One of the common hair problems is alopecia, which refers to an autoimmune disorder characterized by hair loss. An autoimmune disorder occurs when the immune system negatively affects a specific system in the body. In the case of alopecia, the immune system attacks the hair follicles, which lead to uprooting of hair. The hair loss attributed to alopecia is usually in the form of clumps or circles. The extent of hair loss depends on the strength of hair follicles. It may contribute to partial or total hair loss.
Main Types of Alopecia
- Alopecia areata
It is a type of alopecia characterized by several coin-sized patches with irregular shape. These patches may be found on the scalp or any part of the body where hair grows. If it gets worse, it may lead to alopecia totalis or alopecia universalis. The patches are characterized by lighter skin tone due to less blood circulation in this area.
- Alopecia totalis
It is a type of alopecia concentrated on the scalp wherein the entire scalp loses hair.
- Alopecia universalis
It is a type of alopecia centered on body parts. It is an extreme case of alopecia areata wherein the entire body loses hair.
- Diffuse alopecia areata
In this type of alopecia, the hair gets thinner all over the scalp. In extreme cases, the scalp is exposed as the formation of gaps between piles of hair occurs due to thinning. It is also referred as alopecia areata incognita.
- Ophiasis alopecia
This type of alopecia involves losing hair across the occipital region of the head. Hair loss occurs at the lower back and sides of the head, leaving the upper portion with some hair. Among the types of alopecia, ophiasis tends to be more difficult to deal with. In some cases, the hair loss continues even if you take proper medication.
- Androgenetic alopecia
It is a special type of alopecia wherein the scalp loses hair on one part only. This condition is hereditary and may possess a baldness pattern among relatives. It occurs on both men and women after puberty.
- Postpartum alopecia
Postpartum alopecia occurs at the end of pregnancy with minimal hair loss. After three to nine months of giving birth, excessive shedding may occur. Do not worry if this happens to you during pregnancy since it is only temporary. The hair will regrow after approximately a year.
- Traction alopecia
This type of alopecia is prevalent among women. Hair falls due to the application of pulling force, which occurs when hair tie is too tight. The pulling force causes hair to uproot from its follicle. Due to the pulling action, white bumps and scales are left on the scalp, which makes it rough and uneven.
Causes of Alopecia
Alopecia takes place when the immune system detects healthy cells as foreign substances. Since the immune system functions to protect the body, it will destroy all foreign substances, such as viruses and bacteria. Thus, the heathy cells that are mistakenly detected as foreign substances will be destroyed by the immune system. In response to the attacks of the immune system, hair follicles lose control and grip on the hair and stop producing hair. Until now, scientists have not yet found the cause of this response from the immune system.
Some studies show that alopecia is oftentimes observed in people who are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis or type 1 diabetes. Hence, it is a postulate that alopecia is highly attributed to genetics.
Diagnosis of Alopecia
Alopecia is diagnosed through a series of examinations. First, one will be physically examined for occurring symptoms. Observations include the degree of hair fall and physical condition of hair when viewed in a microscope.
An advance way to examine the patient is through a scalp biopsy. In this method, the skin on the scalp is observed if any fungus is present, which may be triggering the hair loss. The doctor uses a machine to extract a tiny piece of skin on your scalp.
In some cases, blood test is performed to detect if the patient suffers from an autoimmune condition. In this method, the presence of abnormal antibodies is determined, which signifies that you suffer from an autoimmune disease.
Treatments for Alopecia
Not all treatments for alopecia can treat everyone diagnosed with this disease. The effect of these treatments depends on the age, degree of hair loss, and type of alopecia. These treatments commonly address and stop the attacks of immune system against hair follicles. Moreover, it also aims to stimulate hair regrowth.
Here are some of the most common treatments for alopecia:
- Intralesional corticosteroid injections
This form of treatment is commonly done to people diagnosed with alopecia areata. It injects corticosteroids into round, hair-less patches on the skin. The injections are performed once every four weeks. It is performed by a licensed dermatologist.
Upon receiving injections, you may expect a faster hair regrowth within four weeks. Another advantage is that it is easy and fast to conduct so it will be less hassle for you.
The injections only function for hair regrowth and do not address or stop hair loss. If not done properly, the injections may cause a temporary skin depression, also known as dells. Moreover, the patient may feel a bit of discomfort due to the pricking of needle and stingy sensation as the corticosteroids penetrate the scalp.
- Topical minoxidil
This treatment directly applies a solution with 5% topical minoxidil on the hairless portion of the scalp or skin. The solution helps stimulate hair regrowth. It is also used by some people for growing eyebrows and beard.
Unlike some medications, one can immediately stop applying the topical minoxidil if he/she is already satisfied with the results of the hair regrowth. Moreover, it is easy to apply and has few known side effects.
This treatment can only be used on its own for treating mild alopecia. It must be complemented with another treatment if it is done for extensive alopecia.
- Anthralin cream or ointment
It is a tar-like cream used for treating mild alopecia. The ointment is spread on the hairless portion of the skin once a day. After soaking it for thirty to sixty minutes, it is washed off with lukewarm water.
It can stimulate hair regrowth within eight to twelve weeks. It is easy to apply and widely accessible.
If the skin is sensitive, it may result to skin irritation, which may cause darkening of the skin. This condition usually occurs if the anthralin is left for more than the required time of soaking.
- Topical corticosteroids
Instead of injections, topical corticosteroids are also available in the market. It is gradually applied on the hairless portion of the skin. It acts as a soothing agent for the inflammation at the surface of hair follicle. It may be bought in the form of lotion, cream, ointment, foam, or solution.
Hair regrowth can increase up to 25% when using highly potent topical corticosteroids. It is widely accessible and may be bought in most drug stores.
The effectiveness of this treatment highly depends on the amount absorbed by the skin. The absorption is directly proportional to the size of skin pores. Hence, its effectiveness varies from person to person.
Top 5 Amazon best-selling products to address the various forms of alopecia
This product is used to sustain the hair volume and to stimulate hair regrowth. Its content is specifically formulated for men. It centers on catalyzing hair follicle activity and protein production. It is known for increasing hair growth by 25%. Aside from this, it also maintains the health of scalp by including botanical extracts and alphahydroxy acid (AHA), which both triggers natural skin exfoliation. Results from using this product can be observed within 12 weeks.
This product offers hair loss prevention through its formulation including biotin, provitamin B5, zinc, botanical extracts, and coconut oil. Aside from hair loss prevention, it also serves as an anti-dandruff shampoo as it cleanses off dandruff flakes from the scalp. It decreases the production of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the metabolite causing hair loss. Through regular use of this product, the user can achieve decreased hair fall and fuller volume of hair.
This product contains 5% minoxidil topical solution that is directly applied on the hairless portion of the skin. It is clinically tested to increase hair growth by 25%. Its formula is specifically made for men. Another variant of this product is made for women.
This product is specially made for women, which can help lessen hair thinning and hair loss. It increases hair density within 12 weeks. It increases hair regrowth by 25% and ensures healthy hair follicle. Like the product’s variant for men, it also contains alphahydroxy acid, which aids in promoting natural skin exfoliation.
This product is made for use of both men and women. It washes off DHT on the scalp to prevent excessive hair fall. It contains biotin, provitamin B5, zinc, botanical extracts, and coconut oil.
The cases of alopecia vary from mild to extreme conditions. In extreme cases, alopecia may be diagnosed as permanent hair loss, which means the hair will not grow after it sheds off from the scalp or skin. This condition may cause mild to severe depression on the patient. In such cases, the person shall aim for acceptance, which will lead to appreciation and contentment.
If you are diagnosed with permanent alopecia, you can venture on wearing natural or synthetic wigs, wearing scarfs, and caps. Moreover, focus on the brighter side of your life and be grateful that many people around you are willing to accept you no matter what your condition is.