What To Know About Alopecia

Sources: TheConversation.com; National Alopecia Areata Foundation

The violence that overshadowed the 2022 Oscar awards ceremony was sparked by a joke by comedian Chris Rock about the lack of hair of Jada Pinkett Smith.

Away from the recriminations over what could be perceived as a mean-spirited jibe and a disproportionate response by Jada’s husband Will Smith, there are people by the millions who will sympathize because she has alopecia: hair loss is no laughing matter.

Alopecia areata is a common autoimmune skin disease, causing hair loss on the scalp, face and sometimes on other areas of the body. In fact, it affects as many as 6.8 million people in the U.S. with a lifetime risk of 2.1%.

With all forms of alopecia areata, your body’s own immune system attacks your healthy hair follicles, causing them to become much smaller and drastically slow down production to the point that hair growth may stop.

Depending on which type and severity of the disease you have, you might experience hair loss in different areas and your hair loss and regrowth may be unpredictable and cyclical (happen over and over) for many years. Though for some people, hair may also regrow in a few months.

There are lots of factors that contribute to developing this complex condition. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease, which means your immune system mistakes the normal cells in your body as foreign invaders and attacks these cells.

Scientists aren’t exactly sure what “triggers” the immune system to attack healthy hair follicles when people have alopecia areata, or even if these triggers first happen inside the body (from a virus or bacteria), outside the body (from something in your surroundings) or if it’s a combination of both.

Alopecia areata patchy — The most common form, with one or more coin-sized hairless patches on the scalp or other areas of the body
Alopecia totalis — Total loss of the hair on the scalp
Alopecia universalis — Complete loss of hair on the scalp, face and body

Currently, there is no cure for alopecia areata. But the good news is that even when your disease is “active,” your hair follicles remain alive. This means that your hair can grow back again — even after a long period of time and even if you have more than 50% hair loss.

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