BARING IT WITH HEART: What Is Alopecia?

The first time I ever heard the word “Alopecia” I was a young woman in my mid 20’s, making my second visit to a professional to find out why my shoulder length hair was becoming so thin at the crown.
 
The first visit had been a few years earlier to a “hair loss specialist” referred by a male friend who was experiencing early male pattern baldness. After scraping my oiled scalp with a wooden tongue depressor-like instrument, the “specialist” told me that my hair follicles were being blocked by the layer of oil on my scalp and that I needed to wash my hair 1-2 times daily with a special shampoo to be purchased from him.  Disappointed, frustrated, and even slightly insulted, anyone who knows anything about African-American hair care can understand how I would leave there feeling like this had been a total waste of my time.

This visit, a few years following the first, I’d been referred to an African-American female dermatologist by my hairdresser.  (This dermatologist is now frequently referenced in Essence Magazine). After taking a health and family history, and blood work, her conclusion was that I had Alopecia of unknown etiology, which was probably hereditary since my tests all came back normal, showing no vitamin or immune deficiencies which can sometimes contribute to the condition.  Therefore she had no recommendations.

So although I still had no idea of what to do about it, at least I now had a NAME for it:  Alopecia. However, when I looked it up, basically all I found was

 
  “loss of hair, esp on the head; baldness”
 

This was before the days of the internet, so I couldn’t just go to the computer, as I can today, and “Google” it to find out more information.

Approximately 5 years later  I became more self-conscious about the obvious spreading of the thin spot in the crown of my head, and I somehow found myself engaged in conversation with a co-worker who shared with me her experiences with 1-2 year cycles of Alopecia during which her scalp hair would come out in patches, eventually leaving her bald and requiring her to wear wigs.  She told me about an organization in S.F.  through which she received resources and support.  I did look them up and call them to request information.

I learned that there were various “types” of Alopecia, from various causes, however as I recall there was a greater emphasis on “prosthesis” for those who had total baldness, and even then primarily from the side effects of Cancer treatment . Since at the time my condition wasn’t as pronounced or “drastic”, I pretty much concluded that I should just be grateful to have the hair I did and not have to wear a wig or deal with some of the other issues some people were experiencing.

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