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Understanding Alopecia

Stacey Soble | September 6, 2013 | 2:38 AM

Understanding AlopeciaSeptember is National Alopecia Areata Awareness Month, so it's the perfect time to look at this condition, why it happens and how you can help clients who are impacted. Paulina Nelega, a registered clinical herbalist with Hair Essentials recently addressed SALON TODAY's questions about Alopecia.

SALON TODAY: What is Alocpecia?

Alopecia is a general term that means loss of hair from areas of the body where it normally grows. When alopecia occurs on the scalp, it may be a result of:

Androgenic alopecia. This is the most common type of hair loss in both men and women, and is a result of the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT). It is also known as androgenetic alopecia, hereditary hair loss, or female/male pattern hair loss, and is very common in women after menopause. In fact, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, by the time a woman reaches 40 years old, 40 percent will experience hair loss - and this number increases with each passing decade.

Telogen effluvium. According to the American Hair Loss Association, alopecia areata is probably the second most common form of hair loss. This type of hair loss occurs when a higher-than-usual number of hairs enter the resting (telogen) phase, which then results in dramatic shedding when those follicles cycle back into the anagen phase again. This may occur a few weeks or months after a stressful event such as major surgery, drastic weight loss, infection or high fever, certain medications, physical trauma or emotional causes, or major hormonal fluctuations such as after giving birth. The body attempts to conserve energy for what it considers vital, life-preserving functions, by diverting energy away from the demands of less important functions, such as hair growth. The good news is that this type of hair loss will usually grow back normally over the course of the next few months.

Alopecia areata. This is an autoimmune condition where our body’s immune system no longer recognizes its own tissues as ‘self,’ but sees them as foreign and mounts an immune response against them. In alopecia areata, there is a proliferation of immune-fighting cells that invade the hair follicles and create inflammation and damage to the follicles. This leads to round, coin-shaped patches of hair loss on the scalp. Hair loss can also occur on other parts of the body.

Nutritional deficiencies, notably iron. Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common nutritional deficiency, and is especially prevalent amongst women with heavy monthly flow, fibroids (which can cause heavy bleeding), and those following a vegetarian/vegan diet.

Alopecia can also occur with:

· Thyroid dysfunction

· Immune system disturbances

· Hormonal imbalances such as PCOS

· Stress

· Infections of the scalp

· Certain medications including birth control pills, diabetes and high bloodpressure medications, other meds

· Traction alopecia or hairstyling practices that put stress upon the follicles, such as extensions
Trichotillomania - compulsive hair-pulling

· Damage from hair processing treatments - coloring, straightening, perming 


ST: How do I recognize the symptoms of alopecia in a client?

Nelega: Alopecia areata, which is an autoimmune condition, will typically appear as round, coin-shaped patches of hair loss. Sometimes fungal infections of the scalp can also cause round patches of hair loss, though, so getting a proper diagnosis is important. Some of the first symptoms of androgenic alopecia in women are a widening part, diffuse thinning over the entire head making the scalp more visible through the hair, increased shedding accompanied by slower hair growth, and growth of hair that is finer and thinner than it used to be.

ST: How should a stylist address and counsel a client who has alopecia issues?

Nelega: Stylists are in a unique position to provide meaningful feedback to their client about the health of their hair, which can be an important indicator of underlying health concerns. If your client has started styling their hair differently in an attempt to cover up the scalp showing through, begun wearing a head-wrap or hat, or if you notice that your client’s hair is changing over the course of your relationship—be it texture, thickness, strength, shedding—you might gently inquire whether they’ve noticed any changes themselves, such as more hair loss when showering or brushing their hair, or if their hair is becoming more difficult to style.

ST: What kind of professional should a stylist direct a client to?

Nelega: If your client is experiencing alopecia, the first step is to suggest they visit their doctor or dermatologist to ensure an accurate diagnosis and that any underlying health conditions (if present) are addressed.

ST: What are some things a client can do to help with alopecia?

Nelega: In addition to suggesting they seek medical guidance, you can encourage your client to maintain a healthy diet that provides plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables (for an abundant supply of protective antioxidants and other hair-healthy phytonutrients), healthy fats and oils to reduce inflammation and regulate sebum production, high-quality protein for amino acids needed to grow strong hair, and to stay adequately hydrated. Suggesting an all-natural dietary supplement formulated specifically for healthy hair growth, such as Hair Essentials, can be very beneficial for your client as well.

ST:  What kinds of things happen during Alopecia Areata Awareness Month?

Nelega: September is National Alopecia Areata Awareness Month – to learn more about this autoimmune skin condition that causes hair loss, as well as events being held to increase awareness, I recommend to visit www.naaf.org. I’ve also found the American Hair Loss Association, www.americanhairloss.org, as well as the American Academy of Dermatology, www.aad.org, to be great resources. 

Paulina Nelega is a registered clinical herbalist for Hair Essentials and has been assisting individuals facing hair loss for nearly two decades. Hair Essentials is a 100% drug-free, certified gluten-free, proprietary blend of more than 20 herbs, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, amino acids and other nutrients. Hair Essentials can be purchased online atwww.HairEssentials.com or by calling 800-536-9353.

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