True Life: living with alopecia

Today, I would like to address the elephant in the room……..

…. and more specifically, Alopecia Areata.

So what is Alopecia Areata?

Alopecia Areata is stupid, let’s start there. It comes out of nowhere and serves no purpose. (Sigh, ignore my frustration, I’m still getting used to this lol.) AA is a (surprisingly) common autoimmune disorder that often results in unpredictable hair loss, which basically means that your immune system mistakes the normal cells in your body as foreign invaders and attacks these cells (see, dumb). There are approximately 6.8 million people living with AA in the US and anyone under the age of 30 can get it. In most cases, hair falls out in patches (about a quarter size), but can sometimes lead to Alopecia Totalis (complete hair loss) or Alopecia Universalis (complete body hair loss). 

In doing some research on Aunty Google I found out that 1 in 5 people who have AA, also have a family member who has it. I also learned that AA can be compared to Vitiligo, which is an autoimmune skin disease where the body attacks melanin-producing cells, causing “white patches”. Research suggests that these two share similar pathogenesis, with similar types of immune cells and cytokines (category of signaling molecules that mediate and regulate immunity, inflammation, and hematopoiesis). Whatever that means.

What exactly causes it?

Well in cosmetology school we learned that AA is caused when white blood cells attack the cells in hair follicles, causing them to shrink and dramatically slow down hair production. It is unknown precisely what causes the body’s immune system to target hair follicles like this. Extreme cases of stress could potentially trigger the condition, but there’s not much research that can prove it. 

How the heck do you treat it?

While alopecia areata can definitely be treated, there is no cure. Treatments are suggested by doctors to help re-grow the hair more quickly, but they are not guaranteed. Treatments also do not prevent other alopecia spots from forming on the scalp, as my doctor so graciously informed me of as well during my first visit.

Corticosteroids (powerful anti-inflammatory drugs that can suppress the immune system) are the most common form of alopecia treatment which can be administered orally, topically (creams) or through injections. 

I am currently doing the injections. My doctor says that its the most efficient form of treatment and depending on my progress, we can pair it with cream later on. I see my dermatologist every six weeks, where she administers 6 shots, to 6 different places within the AA spot. Now I’m no punk when it comes to needles and maybe my bruised ego had a part to play, but those injections hurt like hell. Thank God for insurance so I don’t have to pay out of pocket, and plus I’ve been doing “red light therapy” (my boss is a trichologist, check out her info below) treatments at the shop here and there as well so I should be good (once I get consistent). 

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Alopecia Areata in real life before this.

Traction Alopecia? Yes, of course, I was a braider before I became a cosmetologist.

Alopecia Areata? No.

And of course I learned about alopecia in cosmetology school, but never having seen it first hand, I was low-key confused about the whole thing. When I first noticed my alopecia spot back in August after getting a haircut, I just thought my barber had knicked me. I was upset about it, but I still rocked my short cut like it was nothing because it would grow back right?

LOL wrong. It wasn’t until like a month later when my boss looked at the spot again, not only was it still there, but there was no hair growth AND it had gotten bigger. 

By this point, I had already stopped wearing my short hair cut and started wearing wigs and hats. My hair was still too short for braids and I refused to be seen in public with a patch in my hair. I was sad, but I just ignored it and pretended it didn’t exist. I think that actually worked for a while.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, right before I put my braids in, the spot has definitely grown (and so has my hair). Prayerfully I can grow my hair long enough to be able to naturally conceal the spot, we’ll see.

I’m still not sure if installing braids or other protective styles is the healthiest thing for my hair in its condition, but it is what it is. 

What have I learned?

Although I’m still struggling with my new reality, being able to wear braids has honestly been a tremendous confidence booster. I remember when I cut my hair off like 3 years ago, the work I put in and the growth I experienced from having no choice but to accept myself without hair. It was amazing!

Now, I feel like I’m having to do that all over again, involuntarily…and it kinda sucks, but if it’s one thing I’ve learned in my 27 years of life is that:

  • God does not give us more than we can handle
  • everything in life happens for a reason, whether that reason is clear or not
  • If I’m supposed to have AA, then I’m supposed to have AA and that’s all there is to it. This is just another bump in the road that I can’t get over, I have to work through and overcome. Which means I have lots of work ahead of me to do and that’s okay (reminds self).
  • I’ll keep updating my progress (or lack thereof) here on my blog and I’m thinking about giving it a name, drop your name suggestions in the comments or shoot me a dm. The best name gets $20. 😏
  • Until next time babies!💕

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