Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that causes a person’s hair follicles to stop working as normal, resulting in sudden or gradual patchy hair loss. It can develop as a result of stress, exposure to toxins or after a viral or bacterial infection. There is a genetic link in one out of five cases. In up to 70% of cases the hair will grow back on its own within a year. However, in some cases it can lead to a more severe form of hair loss – alopecia totalis (no scalp hair) or alopecia universalis (complete hair loss on the scalp and body). Also, the stress of having alopecia areata can make the condition worse so it is worth considering early treatment. Below is a list of the range of treatment options and the pros and cons of each.
Applied in lotion form to the scalp every day, available to men and women but not to anyone under the age of 16.
Pros: Proven to stimulate hair growth for a large percentage of patients usually after about two or three months; Minoxidil is one of only two medications licensed by the MHRA & ‘FDA-approved’ for the treatment of hair loss in the UK and the USA respectively (the other is Propecia – for men only).
Cons: Minor risk of side effects including mild facial hair growth, headaches, rashes and palpitations (In clinical trials all were mild and needed no medical treatment. They either diminished in a short time during use of Minoxidil, or shortly after stopping use of Minoxidil)
*During the past ten years of treating tens of thousands of men and women at the Belgravia Centre we estimate less than 1% incidents of side effects from the use of Minoxidil. The Belgravia Centre finds high strength minoxidil the most effective treatment for alopecia areata
A steroid solution is injected straight into the scalp several times. The steroid can stop the immune system from attacking the hair follicles which can lead to regrowth
Pros: Can be effective when the patient has small patches; can stimulate re-growth which may be permanent
Cons: The treatment might need to be repeated every few months; alopecia returns for some patients once treatment is stopped; long-term side effects include (ironically) premature balding or hair loss, dizziness, mood swings, depression, hallucinations, nausea and vomiting, trembling, aching joints, high blood pressure
Topical steroids (creams and ointments) and steroid tablets
Widely prescribed by doctors for alopecia areata treatment
Pros: Some patients experience re-growth
Cons: Long-term benefits unclear; side effects more common the longer a patient takes the steroid tablets or cream/ointments – these include diabetes and stomach ulcers; some patients experience itching and hair growth in other areas
Treatment of disease by inducing, enhancing or suppressing an immune response. For treatment of alopecia areata, DPCP (diphencyprone) is applied to the bald skin. The patient applies the chemical solution once a week, and the dosage is stronger each time
Pros: Hair has been shown to grow after 3 months among patients who respond
Cons: The DPCP generally causes an allergic reaction and the patient will develop mild dermatitis (mild eczema), some will have a severe reaction; a small percentage of patients will develop vitiligo (patchy coloured skin); most patients find that their hair continues to fall out after treatment is stopped
Contains the active ingredient dithranol, which is a medicine applied to the skin to treat psoriasis
Pros: Some patients experience hair re-growth
Cons: less effective than immunotherapy; greater risk of causing a skin reaction and itchiness; can stain the scalp and hair
UV light treatment
The patient is given about two to three sessions of light therapy each week usually in a hospital
Pros: After about 12 months patients may see some good results
Cons: Low response rates
Including aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, massage, or acupuncture.
Pros: Can help reduce stress which encourages the natural regeneration of hair follicles
Cons: Not enough studies exist to determine how effective these treatments are
When deciding upon the best method of treatment for your condition, it is advisable to consult both a doctor and a hair loss specialist. If you’d like to arrange a free appointment with a hair loss specialist, call the Belgravia Centre on 020 7730 6666 or message the centre. If you can’t make it to the clinic, fill in the online diagnostic form for expert knowledge and impartial advice on what would be the best plan of attack for your individual situation.
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