So you noticed you’re losing hair, did a bit of research, and now you’re wondering if it could be alopecia. You might be on the right track—alopecia isn’t the only cause of hair loss, but it’s a big one.
To help you figure out if what you’re dealing with is alopecia, we’re breaking down the many different forms this condition can take. (Just make sure you talk to a doctor before you start trying to treat your hair loss.)
Let’s start with the basics. Alopecia is the medical term for hair loss from the scalp or body. We know that sounds vague, but the term alopecia is used to refer to so many different types of hair loss that it’s hard to be more specific. So let’s just jump into the main types.
The Symptoms: Thinning hair on your crown, a receding hairline, or both.
The Prognosis: While there’s no cure, treatment can stop the condition from getting worse.
This is the big one. Androgenic alopecia is the number one cause of hair loss in the entire world. (And, despite its nickname, male pattern baldness, it affects women too.)
As you might already know, androgenic alopecia is the type of hair loss that can lead to baldness at the crown or hairline but usually doesn’t impact hair on the back and sides of the head. You can find everything you need to know about this type of alopecia right here.
The Symptoms: Hair loss that results in small, patchy bald spots.
The Prognosis: There’s no cure, but lost hair can grow back with treatment.
The Treatment Plan: Minoxidil, oral immunosuppressants, topical corticosteroids and corticosteroid injections, all of which reduce inflammation. (Aromatherapy can also help.)
Unlike androgenic alopecia, alopecia areata doesn’t follow a predictable pattern. This type of alopecia causes hair to fall out in patches (and not just from your head—this condition can affect any hair on your body).
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease, which means the hair loss is caused by your immune system mistakenly attacking your hair follicles. Scientists aren’t sure why this happens, but the fact that alopecia areata sometimes affects members of the same family suggests that genetics are a risk factor.
There are a few different kinds of alopecia areata. Let’s dig into the most common ones.
Alopecia areata typically goes away on its own or with treatment, but if it doesn’t, it can develop into alopecia totalis. That’s when all of the hair on your scalp falls out. This hair loss can happen quickly or slowly.
This is the most advanced (and rarest) form of alopecia areata. Alopecia universalis causes all of the hair on your body to fall out—including your eyebrows and eyelashes.
The Symptoms: Patchy hair loss on your beard.
The Prognosis: The hair can grow back with treatment, but may fall out again if you stop.
The Treatment Plan: Minoxidil, corticosteroids, or home remedies like garlic gel. (No, really!)
This is when you get patches of hair loss on your beard instead of your scalp. One of the most persistent myths about male pattern baldness is that it affects beards, so we want to be really clear here: Having androgenic alopecia doesn’t mean you’ll definitely develop alopecia barbae. They’re two separate conditions.
(Now that you know your beard probably isn’t about to fall out, why not check out our guide to beard care?)
The Symptoms: Hair loss that leaves scars under the surface of the skin.
The Prognosis: This type of hair loss unfortunately can’t be reversed.
The Treatment Plan: Minoxidil can help undamaged hair grow and prevent further scarring.
In this rare form of alopecia, also known as scarring alopecia, hair follicles on the scalp are destroyed by inflammation and replaced with scar tissue. Surprisingly, the scar tissue forms beneath the surface of the skin, which means that the only way to spot this condition is to look for missing patches of hair. Hair loss from this form of alopecia is permanent, unfortunately, because once the follicles’ stem cells and sebaceous glands are destroyed, the hair can’t grow back.
There are a few subtypes of cicatricial alopecia, including frontal fibrosing alopecia, lichen planopilaris and folliculitis decalvans.
The Symptoms: Noticeable hair loss 2-3 months after giving birth.
The Prognosis: There’s no proven way to slow this hair loss, but it usually returns to its normal rate after a few months.
The Treatment Plan: Make sure that you don’t have any nutritional deficiencies that might be accelerating your hair loss.
Postpartum alopecia, also known as postpartum telogen effluvium, is hair loss that affects women shortly after giving birth. Some shedding after a pregnancy ends is normal, but for some women, the hair loss is severe enough to be really noticeable (and really distressing). Luckily, because it’s caused by hormonal shifts, it’s temporary—after about a year, hormone levels go back to normal and the hair should grow back.
The Symptoms: A receding hairline or patches of hair loss around the temples (and a penchant for tight braids).
The Prognosis: The hair can grow back, but unaddressed traction alopecia can cause permanent damage.
The Treatment Plan: A trip to the salon!
This condition comes from keeping your hair in braids or other tight hairstyles for so long that it gets permanently damaged. You won’t get this from braiding your hair every once in a while, but if you see your hairline starting to move back, it might be time to consider a less demanding hairstyle.
A similar condition is chignon alopecia, which is hair loss at the crown of the head caused by wearing your hair in a tight bun too often. As you might guess, this usually happens to ballet dancers.
There are a lot of different types of alopecia, but keep in mind that the most common one is androgenic alopecia, a.k.a. male pattern baldness. Think your hair loss might be a sign of male pattern baldness? A Keeps doctor can help you find the right diagnosis—and get you on the path to an effective treatment.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
Photo by Tyler Franta on Unsplash