What Is Alopecia? Treatment and Prevention

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Author Name: Mia Barnes
Date: Friday March 19, 2021

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It’s one thing when you start noticing a few extra hairs in the sink each morning. It’s quite another when you begin noticing distressing bald patches. 

What is alopecia? It’s the medical term for the loss of hair in small patches. Sometimes, it’s unnoticeable, but it can cause considerable psychological distress when it is. The condition may also indicate underlying physical or psychological disorders. 

Fortunately, there is hope for sufferers. Here’s what you should know about what alopecia is and how to prevent and treat it. 

What Causes Alopecia?

Alopecia results from various factors. Three common forms of alopecia include the following:

  • Androgenic alopecia: You probably know this type from its common name — male-pattern baldness. However, androgenic alopecia can occur in women with certain hormonal imbalances. 
  • Alopecia areata: This form results from an autoimmune condition that prompts your body to attack your hair follicles. Doctors remain unsure what triggers it, but those with other autoimmune disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis and Type 1 diabetes, run elevated risks. 
  • Traction alopecia: This variety of alopecia is the most easily treated and prevented. It occurs when outside forces pull on your hair and often strike those who wear tight ponytails or cornrows. 

Two other frequently occurring types of alopecia are alopecia totalis and cicatricial alopecia. The former causes you to go completely bald, sometimes including your lashes and eyebrows. Some doctors use the term “universalis” to refer to hair loss affecting your entire body. However, the shedding may be uneven, resulting in patchy areas first. 

The latter occurs with scarring but happens more often in those who have a history of tight hairstyles, making some believe it is a form of traction alopecia. 

How Can You Prevent Alopecia? 

Unfortunately, there’s currently no way to prevent some forms of alopecia. If your hair loss results from an autoimmune disease, for example, some studies report success with biologics, but patients experience mixed results. However, such medications are expensive and cause a host of potentially dangerous side effects. Therefore, they aren’t often prescribed for hair loss prevention but rather treating related conditions. 

However, there are holistic treatments you can use to slow hair-loss from other causes. Consider giving one of these remedies a try. 

1. Diet

Your hair needs nutrients like vitamins B and E to maintain follicle health and a smooth sheen. It also consists of protein, so you need plenty of that in your diet. Concentrate on eating whole foods close to their natural forms and cutting down on processed flours, sugars and additives. 

2. Grooming

Your hair follicles can become clogged, accelerating hair loss. Please wash your hair several times weekly with a mild shampoo. You might want to avoid brands containing sodium lauryl sulfate, as these strip away the natural oils from your hair. When this occurs, your strands become dry, brittle and prone to breakage, making your locks look even thinner.  

3. Stimulating Blood Flow

Your hair needs oxygen and vital nutrients to grow, which requires blood flow. You can increase circulation to your scalp by giving it a massage while you shampoo. Using a natural bristle brush close to your scalp can also stimulate flow while removing dandruff and debris from hair follicles. 

4. Minoxidil

Some, but not all, alopecia sufferers enjoy considerable success with the over-the-counter remedy minoxidil. You can find formulations designed for both men and women. Please be aware of the potential side effects — some women report considerable weight gain and hormonal disruption. 

5. Herbs

Some people also have considerable success with herbs. The vitamin C in amla powder might encourage growth in some. Others report luck with bhringraj, fenugreek, curry and aloe. 

6. Avoiding Traction Hair Loss 

Traction alopecia is the most preventable form. However, you should know that this type of hair loss can become permanent if you damage your follicles enough that they stop producing. The cure? Please stop pulling your hair back in overly-tight styles. 

That isn’t to say you can’t slip your long locks into a ponytail to practice yoga or rock a sensible updo to the office. However, ensure you release the bands and claps before you go to bed. It’s also wise to leave a bit of slack instead of pulling things taut. 

Guys might want to go easy on the ball caps. While insufficient evidence exists to prove a causal link, small studies of male and female twins found that wearing hats contributes to alopecia in men but not women. Some researchers hypothesize that the compression can cause reduced blood flow, accelerating baldness. 

Medical Treatments for Alopecia

Fortunately, medical treatments do exist for alopecia, although the results vary from individual to individual. Follicular transplants and extractions can help those with male-pattern or patchy alopecia by transplanting active follicles elsewhere on the scalp. As with any surgery, there are some risks, including scarring. 

One 2016 review indicates that low-level laser therapy (LLLT) may effectively treat male-pattern baldness. However, researchers assert that they need further investigation of the technique. 

The drug finasteride works for some. It’s available only by prescription and poses the risk of severe side effects, particularly for women. Many doctors don’t recommend it for women of childbearing age. 

Now That You Know What Alopecia Is, Understand Your Prevention and Treatment Options

Hair loss can cause significant psychological distress and may indicate an underlying hormonal or autoimmune disorder. However, now that you know what alopecia is, you can explore your prevention and treatment options. 

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