Hair loss affects people all over the world, and while most people see it as a natural part of aging, there are actually medical reasons behind excessive hair loss. And although there are many medical conditions that can result in hair loss, one of the most common afflictions is called alopecia areata.
Alopecia areata afflicts millions of people around the world, but it is often not diagnosed because it initially appears as simple bald spots on the scalp. For this reason, it is often referred to as spot baldness, and it resembles the natural loss of hair as people age. However, alopecia areata can develop into two different forms of the disease as well, if left untreated, called Alopecia Totalis (where the entire scalp becomes bald) or Alopecia Universalis (where all the hair on your entire body is lost).
Alopecia areata is often associated with thyroid disorders because the hormonal balance in the body is key to stimulating or shutting off hair follicles and thyroid disorders throw your hormonal balance out the window! Since the condition can get worse in no time, it is very important to treat it before it gets out of hand. Sometimes, psychological or situational factors can also cause small flare-ups of alopecia and hair loss. Although, most of the times, they automatically regress and the hair grows back.
What is Alopecia Areata?
Alopecia areata is a hair loss related condition in which hair typically fall out in round patches. The word ‘alopecia’ refers to hair loss; alopecia areata is sometimes called autoimmune alopecia. It is one of the several types of autoimmune diseases. Normally, the immune system attacks the ‘intruding’ matter in your body, such as the cold virus; autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system attacks healthy cells.
Is Alopecia Genetic?
There are different types of alopecia (hair loss), which have different underlying causes. Alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease, can be inherited, however, evidence suggests that factors other than genetics affect whether or not alopecia areata (and other types of hair loss), occur in individuals. For example, sometimes specific environmental factors are needed for a gene to be expressed.
Symptoms of Alopecia Areata
The most common symptoms of alopecia areata are as follows:
- Tingling where the hair has been lost.
- Uneven loss of hair, usually on one side of the scalp, happening over a short period of time.
- Healthy hair near the bald patches can be pulled out easily.
- Your fingernails may develop pitting.
Causes of Alopecia Areata
Alopecia areata is considered an autoimmune disease. Such diseases occur when the body’s immune system acts on itself. In an otherwise healthy individuals’ body, the immune system acts by attacking ‘intruders’ or foreign materials that enter the body, to protect it against infection. In alopecia areata, the immune system mistakes healthy parts of its own body for foreign, damaging materials, and attacks the hair follicles.
Hair follicles are cavities from where the hair grows. When the immune system attacks them, they reduce in size and then gradually stop producing new hair. This is what leads to hair loss.
The precise cause of the condition is still unknown because scientists are unable to figure out why the immune system attacks the hair follicles. However, it’s been discovered that it generally occurs in people with a family history of autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, etc. This is also the reason why some scientists believe genetics plays a role in alopecia areata. Having said that, environmental factors also play a big role in triggering alopecia areata in people who are genetically prone to the disease.
Medical Treatments for Alopecia Areata
The word ‘alopecia’ means hair loss. There are different types of alopecia, for example, male and female pattern baldness, and alopecia areata. These examples have different underlying causes; male and female pattern baldness is typically hormone-related, whilst alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease. The different underlying causes have implications for treatment. While there are certain drugs that can be used to stimulate hair growth, the efficacy of such drugs will depend on many things, including the underlying cause of hair loss.
Corticosteroid is the most commonly used drug for alopecia induced hair loss treatment. It can be taken in various forms, i.e., injections, tablets, solutions, lotions, ointments, etc. There are mainly three types of corticosteroids, they are intralesional corticosteroids, topical corticosteroids, and oral corticosteroids. Among the three, oral corticosteroids have the highest number of side effects and are therefore only rarely prescribed by the doctors.
Anthralin is famously used for the treatment of psoriasis, but it is also recommended by dermatologists for the treatment of alopecia areata. If it works, the result can be seen within 8 to 12 weeks of its application. The side-effect of using anthralin are skin rashes and browning of the area where it is applied.
Minoxidil promotes hair growth by directly having an effect on the hair follicles. It is often used in combination with corticosteroid treatments as this treatment has a more powerful impact on hair growth. Minoxidil has very few side effects and is therefore available without a prescription. Results from its regular application can only be expected after 5 to 6 months.
This is considered as one of the most effective treatments for alopecia areata. It involves the application of chemicals like diphenylcyclopropenone (DPCP), dinitrochlorobenzene (DNCB), squaric acid dibutyl ester (SADBE). If the treatment works, the scalp hair starts growing towards the end of 5 to 6 months. The only condition with topical immunotherapy is that its application needs to be continued for consistent growth.
Other medical treatments for alopecia areata include the use of immunomodulators like JAK, Xeljanz, Jakafi, etc.
Home Remedies for Alopecia Areata
For longer or more serious bouts of alopecia and hair loss, the most common treatment is steroids, which stimulate the follicles that are either obstructed or non-functional. Different parts of the world use different home remedies, depending on the availability of materials and the traditional remedies already established there. Before using either home remedies or prescribed medicines, you should know for sure that you are suffering from this condition.
The home remedies for alopecia areata include lavender and other essential oils, milk thistle, ginkgo, kelp, potatoes, cucumbers, peppers, green tea, onions, rosemary, henna, aloe vera, fenugreek, licorice root, and Chinese hibiscus.
Studies have shown that lavender, when rubbed into the scalp at the point of initial baldness, can slow or even reverse the effects of alopecia areata. This essential oil, since it is so powerful, should be diluted in a base oil before being applied, such as almond or coconut oil. Other essential oils, including peppermint, sage, and rosemary oils can also be used to stimulate blood flow to the scalp, thereby causing hair follicles to begin growing hair again.
Kelp & a Vitamin C-rich Diet
One of the healthiest ways to reduce the effects of alopecia areata is to eat as much vitamin C as possible, which is found in citrus fruits and green leafy vegetables. The other minerals and vitamins found in kelp also help stimulate the growth and protection of hair, which can slow or reverse the condition.
Herbal remedies are famous all around the world, and while the availability of certain herbs might be difficult, depending on where you live, the use of ginkgo and milk thistle are always good for hair loss and alopecia areata. Ginkgo helps to stimulate circulation and the growth of new hair, while milk thistle helps to detoxify your body and has been linked to protecting the health of your scalp and body hair.
There are a variety of home remedies involving onions, including onion juice, which can be applied directly on the scalp. The high sulfur content helps to stimulate circulation and new growth, while the antiseptic quality of onions kills scalp-borne infections or microbes that might contribute to the hair loss conditions. Furthermore, onion skins are often rubbed on the scalp area that is losing hair.
Vegetables such as potatoes, peppers, and cucumbers are commonly used to reduce hair loss, primarily due to the high silicon content found in their skins. Silicon is known to strengthen both hair and nails, making your body less susceptible to alopecia areata and related conditions that cause hair loss. Massage the bald patches with the outer skin of these vegetables multiple times a day for best results.
By applying coconut milk mixed with a gram of flour to the scalp, you can guarantee a quick recovery of your lost hair. This paste quickly stimulates the hair follicles and boosts the overall health of your scalp.
This plant is highly stimulating in nature and dramatically increases circulation of the blood to any area of the body but is particularly effective in terms of promoting scalp development and recovery. You can apply aloe vera gel liberally to your scalp, as it has very few side effects, but many health benefits if absorbed by the skin.
Dipping a cloth into green tea and wiping or dabbing the bare patches of your scalp can be very effective as a remedy for alopecia areata. The catechins, saponins, and general antioxidants present in green tea can stimulate the regeneration of healthy cells on the scalp and eliminate any free radicals beneath the surface of the skin that may be causing the hair loss. Although the science on this type of treatment is still in the early research phases, traditional medicine swears by this remedy.
Mix the petals of the hibiscus flower with some dandelion oil and apply it to the scalp. This flower has been associated with maintaining the health of the hair when it has not fallen out, such as eliminating split ends and improving volume and luster, but it also stimulates the rejuvenation of hair follicles in the case of alopecia.
Licorice root has long been considered a mollifying agent and a relaxing substance. It relaxes and opens the pores, thereby allowing nutrients into the scalp, and it also soothes the scalp and eliminates irritations that may cause flaking or dry, dead hair. It is ideal for eliminating dandruff, hair loss, and split ends, as well as reversing the effects of this condition.
Studies have shown that fenugreek has certain hormone stimulating components that actually help to rebuild hair follicles that have been destroyed or damaged through the condition of alopecia. The proteins and organic compounds found in fenugreek seeds also help to regrow hair and improve the defensive capacity of your scalp against conditions like alopecia areata.
Whatever may be your preferred method of treatment, it is important to recognize whether you have the actual condition or if you are merely suffering from the natural progression of age. Seeing a doctor is a good way to know for sure, but from there, the choice of treatment is up to you. Fortunately, if the doctor says that you do not have alopecia areata, these home remedies can also help with normal hair loss too!