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Hair loss types: Alopecia areata self-care

Most people with alopecia areata are otherwise healthy

The hair loss is never a sign of cancer.

person showing bald patch on head

Things you can do to help gain control over alopecia areata

Alopecia areata is a medical condition that can affect many areas of your life. The following may help you feel better:

  • Understand that many people who have alopecia areata are otherwise healthy. Many patients confess that when they first noticed patches of hair loss, they tried to hide them. They didn’t want to tell anyone and hoped their hair would grow back. Their bald patches also left them wondering whether they had cancer or another life-threatening disease.

    Having alopecia areata is not a sign of cancer. In fact, many people who have alopecia areata are otherwise healthy.

  • See a specialist who has expertise in managing alopecia areata, such as a board-certified dermatologist. When you see a board-certified dermatologist, you see a doctor who has the training, knowledge, and expertise necessary to diagnose and treat hair loss.

    A dermatologist can work with you to find the treatments best suited to help you. It’s important to understand that sometimes your dermatologist will recommend a wait-and-see approach. If you have a few patches of hair loss, it’s possible that your hair will regrow on its own.

    Dermatologists can also give you self-care tips that can help if you lose your eyelashes, eyebrows, the hair inside your ears, or hair on other areas of your body.

  • Mention nail changes to your dermatologist. Alopecia areata can cause changes to your nails, too. If you notice a change to your nails, tell your dermatologist. If nails changes worsen, you may start to feel pain. Some nail changes can interfere with everyday activities, such as typing or playing an instrument. Your dermatologist can tell you whether you need to treat your nails.

  • Protect affected areas from cold temperatures. Hair loss on your scalp, inside your ears, or in your nose can make you extremely sensitive to the cold. Keep warm with hats and scarves.

  • Apply antibiotic ointment if you have lost nose hairs. Your nose hairs keep out dust, germs, and small airborne particles. If you lose your nose hair, dermatologists recommend applying antibiotic ointment just inside each nostril to keep out small particles.

  • Safeguard your eyes if you lose eyebrows or eyelashes. If you lose hair in either area, here’s what you can do to protect your eyes:

    • Wear false eyelashes
    • Apply stick-on eyebrows
    • Wear glasses to protect your eyes

  • Cover up to protect your scalp. If you lose hair on your scalp, protect your skin by applying sunscreen or putting on a hat before you go outdoors. This will reduce your risk of getting sunburn and skin cancer. It will help your skin feel more comfortable.

    To get the protection you need, make sure to use a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection, SPF 30 or higher, and water resistance.

  • Try to avoid getting stressed out. When you have alopecia areata, you can experience unexpected hair loss and regrowth. Many people living with this disease say that before a cycle of hair loss, they often feel stressed out. Learning how to manage your stress with a technique that works for you, such as meditation or yoga, may help reduce cycles of hair loss.

  • Get physicals as often as your dermatologist recommends. While many people who have alopecia areata are otherwise healthy, you do have a higher risk of getting some other diseases, such as thyroid disease. The earlier these diseases are found, the easier they are to control.

  • Realize that many people have trouble coping with the emotions that can unexpectedly arise with hair loss. Many people who have alopecia areata confess that their hair loss makes them feel all alone, lowers their self-esteem, or makes them feel sad and anxious. If you have these feelings, help is available. The resources on this page can help: Alopecia areata and emotional wellness (NAAF website).

  • Connect with others who have alopecia areata through the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF). On its website, it says, “NAAF was established with one clear goal: To offer support to individuals affected by alopecia areata.”

    Today, NAAF offers a Support Group Program, the ability to speak one-on-one via phone with an experienced support contact, and a mentoring program for children living with alopecia areata. You’ll find these resources at: Support (NAAF website)

Research advances are giving us a better understanding of alopecia areata and more ways to treat this disease. You can learn about major breakthroughs, as well as get dermatologists’ tips for everyday care for all types of skin problems, by signing up for the AAD’s free e-newsletter.

Getty Images

Korta DZ, Christiano AM, et al. “Alopecia areata is a medical disease.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2018;78:832-4.

Lee S, Lee H, et al. “Comorbidities in alopecia areata: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2019;80:466-77.

Lee S, Lee YB, et al. “Screening of thyroid function and autoantibodies in patients with alopecia areata: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2019;80:1410-3.