One celebrity slaps another over a joke at the Oscars, and suddenly a medical condition that the public had little interest in, becomes a trending search query. This is the story of Alopecia awareness, but what is this condition? How does it develop? Why would it take a joke at Jada Pinkett-Smith’s expense and a reprehensible reaction to it, to raise awareness?
What is alopecia?
Before the slap, there was a bad joke based on a condition that was not at the top of anyone’s mind according to trending searches: Alopecia. This condition can be defined as sudden hair loss. People who have this condition will often lose whole patches of hair. It is important to understand that:
- Alopecia affects hair follicles, which surround the root of the hair
- Hair loss could be permanent
- Some types of alopecia also manifest themselves with scarring on the scalp
Where does alopecia come from?
When people talk about alopecia, it is important to understand which kind they are talking about to understand what the cause is:
- Traction Alopecia – the result of repetitive tension on hair throughout the years
- Discoid Lupus Erythematosus – an autoimmune condition that causes scaring on the face and scalp, resulting in hair loss (alopecia)
- Alopecia Areata – in other words, patchy baldness. This type of alopecia is also related to an autoimmune condition
- Male baldness – as a result of hormonal changes, men can start going bald from the age of 30 onwards more or less. This is another kind of alopecia
Alopecia vs alopecia areata
The most common kind of alopecia that is not male baldness, is Alopecia Areata, which can affect as many as 1 in every 500 people in the US. Although we cannot be certain that Jada Pinkett-Smith suffers from alopecia areata, her symptoms and how she describes her hair loss, point to this autoimmune condition.
Alopecia, is it genetic?
Given that some kinds of alopecia arise as a result of an autoimmune condition, there is a reason to believe that predisposition to the condition might be hereditary. But it is very difficult to determine whether alopecia is genetic or not. There are a number of environmental factors involved that could put certain individuals that have certain genetic predisposition to autoimmune conditions, at a greater risk of developing alopecia. In short, it is not just the genes.
How does alopecia start?
Whether you are genetically predisposed or not, it is important to understand that not every kind of hair loss points towards the development of alopecia areata. This is where all the awareness that the ‘Jada Pinkett-Smith-at-the-Oscars’ saga, could be misguided.
Celebrities can often draw our attention to very specific issues that only affect a fraction of the population. When it comes to a medical condition, that might create some confusion amongst those who could be suffering from one or many of the symptoms that are typical for that condition.
Since the kind of alopecia that Jada Pinkett-Smith has seems to be alopecia areata, it is important to understand how your hair loss started before you can jump to any conclusions. Alopecia areata starts with the loss of hair patches that usually cover a coin-sized area of the scalp. Hair loss progresses and at some point, it might make more sense to just shave your head clean.
Can alopecia be cured?
If you are suffering from sudden hair loss, you should consult with your doctor who will be able to help you understand why you are losing your hair and if there is a way to stop it. In the case of alopecia areata, there is no cure. However, the condition can be treated, and, in some cases, you might be able to grow your hair back.
Are alopecia and vitiligo related?
Another conclusion that some people might jump to if they are indeed diagnosed with alopecia areata, is that they are at risk of developing vitiligo. There are similarities between alopecia and vitiligo:
- Both are autoimmune diseases
- Alopecia areata and vitiligo both affect the skin
- They share common genetic risk factors
- Neither condition is life-threatening
Nevertheless, it is important to consider that alopecia and vitiligo affect the skin differently. So, the conditions are somewhat related, but they affect the skin differently, and getting both is extremely rare.
Jada Pinkett-Smith and alopecia
Given that alopecia is not a life-threatening condition, why is the celebrity angle so important? Jada Pinkett-Smith had spoken about her condition before, but that slap increased our interest in this condition. It should be noted that alopecia:
- is not that common
- cannot be cured
- will not result in the loss of life
Maybe this speaks to the social or psychological side of the disease, which is the only aspect worth highlighting in any case. People go bald for all kinds of reasons, but there is no reason to stare at them or make the feel self-conscious about their baldness.
If you suffer from alopecia areata or any other kind of condition that is making you go bald, you can follow Jada Pinkett-Smith’s example: embrace the condition with confidence. You can also consult with our mental health department. Our healthcare professionals can also help you with mental health issues that may arise as a result of alopecia or any other health condition.