Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease in which hair loss occurs in some or all areas of the body due to the body misrecognizing its own cells as a threat, and destroying them as a result. In this case, the ‘threatening’ cells are the body’s hair follicles. This condition mainly occurs on the scalp, with small bald patches appearing on usually one side of the head, but can spread to the scalp causing total baldness (Alopecia totalis), or the entire body (Alopecia universalis).

This condition can occur at any age, but usually first develops in teenagers and children. Women and men are equally likely to get the disease, and there is no differentiation of susceptibility between races. When developed at an older age, symptoms are usually milder and last for shorter periods.

With the common, milder cases, the symptoms of this disease will subside without requiring treatment. 50% of sufferers will recover after 1 year (with possible reoccurrences), while 10% will go on to develop alopecia totalis or alopecia universalis.

The causes of this disease are both environmental and genetic. Alopecia is a polygenic disease, meaning that both parents must contribute a number of specific genes in order for a child to develop it. In identical twins, there is only a 55% chance that if one has the disease, the other will develop it too, and therefore resulting in the belief that Alopecia areata is not just caused by genetics, but environmental factors too.

Traditional Chinese medicine however, states that alopecia is most commonly caused by kidney and liver dysfunction.


There are two types of alopecia:

  • Scarring alopecia: Where there is extensive inflammation that does not subside, resulting to irreversible damage and loss of hair follicles (Rare form of this disease).
  • Non-scarring alopecia (Alopecia areata): Where the hair shafts have gone, but the hair follicles remain, resulting in the alopecia being reversible.



  • Hair loss, usually small round patches the size of a coin found on the scalp
  • Hair loss on areas of the body other than the scalp
  • Significant hair loss over a short period of time
  • The hair around the edges of the bald patches are easier to pull out, and have what is called the ‘exclamation mark hair characteristic’ where the hair is thicker at the tip than at scalp level
  • Hair is weaker and often snaps or breaks
  • Hair loss and regrowth at the same time in different areas of the body
  • Hair loss is often on one side of the scalp instead of both sides
  • When the hair regrows it may be a lighter colour than the rest of the hair, sometimes even appearing white
  • There may be itching or burning around the affected area prior to hair loss
  • Dry or dull hair
  • There is rarely any inflammation with this condition, as opposed to another skin ailment like ringworm
  • Nails may have pitting or rough edges



  • Illnesses such as a virus or infection
  • Certain medications
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Stress or injury
  • Other environmental factors



There are not typically any tests that can be run to diagnose alopecia. The doctor will observe family history, degree and history of hair loss, and examine hairs from the affected area.

Skin biopsies may be performed to rule out other conditions such as ringworm, and blood tests done to rule out other autoimmune diseases.

Making a diagnosis of this condition is usually relatively straight forward due to the symptoms of alopecia areata being so distinctive.



While there is no cure for this disease, there are a few treatments that can help to alleviate the symptoms. These include:

  • Corticosteroids: These are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs that help to supress the immune system. They can be taken orally, used topically as ointments, or be injected
  • Minoxidil: This medication slows hair loss and promotes regrowth
  • Dithranol/anthralin: Works as an irritant to promote hair growth
  • Dinitrochlorobenzene (DNCB), squaric acid dibutylester (SADBE), and diphencyprone (DPCP): These are called topical immunotherapy drugs and are used to treat severe cases of alopecia areata. These work as allergens to promote allergic reactions which, in turn, generates suppressor T cells that inhibit the autoimmune reaction against a hair follicle constituent
  • Zinc sulphate treatment is used if the body is deficient in zinc
  • Photochemotherapy: A type of Ultraviolet radiation treatment used for severe skin diseases. It involves using Psoralen (organic compounds that found in plants that make the skin temporarily sensitive to UVA rays), and then exposing the skin to UVA rays (long wave ultraviolet radiation)
  • Using wigs, scarves, and hats to protect against sun and cold, and to lessen the aesthetic discomfort felt by sufferers
  • Aromatherapy
  • Acupuncture



  • Lavender: This herb has antibacterial properties and has been used for many years to treat hair loss, as it promotes circulation, and is helpful in treating skin irritations
  • Essential oils such as thyme, sage, and peppermint are used to stimulate blood flow to the scalp
  • Vitamin B and C: Studies show that many people with alopecia are deficient, and deficiencies of these vitamins may increase susceptibility to hair loss
  • Rosemary: Helps by improving circulation to the scalp and as a result, reducing baldness, and promoting hair growth
  • Aloe Vera: Applied topically, this herb is highly effective in not only soothing and treating skin ailments and irritations, but also promoting circulation to any area of the body
  • Stinging nettle: This herb helps to prevent the chemical conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone which is a main cause of hair loss
  • Gingko Biloba: This herb aids with circulation, improves blood flow to the brain, and helps to correct nutritional deficiencies of the hair follicles, promoting stronger hair
  • Horsetail: The main component of this herb is silica which is essential for healthy and strong nails, hair, and bones
  • Saw Palmetto: This herb has been used for many ages to treat all kinds of baldness and hair loss. This herb also prevents the chemical conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone and has been used to good results, especially when in conjunction with Stinging nettle
  • Panax Ginseng: This variety of Ginseng has been found effective in treating baldness and hair loss due to its anti-inflammatory, and pro-circulation properties
  • High-silicon foods: Such as potatoes, peppers, and cucumbers have proven useful in treating alopecia because of their high silicon content, which promotes strong and healthy hair and nails. This works when ingested or when the peels are used topically on the affected areas
  • Fenugreek: This herb has components that stimulate hormones that aid in the repair of alopecia damaged hair follicles. The proteins and certain organic compounds also help to promote hair growth, and is said to protect the scalp from any recurring flare ups of the disease
  • Green tea: When used topically, it has been found to treat baldness associated with alopecia areata due to the presence of the saponins, catechins, and antioxidants present. It also has the  ability to destroy free radical cells located beneath the skins surface that may be causing hair loss
  • Liquorice root: This herb is useful in promoting and maintaining overall hair health. It has been found to relax and open pores (allowing nutrients into the scalp), and prevents irritations and inflammations of the skin
  • Neem: This is another herb that promotes circulation when applied topically. It has anti-bacterial properties, improves hair growth, and is a popular treatment for dandruff and scalp irritations
  • Ginger: This herb promotes hair growth, and stimulates circulation
  • Indian Gooseberry: Also known as Amla, this herb is rich in Vitamin B and C, phosphorous, calcium, iron, and carotene, which promotes hair growth, strengthens roots, and increases shine. It can be ingested or applied topically
  • Herbs used in Ancient Chinese medicines such as Dong Quai and He Shou Wu have been found to be effective in treating this condition
  • Burdock root: This commonly use herb is also highly effective at promoting and improving blood circulation in all areas of the body



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