The facts behind the condition and how trichologists can help to navigate the impact of hair loss
Hair loss and more specifically, alopecia is a common and often highly distressing condition. And, whilst we so often associate ‘balding’ with men, many people are surprised to learn that hair loss in women is not unusual, with one in two women experiencing some kind of hair loss by age 30, and 50% of women over age 65 suffering from Androgenetic Alopecia, Female Pattern Hair Loss, (FPHL). In fact, it’s estimated that as many as 8 million women in the UK are affected by some kind of hair loss.
In both men and women though, the impact – and prognosis – of alopecia can vary greatly. There is much that can done, usually following a consultation with a trained, Consultant Trichologist, to help restore hair loss and promote further growth. However, in cases where the alopecia is found to be “scarring”, the hair follicle will be totally destroyed, with no chance of any hair regrowth in the affected area. Again, this is where the support of a Clinical Trichologist can be invaluable in helping patients navigate alternative approaches to the ‘new normal’ of living with alopecia (which might include seeking the advice of a wig specialist, such as www.mandevillelondon.com. Trichologists are also trained to work together with their clients to help with the emotional and psychological aspects of hair loss.
There is also a huge community of support via leading Alopecia charities, including Alopecia UK – and this September, as every year, the team at UK Hair Consultants is pleased to support the charity’s annual campaign during Alopecia Awareness Month, and will be proudly sharing #AUKHEADUCATION to help raise awareness.
So, here, Consultant Trichologist and founder of UK Hair Consultants, Eva Proudman FIT IAT shares her thoughts and expert insight on alopecia, discussing both the physical and psychological impact of hair loss conditions.
“As a Trichologist, I see people suffering from various types of alopecia on a daily basis. There are some types of the condition that we can treat, meaning that the hair will recover, whereas other types are permanent and cannot be treated nor will the hair ever be recovered. So, it becomes our role to reassure and manage the expectations of our patients, whilst also seeking positive outcomes to this often very upsetting condition.
“Hair loss isn’t just about the visual changes to your appearance – the psychological impact of losing your hair can run very deep into how an individual feels about their hair and themselves, and the fact that it impacts their confidence, personality and perceived attractiveness.”
“Many people dealing with hair conditions such as alopecia become what we call “hyper hair aware”. They focus on their hair in minute detail and are aware of any small change, which can cause anxiety and can lead to them feeling isolated.
“Creating a supportive network is key, as is seeing a Trichologist. Without a doubt, the first step to coping with the mental trauma of hair loss is to get a confirmed diagnosis of exactly what the problem is and what the options are for treating it, managing it or covering it. Once you are in control of the situation, it feels much better mentally, knowing and understanding what is happening. The fear begins to lose its grip.
“It is important to acknowledge though that as individuals we all make different choices – with regards to alopecia and other hair loss conditions. Some people are happy to embrace and celebrate their hair loss whereas others want to treat and retain their hair or have access to the best cosmetic solutions possible. It’s very much a personal choice.”
So, what is Alopecia?
Alopecia is a general medical term for hair loss with the condition ranging from thinning and shedding to a total loss of hair, including the head and areas of the body.
What are the causes?
There can be multiple underlying causative factors in hair loss, the most common ones are often linked to nutrition, stress, lifestyle, medical conditions and genetics.
What are the most common conditions?
Eva explains: “Alopecia Areata, is a condition largely recognised as an autoimmune disorder, causing patchy hair loss to random areas of the scalp. It’s associated with stress, bereavement, illness and accidents. One person in 50 will suffer from this type of alopecia in their lifetime, which occurs when the body mistakes the hair follicle as a foreign body and attacks it from within. This condition is unpredictable and can last from six months to many years depending on the causing factors.
“There is no one definitive treatment that cures alopecia areata, although there is a range of different supportive treatments that can be used and should be discussed with a hair loss specialist.
“Often the most drastic type of hair loss, alopecia areata presents a number of circular, completely bald patches. These can sometimes merge with other patches The hair follicles are clearly visible and the earliest patch will often re-grow as fine, white hairs from the centre of the patch.
Eva adds; “Androgenetic Alopecia, often called male or female pattern hair loss, can be inherited from either parent and is caused by a sensitivity in the hair follicles to a form of testosterone called dihydrotestosterone, (DHT). If you have this sensitivity the hair gradually miniaturises and gets thinner causing a reduction in hair volume, and length making the scalp more visible.
“When the hair loss covers the whole scalp it is termed Alopecia Totalis. When the whole body is affected, it is called Alopecia Universalis.
“Traction Alopecia is the breakage of hair and the gradual weakening of the follicle which can eventually lead to scarring as a result of high tension or high friction styling practices such as single braids, extensions, weaves, tight ponytails and long term wig wearing etc. This type of alopecia is avoidable and if identified in its early stages is reversible. As such, education about healthy styling practices (particular to your hair type) and immediate treatment is key.
“This condition disproportionately affects black women due to styling practices that are popular and often encouraged on afro hair. Indeed, 48% of black women are thought to struggle with this condition. However, myself and many of my colleagues specialise in treating conditions that are particularly common in black and Afro hair and are fantastic in educating clients about optimal hair and scalp health and instilling confidence around appropriate and ‘gentle’ styling techniques.
“Ophiasic Areata is a marginal presentation of alopecia areata and can affect the nape area as well as the front and sides of the scalp. This type of alopecia areata can be more persistent.
“Traumatic Areata frequently appears on the margins of the scalp and sometimes shows irregular patchy hair loss to the crown area. There will be breakage to these areas and also short re-growing hairs. It is caused by excessive chemical, thermal or physical trauma as well as scratching the scalp.
“Finally, Scarring Alopecia often presents itself as an irregular area of shiny bald skin, which can be a darker or lighter colour than that surrounding it. No hair follicles are present and the skin can be atrophied, or even raised and thickened (Keloid). A scar is formed when a wound heals itself after deep tissue damage. The structure of scar tissue differs from normal skin and does not support normal hair growth. There are three main causes: chemical, infection and autoimmune disease.
But, what can be done to help treat and support patients presenting with alopecia?
Eva explains; “There is hope for so many people facing a diagnosis of alopecia which is such a positive message which I’m really keen to convey during Alopecia Awareness Month.
“But, I also can’t stress enough how important it is to seek professional advice and not to be swayed by promises of ‘magic cures’ and unproven pills and potions. Alopecia is a very complex and highly individual condition – which requires a personalised approach and treatment plan.
“I’d therefore encourage anyone who is concerned about hair loss and alopecia to check out the information here on the UK Hair Consultants website, where I talk through specific variances of alopecia, causes and potential treatment options.
“If you have a specific query, please do pop me a question here: www.ukhairconsultants.com/ask-about-symptoms-eva-proudman. I’m always here for you and committed to helping people of all ages with any concerns about hair and scalp health.”