THE GENERIC TERM “ALOPECIA” CAN BE CONFUSING BECAUSE IT SIMPLY MEANS “HAIR LOSS.” BUT WHEN WE TACK ON THE NAME OF THE KIND OF ALOPECIA, THE TYPE OF HAIR LOSS BECOMES VERY SPECIFIC.
“If someone says he or she has alopecia, I have to ask, ‘What kind?’ Most men are not going to say they have androgenetic alopecia, which really means they have male pattern baldness,” explains nurse-practitioner Jodi LoGerfo of the Orentreich Medical Group in New York City.
There are many different types of hair loss conditions that use the term “alopecia” in their name. These very specific hair loss conditions are diagnosed by a doctor or dermatologist, who will perform a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. If you have been diagnosed or you know someone who has been diagnosed with a type of alopecia, familiarize yourself with the difference between the names of these hair loss conditions and their correct usage,” advises LoGerfo.
While it’s interchangeably also called androgenic alopecia, both terms are used to name the most common form of hair loss in men and women that is inherited but not specifically identified by genetics or identification, as in male pattern baldness or female pattern baldness or hair loss or thinning associated with aging or hormones.
The most common form of an autoimmune skin disease resulting in patchy hair loss on the scalp. In alopecia areata, hair follicles are mistakenly attacked by the person’s own immune system, resulting in the disruption of the hair growth stage. Its cause is unknown, and there is no known cure, although there are many treatments. Alopecia areata is considered a skin disease and is usually diagnosed by a dermatologist. It can reverse itself at any time for no known reason.
With alopecia totalis, the hair loss involves the whole head, leaving it bald. In all forms of alopecia, the hair follicles remain alive and are ready to resume normal hair production whenever they receive the appropriate signal from the body. In all cases, hair regrowth may occur even without treatment and even after many years.
With alopecia universalis, head hair loss extends to total body hair loss, leaving a person without eyelashes or eyebrows, body hair or head hair. This condition also can reverse itself at any time.
Hair loss caused by styling and wearing hair so tightly it causes damage to the follicles and hair loss ranging from mild and reversible to severe and irreversible. There is a strong genetic predisposition to African-American women who wear their hair in tightly braided styles for long periods of time. This trauma throws the follicles into a resting state prematurely — and hair will not regrow as long as the area is stressed by being pulled too tightly. Both men and women can suffer traction alopecia from a hairpiece attached with clips or links that are pulling too tightly, from hair extensions that are too heavy for the existing hair they are attached to, from a weave that’s too tight or even from dreadlocks that have grown too heavy for the scalp and hair to support. Treatment usually involves the reversal of the stressful hairstyle and a combination of anti-inflammatory cortisone treatments and antibiotics.
Central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA)
Also called hot comb alopecia or follicular degeneration syndrome. This form of “traumatic” hair loss has a large genetic predisposition factor among African-American women with unique hair care and styling practices such as constant use of heated styling tools and irritating chemical processes close to the scalp. Hair loss typically occurs at the crown area of the head and can go unnoticed until a person feels pain. The condition can be reversible if traumatic styling habits are stopped immediately, but permanent scarring of the scalp can damage hair follicles to the point of their death.
Also called scarring alopecia. When scar tissue caused by any trauma, including burns, infections or diseases such as scleroderma and lupus, replaces normal tissue on the scalp, hair follicles are usually destroyed and even if the follicles remain unharmed, hair cannot grow through the thickened tissue. According to doctors, scar alopecia is permanent; for this reason it is vitally important to be treated by a dermatologist as soon as possible to avoid scar tissue damage.
When the chronic inflammatory skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis, which causes excessive flaking of the skin and scalp, becomes so severe that it results in scarring or damage to hair follicles — and ultimately in hair thinning and hair loss.
LoGerfo is quick to add that this list of hair loss conditions containing the term “alopecia” is not a complete list of hair loss conditions.