Alopecia and its strands
Hair loss caused by alopecia areata presents with small patches. Most people experience only a few patches, while for others it may be greater. (Photo: Pexels)

ALOPECIA, derived from the Latin word aloplex, is a condition that can affect all areas of the body. The condition, however, is mostly centralised on our crowning glory — our head.

The terms commonly used are baldness, bald patches, or 'Yuh hair pick out'. It's like something out of a bad dream. You step out of the shower, dry your hair, and are startled to discover a glaring patch of baldness on the back or side of your scalp.

We at The Professional Association of Trichologists (TPAT) want to use this medium to inform you of this most-feared hair loss condition that affects all of us irrespective of gender, age and race. There are a number of hair and scalp disorders that fall in the ambit of alopecia, such as androgenic alopecia, alopecia areata, alopecia universalis, alopecia totalis, traction alopecia, folliculitis, and many more — but we will be focusing on alopecia areata.

Alopecia is normally propelled by an action, be it internal or external, while the specification of alopecia may be predisposed by a medical condition, one such is alopecia areata.

Like all autoimmune diseases, alopecia areata involves your body's immune system mistakenly targeting healthy cells. Dr Adam Friedman, a dermatologist at George Washington Medical Faculty Associates, best describes it as "your body's natural defences don't recognise your hair as one of the good guys, so your immune system attacks it".

This condition occurs when the white blood cells (leukocytes) attack the matrix cells within the hair follicles, causing them to reduce in size and vividly slows down hair production. The unknown cause continues to baffle professionals since there can be no clarification as to why the body's immune system would target hair follicles in this way.

Hair loss caused by alopecia areata represents itself with small patches. Most people experience only a few patches, while others may be greater. The attack may even render some individuals experiencing full removal of scalp hair — known as alopecia totalis — and in severe cases alopecia universalis hair loss on the entire body.

Scientists are yet to prove why these changes occur, and are making a connection to the involvement of genetics. Trichologists (who specialise in the science of the structure, function and diseases of the human hair and scalp) have observed that the client's history always shows the presence of alopecia areata within the family.

In fact, one in five people assessed by a trichology history shows that he/she has had or still has a family member with the condition. They also find that the condition develops suddenly, over the course of a few days.

Further, it has been debated that stress is often the main cause but there is no real scientific proof. Other research has found that many people with a family history of alopecia areata also have a personal or family history of other autoimmune disorders such as atopy — a disorder characterised by a tendency to be hyperallergic — thyroiditis or vitiligo. The loss of hair can be sudden, emerging in just a few days or over a period of a few weeks. There may be itching or burning in the area before hair loss. The hair follicles are not destroyed and so hair can re-grow if the inflammation of the follicles diminishes.

People with the condition who have only a few patches of hair loss often recover with no treatment needed. There is no cure for alopecia areata, however there are myriad treatment optins that can help to speed up hair growth.

Prescriptive recommendations by a medical doctor help to speed up the recovery process. The most common is the use of corticosteroids which may be administered three ways — orally or through a local or topical ointment. While these treatments will improve with the regrowth of hair, they are not preventative measures for future patches.

Alopecia areata does not directly make people sick, nor is it contagious. It can, however, be difficult to adapt to emotionally. For many people, alopecia areata is a distressing disease that should involve treatment addressing the emotive aspect of hair loss, as well as the condition itself.

After the series of prescriptive treatment, a trichologist is normally the person from whom to seek further advice. Support groups normally help with dealing with autoimmune deficiencies; it gives the affected individual a chance to share their thoughts and feeling and to converse on mutual emotional reactions to the condition.

The most important indicator of alopecia areata is patchy hair loss. Coin-sized patches of hair begin to fall out, mainly from the scalp. Any sight of hair growth may be affected, though, including the beard and eyelashes.

As previously mentioned there is no empirical evidence to determine the definite cause of this condition and how it can be prevented. We know, however, that it can be treated and monitored by an expert. As such, we are recommending that you seek professional advice if you notice any signs from a trichologist and dermatologist. Do not attempt to diagnose or treat this problem on your own through any videos being shown on social media. This may lead to additional problems or hair loss that may end up being irreversible.

As members of The Professional Association of Trichologists (TPAT), a non-profit organisation, we are guided by the mandate to educate practitioners in the cosmetology industry and the public about this emerging profession while providing guidance, assistance and creating workable solutions to prevent, reduce and/or eliminate hair and scalp disorders.

Andreen Rose-Ceephas is a certified trichologist who specialises in matters of the hair and scalp. She is located at Hair Extreme Beauty and Barber Concept, New Kingston Shopping Centre, 30 Dominica Drive.

Andreen Rose-Ceephas

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