KZ, as she prefers to be called for this article, is a well-known beautician in the District of Columbia, who suffered for years with a condition known as alopecia or hair loss. More than 80 million Americans suffer from this hair and scalp condition that affects children as well as the elderly of all races and ethnic groups.

Alopecia affects both men and women. However, certain types of alopecia, associated with harsh hair grooming practices may be more commonly seen in women. One particular type, central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA) is much more commonly seen in African-American women, compared to other ethnicities due to harsh hair grooming practices, such as tight braids, hot combs and chemical relaxers. Other types of alopecia include androgenetic alopecia (female pattern baldness), telogen effluvium and alopecia areata.

“I kept getting scalp burns when I put chemical relaxers in my hair but vanity would not allow me to give it up,” said KZ. After years of torture, KZ went to a physician who told her she was allergic to some of the chemicals in the relaxer and with constant use the hair follicles died, causing alopecia. “I weighed my options to either continue straightening my hair with relaxers and risk the chance of being totally bald or stop it altogether.”

KZ began to wear natural hairstyles rather than wigs or weaves to cover the missing hair. Within three years after medical intervention and her decision to stop using relaxers, KZ recovered 90 percent of hair growth in the affected areas. KZ also changed her beauty salon to natural hairstyling.

“Now when women come to me for hair care, I can see alopecia before they do. My immediate reaction is to tell them to get medical help,” said KZ.

Ebony Stone, who treats clients with alopecia at Natural Revolution Salon and Spa in Baltimore, agrees that medical intervention is the first line of defense for her customers suffering from alopecia. “I have clients that receive steroid shots for alopecia and my treatments are more of an aid to what the doctors prescribe,” said Stone, who uses hot oil treatments, deep conditioners, and ApHogee products to restore damaged hair. “My clients with alopecia have locks and over the last two years I’ve noticed a lot of Black women coming in with alopecia,” Stone said.

Darlene Oliver, owner of Oliver’s Natural Hair Salon in northwest Washington, also switched from relaxed hair to natural styles. “Even people with natural hairstyles can get alopecia. Early detection and professional treatment are key.”

But not all Black beauticians subscribe to a complete overhaul of their business. At Natural Motions, in northwest Washington, the salon performs both relaxers and natural hair care.

“When someone comes in our salon with alopecia, we take them to a private room because we want to examine the affected area carefully and encourage them to feel free about discussing what is happening,” said Liz Nolan, owner of Natural Motions. “We advise them to see a dermatologist immediately.”

Dr. Ife Rodney, assistant professor of dermatology at Howard University Hospital explained some types of alopecia can be prevented and cured if treatment is initiated in the early stages of the disease.

Derrick Benjamin, a barber also of Baltimore’s Natural Revolution Salon and Spa, has seen his share of male clients suffering from the disease. “I recommend Vitamin E because it encourages healthy hair growth,” said Benjamin, “I have clients with alopecia and bald spots appear in the beard because all of the hair on the body is affected.”

Telogen effluvium involves diffuse shedding of the hair, usually after a stressful life event, such as pregnancy or severe illness. “We see this among a lot of college students, attorneys and individuals with very demanding jobs. In this condition, all of the hair usually regrows but may take up to six months before signs of regrowth are seen,” Rodney said.

Alopecia areata presents as round or oval patches of complete hair loss. Sometimes, patches of white hair may be seen. “This condition is usually very responsive to treatment,” Rodney added.

There are a variety of treatments, depending on the type of alopecia that an individual may have, and whether it is in the early or late stages. These include ointments and injections, among other treatment modalities.

Dr. Linda Amerson, executive director of Hair and Scalp Essentials in Arlington, Tx, travels the country and abroad educating cosmetologists, dermatologists and board certified tricologists about diagnosis and effective methods to treat alopecia. Amerson has written articles for numerous local and national publications.

“There are many causes of this condition. It could be systemic, cosmetic or hereditary related,” said Amerson. She sees over 1,000 patients yearly for alopecia treatment. Her patients range in age from 18 months to 85 years of age. Amerson suggested an annual microscopic hair strand and bulb analysis.

“We look at every individual on a case-by-case method. Not everyone has a hair loss condition but a scalp condition that may be very dry or flaky; scaly scalp condition and might think its dandruff or some might have a crawling-like condition or lesions on the scalp,” Amerson said.

September is national alopecia month. Hair professionals said it’s time to spread the word. “I do not think that there has been an increase in the number of people that suffer from alopecia. However, I think that the community as a whole is more aware of the condition, and the fact that it can be treated,” said Rodney. 


Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO