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Alopecia: A Hairy Situation by Emily Hock

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Alopecia is a medical condition that causes hair loss from the head or body and is common in over 95% of people. Made out of keratin, hair is produced from the papilla inside the skin. Surrounding the papilla are three layers of the hair root; the cuticle, cortex, and medulla. As we age, the pigment of our hair eventually stops producing, thus causing gray hair. Loss of pigmentation varies with age and can be seen in younger people such as television host, Jay Leno. A hair grows for approximately five years; then production of hair stops for about 12 weeks. After this resting period, the hair falls out and new hair begins growing. There are many different subcategories of alopecia, but the most occurring is androgenic alopecia, more commonly known as hair loss.

Androgenetic alopecia is a genetic disorder that affects both men and women. Typically most noticeable in men, female pattern baldness affects women in their 40s+ and is usually an overall thinning of the entire scalp. Male pattern baldness affects firstly the upper forehead area and gradually continues onto the crown of the scalp. Androgenetic alopecia, while is typically just a result of age, has been a result of heart disease, prostate cancer, and high blood pressure. More than 95% of people with hair loss have baldness. Baldness, while causes thinning of the hair, is not actually hair loss. It thins substantially and loses color and volume, changing to vellus. Although androgenetic alopecia is seen in many people, alopecia areata is a much more rare form.

Alopecia areata comes on at a fast pace and is typically in a younger age range from children up to young adults. The cause of alopecia areata is the immune system. It mistakes hair follicles for foreign substances and attacks them, killing their ability to produce new hair growth. It acts quickly, causing patchy bald spots but for 90% of people, only lasts for a period of time, and the hair returns to its previous state. It affects only 2% of the population and can be linked to heredity. A slightly different type, alopecia universalis causes the loss of all body hair including all facial hair, eyelashes, eyebrows, and pubic hair. People diagnosed with this type of alopecia are also typically able to regrow back all of the hair lost.

There are many varying causes of hair loss. The most common cause of hair loss is old age, in which the hair follicles stop growing new hair when old ones fall out. Other causes are hormones, medical conditions such as diabetes and anemia, poor diet, autoimmune disease, and stress. A close friend had a poor diet for an extended period of time and began to develop hair loss. Her hair follicles didn’t have the nutrients to grow new hairs and thus her hair abruptly stopped its growth once it got to a few inches long. Another common occurrence in hair loss is within the Amish community. Amish women are required to keep their hair tightly pulled back starting at a young age, which results in receding hairlines. If they were to let their hair down, it should start to grow back to its previous state.

There are many ways to attempt to stop hair loss, but very few have been proven universally effective. Treatments for androgenetic alopecia vary from lotions to supplement pills and different shampoos but have not always shown consistent results. The treatment for alopecia areata proves to be more complicated, involving prescribed steroids. While hair loss is a common occurrence in people entering the older stages of life, it can sometimes be a result of a serious disease. Although some creams and supplements restart hair growth, many people have to accept the fact that they are suffering from alopecia.



Berman, Kevin. “Alopecia areata: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.”National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Libraries of Medicine, 20 Nov. 2012. Web. 24 May 2013. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001450.htm.


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Jaliman, Debra. “How Hair Grows, Thinning Hair, Hair Loss Types and Causes.” WebMD – Better information. Better health.. WebMD, LLC, 25 Apr. 2013. Web. 24 May 2013. <http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/understanding-hair-loss-basics?page=2>.


Levonas, Johnson. “Androgenetic alopecia – Genetics Home Reference.” Genetics Home Reference – Your guide to understanding genetic conditions. U.S. National Libraries of Medicine, 20 May 2013. Web. 24 May 2013. <http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/androgenetic-alopecia>.



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