The “slap” was heard around the world. The actor Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on stage at the 2022 Oscar Awards after Rock made a “joke” about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s baldness. Pinkett Smith has alopecia areata, a condition that causes balding.
Scientists are closer to understanding the causes of alopecia – balding — and are developing more effective strategies for treating it, says clinical dermatologist Paul E. Brody, MD, with Advanced Dermatology PC. Solutions cannot come quickly enough. While Dr. Brody often employs humor to ease a patient’s concerns about a condition, he cautions that every patient is different as to how they will react when discussing their particular medical situation. He adds that people must be very sensitive to making any kind of humorous reference to a patient’s diagnosis, especially alopecia areata, and never “cross the line.”
“Not only do millions of men and women in this country experience some degree of hair loss, balding is sometimes associated with other disorders and can have a serious psychological effect on a person’s self-image and quality of life,” added Brody.
Dr. Brody refers specifically to alopecia areata, which develops when the body’s own immune system begins attacking the hair follicles. The disease is characterized by non-scarring hair loss that occurs in patches on the scalp and elsewhere on the body. Scientists call alopecia areata “the most prevalent autoimmune disorder” and one of the most common causes of hair loss – second only to androgenetic alopecia, the hereditary form of balding.
An article in a 2020 edition of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings reports that clinical trials of Jak inhibitors for the treatment of alopecia areata have “increased significantly.” Studies have determined that Jak inhibitors – chemicals inhibiting the activity of specific enzymes that “talk” to the immune system’s T-cells – can actually reverse alopecia areata, cause hair follicle stem cells to proliferate, and move hair follicles from a “resting” to a “growth” phase, Dr. Brody explains.
Not all balding can be prevented, Dr. Brody emphasizes, but the risks of developing some forms of alopecia can be minimized.
He offers these tips:
- Avoid stressing hair with hot dryers or curlers, coloring, permanents, cosmetics filled with chemicals, and styles – like tight braids and ponytails – that pull on the hairline.
- Wash regularly with basic shampoos that are right for one’s hair texture.
- Brush hair gently with full strokes – from the scalp to the ends of the hair; use a brush that does not tear the hair.
- Massage the scalp frequently to promote blood circulation and hair growth.
- Consider essential oils – like olive and coconut oils — that can be applied to the scalp.
- Improve your diet. Eat raw vegetables and foods rich in protein and vitamin A.
- If you do notice some hair loss, contact a dermatologist for examination; treatment, if needed; and advice.