Hair restorations experts know that alopecia areata is among the more enigmatic and frustrating types of hair loss that exists.
Scientists have struggled to identify the underlying cause of this autoimmune disorder for decades, and there is still no cure available to this day.
Although it only impacts around one percent of the population, that is still one in every hundred people suffering from a condition that can be both physically and emotionally taxing.
The question that many patients and doctors continue to ask is whether a hair transplant is a valid course of action to remedy the loss of hair from alopecia areata, and if not, what other recourse exists?
Let’s take a brief overview of this unusual condition, determine whether a hair transplant can help, and offer some constructive advice on other possible ways to address the problem.
There is currently no way to predict when these patches will occur on the scalp, how big they will be, or how much they will impact growth.
There are a few things that set alopecia areata apart from other causes of hair loss:
- It is an autoimmune condition rather than a result of hormone activity (typically testosterone and DHT), which is the most common cause of balding.
- Outbreaks occur randomly, and patches of hair can be gone within just a couple of days.
- There appears to be a genetic component, although evidence is not overwhelming, with roughly 20% of patients reporting a family member with the same condition.
- Treatments are available, but no comprehensive cure exists.
- Scientists have found no connection between stress levels and outbreaks.
- Some experts compare the condition to vitiligo, which produces similarly sized patches of skin that deplete in melanin at random.
- Spontaneous and complete recovery is often reported as well, with patches of missing hair returning to normal as quickly as they were lost.
Those who suffer this disease also tend to have their first outbreak early on, with many patients reporting signs before the age of 30.
From the perspective of a hair restoration professional, alopecia areata is one of the trickiest conditions to contend with.
Not only do hair loss patches come and go unexpectedly, but they occur in different areas of the head with no degree of predictability.
How a Transplant Can Help
Since alopecia areata presents a range of challenges beyond the realm of hair loss, restoration specialists are often hesitant to perform surgeries such as follicular unit transplants.
In this practice, hundreds or thousands of small follicular units are harvested from a donor area, typically on the back of the neck, and transferred to the recipient area where they are grafted carefully within microscopic incisions.
For patients suffering typical androgenic baldness or a receding hairline, this is a proven approach that has yielded positive results for millions worldwide. This is due in part to the static, predictable patterns of genetic balding, which can often be estimated ahead of time with a series of existing models.
As we’ve pointed out, alopecia areata has no such predictability, meaning that an otherwise successful hair transplant can be destroyed by an autoimmune attack at any time. For most patients suffering under this condition, the investment of time and money simply is not worth the risk of losing their progress to a random outbreak.
There are some instances where a hair transplant can help to permanently restore hair loss from alopecia areata, though these cases are few.
While some alopecia patients are willing to accept the gamble that they may lose their progress following a hair transplant, most folks in this position seek other paths forward.
Recent developments in a procedure called Scalp MicroPigmentation (SMP) may provide some aesthetic support for alopecia areata patients who can accept a bold buzz-cut look.
This surgery is non-invasive, and often far more affordable than transplants. It is essentially a series of hundreds of mini-tattoos that lie beneath the skin and provide the appearance of close-cropped hair. It may not be the ideal solution, especially since patients must sacrifice their long hair, but for many who suffer from alopecia, it is a major improvement.
On the pharmaceutical side of things, more progress is being made daily.
Minoxidil, more commonly known as Rogaine, has been lauded as a relatively affordable and effective topical solution to increase blood flow in the scalp and promote hair growth. Instances of complete restoration are not common for alopecia patients using Minoxidil, but it is a low-risk treatment that has been shown to help promote growth when autoimmune attacks do occasionally subside.
Some patients opt for more aggressive methods, including irradiation techniques in the form of targeted photochemotherapy. These measures may be considered extreme by some, but results have been overall satisfactory, according to research from the National Center of Biotechnology Information.
Another drug called Anthralin, which has had a decent track record in the last decade treating psoriasis, has come into the spotlight in recent years as a way to combat the inflammatory impact of alopecia. While some over-the-counter versions of this medication are available in low doses, patients seeking a more powerful anti-inflammatory solution will want to consult a doctor for a prescription.
Alternatively, soothing creams that treat eczema can provide short-term relief from the itching and burning feelings associated with alopecia, which can help hold onto hair in the event of an outbreak.
To read up on a variety of different alopecia areata hair loss cases and see how top doctors are tackling the condition, check out our Balding Blog.
Seek Out Specialists
When dealing with unpredictable alopecia areata, it is in the patient’s best interest to find a physician who is equipped to navigate the pharmaceutical side of hair restoration.
Since a hair transplant tends to not be recommended, it’s important that patients work with leading doctors in the field to tackle the challenges of this condition from every possible angle.
While general practitioners, dermatologists, and immunologists can offer valuable guidance on fighting the condition as a whole, patients who want to specifically address the hair loss aspect of alopecia areata will want to consult with a hair restoration specialist as well.
Patients that orchestrate a multi-layered approach to combating this condition will find that their results are more consistent and satisfactory than simply taking it one step at a time.
Alopecia areata is undoubtedly among the most mysterious and misunderstood causes of hair loss, and leaders in the hair restoration industry are constantly looking for new solutions.
The truth is that a hair transplant is rarely, if ever, the best remedy for patients who have suffered hair loss under this condition, due to its unpredictable nature. Patients often cannot run the risk that their “new” hair from the donor area may be gone again within days, weeks, or months, so they seek other paths.
More proven methods of fighting alopecia areata are on the medicinal and lifestyle side of the equation, and patients should not stop looking for ways to treat their condition from this angle.
As new theories and strategies to combat alopecia areata emerge, we will be on the front lines! Make sure to sign up for our popular email newsletter and bookmark our Hair Loss Info blog so you never miss a beat.