In men, androgenetic alopecia usually causes a gradual receding hairline, starting at the front of the hairline. In women, the hair gradually thins all over the scalp.

Androgenetic alopecia can be genetic, as the name suggests, and having a family member with this type of hair loss can make it you are more likely to develop it too. It is also caused by certain hormones (also in the name: androgens) which are higher in men and postmenopausal women.

People with this type of hair loss may be at higher risk for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), coronary heart disease and prostate enlargement, according to the National Library of Medicine.

gettyimages-1336278720

bymuratdeniz/Getty Images

Central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia

This is a model of hair loss in the center (crown) or your scalp. In people with this condition, hair follicles can be destroyed, causing scar tissue and leading to permanent hair loss, according to the AAD. Because it can be permanent, it is important to seek treatment. For the CACB, that means prescription drugs.

This type of hair loss is most common in Black womanbut can occur in men and people of all races.

Hair loss due to stress or illness

Anagen effluvium is a type of hair loss caused by medical treatment such as chemotherapy. telogen effluvium is hair loss caused by stress, illness or even a hormonal change such as pregnancy. But both conditions have to do with interference in the hair growth cycle, which can return to normal once the stressful event or treatment wears off.

Traction alopecia is another type of hair loss that results from prolonged tension on the scalp, like wearing tight ponytails or braids. It may also cause itching, redness, or other symptoms. This type of hair loss may be reversible, but your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or other medications to treat the scalp.

Is there a cure for alopecia?

There are many treatments available for hair loss, although it depends on the type.

Alopecia areata may respond to treatment with steroids, which interfere with cells of the immune system, according to Yale Health. However, these treatments may not work for everyone, and it may depends on the severity of the disease. Topical treatments are also available, and some mild cases may resolve on their own.

Androgenetic alopecia can be treated with the drug Minoxidil (Rogaine), which is effective for both men and women, according to Harvard Health. In some studies on hair growth with this type of alopecia, rosemary essential oil was just as effective as Rogaine, according to Healthline.

At the end of the line ? Talk to your doctor or health care provider if you experience hair loss that seems unusual. Even if you decide to wear your new look au naturel, it’s important to get checked out, as some types of hair loss can cause illnesses or irritations that need to be treated.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.