Many will have heard about the feud at the Oscars that was fueled by the comments comedian Chris Rock made about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head.
Along with reactions encouraging or condemning the alpha-male behaviour that was centre stage, this incident also spawned another noteworthy and important topic of discussion.
By implying that Jada could possibly star in a GI Jane sequel, Chris Rock was, as comedians often do, poking fun at her shaven head. What Chris may or may not have realised is that Jada has alopecia, a medical condition that causes hair loss.
Since the incident at the Oscars, women affected by alopecia worldwide have started to speak up about their struggle in an attempt to raise awareness about the condition and provide support for other women that could be suffering in silence.
So, what is alopecia?
Alopecia is an auto-immune hair loss condition where the body’s immune system attacks hair follicles most commonly on the scalp or on the face. It occurs both in men and women, however, females are more likely to be diagnosed.
Hair loss due from alopecia can either be temporary or permanent depending on the case. In some cases, hair grows back but falls out later, and in other cases the hair can grow back for good. Hair often falls out in clumps, the size and shape of a quarter, but the exact amount of hair loss is unique to each individual.
While alopecia areata is the most common form of alopecia, there are many types and subtypes including:
- Alopecia areata totalis occurs when hair on the head is entirely lost, causing complete baldness.
- Alopecia areata universalis is when hair loss occurs all over the body.
- Ophiasis alopecia areata is hair loss that takes the form of a band shape around the sides and back of the head.
- Diffuse alopecia areata is a sudden thinning of hair, not lost in patches.
- Androgenic alopecia is also known as male pattern hair loss and female pattern hair loss. This can look like hair that is receding from the temples or overall thinning of the hair.
- Traction alopecia is alopecia that occurs when hair is lost due to being pulled in the same way/direction for a long time. This mostly happens when individuals repeatedly have tight hairstyles or hair extensions.
What are the causes and risk factors?
Doctors generally don’t know why autoimmune diseases happen.
It is predicted that genetics make the occurrence of these types of diseases more likely. This means that, for alopecia areata, you’re more likely to get it if a family member has it.
Other risk factors have also been studied including asthma, down syndrome, thyroid disease and pernicious anemia.
How is alopecia diagnosed and treated?
If you suspect that you have alopecia areata, it is advised that you seek the help of a medical professional.
Your doctor will be able to talk to you about your symptoms and examine the areas of hair loss closely. Rarely, a biopsy will be recommended where a small piece of skin is removed to be looked at under the microscope.
Your doctor may also look for the root cause of your hair loss, which could include checking your skin for fungal infections, or ordering blood tests to check for hormonal imbalances, thyroid, or immune system problems.
Although there is currently no known cure for alopecia areata, there are some treatment methods than can encourage hair growth. The following are some of the main available treatment options:
- Corticosteroids: anti-inflammatory drugs, often given as an injection either into the scalp or other areas. These types of drugs are often prescribed for auto-immune diseases. They can also be taken through pills or applied topically as an ointment or cream.
- Topical immunotherapy: this type of treatment is used when the patient in question is experiencing extreme hair loss. Chemicals are often applied to the scalp to trigger an allergic reaction, which, if successful, makes the lost hair grow back.
- Minoxidil: a treatment applied on the scalp which is used mostly for pattern baldness. With this type of treatment, it often takes about 12 weeks to see results.
The psychological effect of hair loss in women
Whilst most of us wouldn’t think to look twice when seeing a bald man pass by, if it were a bald woman walking past, would we react the same way? Unlikely.
Although hair loss is distressing in general, it tends to be more widely accepted in men, even though women account for approximately 40% of all hair loss sufferers. Therefore, given society’s perception of beauty and the vast amount of pressure this places on women in particular, hair loss is much more likely to cause a negative quality of life in women.
If you’re a woman who is currently experiencing the loss of your “crowning glory”, it is extremely important that you accept and address the psychological impact that this hair loss (whether temporary or permanent) has caused.
This could be through coming to terms with your loss and focusing your energy on all of your great qualities and blessings and celebrating those.
It could also be through discussing your experience with hair loss with friends and family and asking them for the support that you feel that you need.