Learning About Alopecia Universalis Is Step Number One




Learn how and why alopecia universalis happens; then focus on what can be done about it.

Q. What is alopecia universalis?

A. Alopecia universalis, an offshoot of the autoimmune hair loss disease alopecia areata, results in total hair loss on head and body.

Q. Why is all of my hair falling out?

A. Alopecia universalis also is an autoimmune hair loss disease. This means that your body’s immune system (which protects against unwanted bacteria, viruses and parasites) is mistakenly attacking hair follicles all over the body and telling them not to grow.

Q. What’s the difference between alopecia areata and alopecia universalis?

A. Alopecia areata is the name of the more common autoimmune hair loss disease that results in random patches of hair loss on the head while the hair on other parts of the head and on the body remains unaffected and actively growing. Alopecia universalis results in the complete loss of body and head hair.

Q. What is making the hair fall out in the first place?

A. Hair growth consists of a repeated cycle of active growth, resting and falling out that can be disrupted by genetics, disease, medication, infection or other factors that may cause hair loss. In all forms of alopecia areata, hair follicles get a signal from the body not to grow back in, resulting in baldness, and in the case of alopecia universalis, total baldness on the head and body.

Q. Can I “catch” this disease?

A. No one can “catch” alopecia universalis from bacteria or a virus, and the disease cannot spread in any way from one person to another.

Q. Is alopecia universalis a hair disease or a skin disease?

A. Alopecia areata in all its forms, including universalis, is considered a skin disease because it occurs on the skin of the body and head and is usually diagnosed by a dermatologist. Experts generally do not find rashes, hives or irritation from itching on bald areas, although exposed scalp and skin do require extra sun protection at all times.

Q. Will my hair grow back?

A. In all forms of alopecia areata, including universalis, 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 growth can recur after many years of baldness and even without treatment.

Q. Are there any treatments for alopecia universalis?

A. In general, any treatments a dermatologist may suggest are off-label, as currently there are no specific treatments approved by the FDA for alopecia areata. When alopecia areata is more extensive, resulting in total head baldness (alopecia totalis) or complete loss of all body and head hair (alopecia universalis), treatments are even less effective.

Q. Why don’t the treatments work?

A. Some treatments, such as cortisone pills or injections, and some types of immunotherapy can help regrow hair, but they have to be continued indefinitely, otherwise new hair will just fall out again and not regrow. In addition, the side effects of these treatments are uncomfortable and long-term use is not recommended.

The best treatment is to have an experienced, qualified non-surgical hair replacement specialist help design the most natural-looking, medically necessary wig to improve the outlook. These wigs are made of the finest breathable materials and human hair to help the scalp remain healthy, and they are as comfortable as possible for long-term use. Hair replacements can be custom-made to exactly match any natural hair color, texture, style and hairline. Join the National Alopecia Areata Foundation to learn more about the disease, to find out about current research and treatments and to join support and advocacy groups.