Best Alopecia Treatments in 2021
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks a person’s hair follicles, causing hair loss.
While this hair loss might not be noticeable at first, if you experience multiple instances of hair loss, the areas of alopecia areata may join together and become more visible.
Alopecia areata impacts an estimated 1 to 2 percent of the population.
The condition can understandably be distressing. But there are many treatments that can help manage the symptoms of hair loss.
Keep reading to learn about the most popular ways to treat alopecia areata.
When alopecia areata occurs, inflammatory cells infiltrate the hair follicle, which can result in hair loss. This hair loss often occurs on the scalp, but it can also affect eyebrows, eyelashes, facial hair, and body hair.
“Alopecia areata can happen to anyone, at any age, and it doesn’t discriminate based on race or gender. Often, it presents as circular patches of complete hair loss. In more severe cases it can affect the entire scalp,” says Elizabeth Geddes-Bruce, a board certified dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology in Austin, Texas.
“It’s typically asymptomatic, meaning it’s not painful or itchy for most individuals. We aren’t sure why it happens. Some people think it may be triggered by a viral infection,” she says.
People with alopecia areata can lose a significant amount of hair on their head, face, and body, according to Dr. Lynne Napatalung, the medical director of dermatology at Pfizer. It often starts in adolescence or early adulthood.
The condition can result in total hair loss, known as alopecia universalis, and the hair might not grow back.
The National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF) reports that the condition affects as many as 6.8 million people in the United States and 147 million people worldwide.
People living with alopecia areata have options when it comes to managing their condition — although there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. You might need to try a few treatments before finding one that works for you.
As alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease, several treatments involve the use of immunosuppressant drugs.
Other forms of treatment involve stimulating hair growth. This works best for those with less severe hair loss.
“Most of the treatments involve keeping the immune system from attacking the hair follicles,” Geddes-Bruce says. “Treatments range from prescription topicals to prescriptions pills, in-office injections, and in-office topical therapies.” There are also a few over-the-counter options.
It’s important to remember that not all treatments work for every patient. Sometimes, hair loss might occur again, even when treatment was previously successful.
The most important thing to do is consult a doctor to help decide which option is best for you.
“Since alopecia areata is unpredictable and impacts patients in different ways, every patient’s experience with specific treatments or products will vary,” Napatalung says. “That’s why it’s important that doctors and patients have an open and honest dialogue and work together on solutions to address individual needs.”
Best treatments for alopecia areata
- Best for: Extensive alopecia areata, including alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis
Topical immunotherapy involves applying chemicals directly to the scalp in order to cause an allergic reaction. In turn, this stimulates the immune system and aids hair growth.
Chemicals used in this way might include diphencyprone, dinitrochlorobenzene, and squaric acid dibutyl ester.
- This course of treatment is usually prescribed and directed by a dermatologist under medical care.
- It can be very successful. According to NAAF, “Approximately 40 percent of patients treated with topical immunotherapy will regrow scalp hair after about 6 months of treatment.”
- If successful, continued use of the treatment should sustain hair regrowth.
- The general side effects, including a potentially severe rash, can be uncomfortable and difficult to deal with. A
2010 studyTrusted Sourcealso found that topical immunotherapy sometimes caused “persistent dermatitis, painful cervical lymphadenopathy, generalized eczema, blistering, contact leukoderma, and urticarial reaction.”
- Topical immunotherapy might not be widely available in your area.
- This form of treatment doesn’t work for everybody.
- Best for: Mild alopecia areata
Minoxidil, commonly known as Rogaine, is a topical treatment that’s easy to apply and can be easily purchased over the counter. Minoxidil works to help the hair grow faster once the follicle is no longer under attack by the immune system and is capable of producing hair.
Typically, topical minoxidil solutions come in strengths of 2 or 5 percent. You apply the treatment directly to the scalp, or any area it’s required, once or twice per day.
It works by encouraging blood flow to hair follicles, stimulating dormant follicles, and aiding hair growth.
You can also get minoxidil sent to you monthly. Consider subscribing to minoxidil drops through services, like hims and Roman.
- It’s easy to purchase and apply.
- This treatment doesn’t cause many side effects if applied in recommended quantities.
- It’s relatively inexpensive, and possible to buy as a subscription if needed.
- Minoxidil might not work on its own. But, when applied in combination with topical corticosteroid medications, some people see improved results, according to NAAF.
- It doesn’t work for extensive hair loss.
- If you use too much, minoxidil may cause more serious side effects, including chest pain, weight gain, headaches, and an irregular heartbeat.