“Alopecia areata is a form of nonscarring hair loss,” explains Brooke Jackson, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon based in Durham, North Carolina. “It is considered an autoimmune disease, one in which your body fights itself.”
Read on to learn the essential information you need to know about alopecia areata, including the symptoms, causes, treatment options, and more.
Signs and Symptoms of Alopecia Areata
Common Questions & Answers
Causes and Risk Factors of Alopecia Areata
“In the case of AA, the body does not recognize the hair follicle as its own and mounts an immune response against what it believes is a foreign object, causing hair loss,” says Dr. Jackson.
How Is Alopecia Areata Diagnosed?
Prognosis of Alopecia Areata
Duration of Alopecia Areata
The exact duration of alopecia areata is unknown. Your hair may grow back, but it’s possible for this condition to return. You may also develop other types of autoimmune diseases in the future, so it’s important that your doctor monitors your condition and orders regular lab tests.
Treatment and Medication Options for Alopecia Areata
While the exact treatment for alopecia areata may depend on the severity and type, your dermatologist will most likely recommend a combination of medications as well as lifestyle changes that may help you feel better.
- Corticosteroids Also known as simply “steroids,” medications such as prednisone may help reduce inflammation and your immune system’s attack on the hair follicles. These may be oral, topical, or injected, and the results may be gradual.
- Minoxidil (Rogaine) It’s typically sold over the counter for pattern baldness, but minoxidil may also help with hair regrowth in alopecia areata. It can take at least 12 weeks to see results, and it’s often combined with other therapies for the best results.
- JAK inhibitors These oral medications, prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis and a number of other conditions, are considered a breakthrough in alopecia areata treatment, and may be particularly helpful for people with severe hair loss who haven’t had success with other therapies.Olumiant (baricitinib) is the only JAK inhibitor approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of severe alopecia areata in adults. While considered safe and effective, Olumiant comes with a “boxed” warning about rare but potentially serious complications.
Alternative and Complementary Therapies
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Avoid fad diets, or “yo-yo dieting,” which could lead to unrelated problems with hair loss.
- Take time each day to relax to help reduce overall stress.
- Experiment with different coverings, such as wigs, scarves, and hats to protect your head from the sun.
- If you wish, experiment with cosmetics to help camouflage the appearance of hair loss.
Complications of Alopecia Areata
- Increased risk for developing skin cancer
- Illnesses and irritation from germs and particles getting in your eyes, nose, and ears
Research Statistics: How Many People Have Alopecia Areata?
BIPOC and Alopecia Areata
Black Americans and Alopecia Areata
Hispanic Americans and Alopecia Areata
Related Conditions and Causes of Alopecia Areata
- Addison’s disease
- Atopic dermatitis (eczema)
- Hay fever
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Thyroid disease
- Type 1 diabetes
Alopecia Areata Resources We Love
Favorite Orgs for Essential Alopecia Areata Info
National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF)
Since its founding in 1981, the NAAF has served those affected by alopecia areata as well as their families through a wealth of educational resources and advocacy opportunities. Additionally, the NAAF helps support research for potential new treatments. Learn more about the NAAF’s Treatment Development Program.
American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD)
As the largest dermatologic association in the United States, the AAD offers expert-written information about hair and skin diseases, including educational resources about alopecia. The AAD has also existed since 1938, and has since become a valuable membership resource for dermatologists across the country.
Favorite Alternative Medicine Resource
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)
If you’re interested in the latest science behind mind-body practices and herbal remedies related to your health, you can consider bookmarking the NCCIH’s website. There aren’t any known alternative therapies that will cure alopecia areata, but a healthy diet and lifestyle may help. For example, if your dermatologist recommends stress management, start at the NCCIH's page on mind and body approaches to stress and anxiety.
Favorite Online Support Networks
The leading alopecia areata advocacy and education organization also offers worldwide support groups and networking opportunities. Here, you can find out how you can contact NAAF for their most recent list of support groups, as well as event opportunities to help stay connected.
Children’s Alopecia Project (CAP)
As a nonprofit organization dedicated to help children with alopecia and their families, CAP also offers several events where children can connect with their peers for support. Check out CAP’s latest offerings, including their summer camps.
Favorite Site for Alopecia Areata Products
NAAF’s Alopecia Areata Marketplace
From headwear and hairpieces, to books and other educational tools, you can consider the NAAF’s marketplace as a one-stop shop for alopecia areata-related products. Here, the NAAF offers a list of approved vendors where you can also donate a portion of any costs directly back to NAAF.
Favorite Resource for Diet Advice
The Nutrition Source from Harvard School of Public Health
Although there’s no alopecia areata diet per se, we know that eating a balanced diet full of anti-inflammatory foods can help you feel better. The Nutrition Source offers multiple pieces of advice that can help you get started, including information about macronutrients and healthy recipes. Consider checking out their review of anti-inflammatory diets as a starting point.
Favorite Resource for Becoming an Advocate
As the largest alopecia areata nonprofit, it’s no surprise that we consider the NAAF the best source for getting started with advocacy. The group makes the process less intimidating with a wealth of resources on how to contact legislators, schools, and the media. Sign up for its email list to access more information.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Alopecia Areata. Cleveland Clinic. April 3, 2018.
- Hair Loss Types: Alopecia Areata Overview. American Academy of Dermatology Association.
- Hair Loss Types: Alopecia Areata Diagnosis and Treatment. American Academy of Dermatology Association.
- Hair Loss Types: Alopecia Areata Signs and Symptoms. American Academy of Dermatology Association.
- Alopecia Areata. American Academy of Family Physicians. July 2, 2021.
- Alopecia Areata. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. April 2021.
- Alopecia Areata. National Organization for Rare Disorders.
- Lee H, Jung SJ, Patel AB, et al. Racial Characteristics of Alopecia Areata in the United States. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. October 2020.
- Thompson JM, Park MK, Qureshi AA, et al. Race and Alopecia Amongst US Women. Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings. January 2018.