Forget about 'slap gate' – let’s talk alopecia


Even if you missed it at the Academy Awards – also known as the Oscars – chances are you’re aware of the “slap heard around the world” delivered to comedian Chris Rock by actor Will Smith. Amidst the uproar that followed the incident now referred to as “slap gate,” news and social media consumers also heard about a medical condition that affects hundreds of millions of people around the world: alopecia. Causing hair loss on the scalp and body, alopecia has become as much of a trending topic as that slap because Rock – who was presenting an award – had made a joke about the bald head of Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.


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In the spotlight: Alopecia areata

Four years ago, the actress revealed that she suffers from alopecia areata – a form of alopecia that sees the body’s immune system attack hair follicles, causing hair to fall out in clumps. According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, alopecia areata affects about two per cent of the population in some form over their lifetime. On a global scale,147 million have or will develop alopecia areata.

While some doctors recommend steroids, immune system suppressors or hair growth stimulants, there is currently no cure for alopecia areata. There is, however, a glimmer of hope: in all cases of alopecia areata, the hair follicles stay alive. This means hair regrowth is possible, even after years of hair loss.


One condition with many forms

Alopecia, which tends to run in families, manifests in different forms and can affect men and women, some as young as teens.


  • Androgenetic alopecia is the most common form of hair loss, affecting about 50 per cent of men and 40 per cent of women. In men, this type of alopecia is referred to commonly as male pattern baldness, which typically starts as hair loss above both temples and progresses to a receding M-shaped hairline with thinning at the crown. In women, this alopecia is called female pattern baldness and usually manifests as all-over thinning of hair on the crown.


  • Alopecia totalis, an advanced form of alopecia areata, causes complete hair loss on the scalp. Genetics may be a factor in alopecia totalis, given that about 20 per cent of people with the condition have a family history of alopecia.


  • Alopecia universalis is a rare form of alopecia areata, affecting just one per cent of people with the condition. Its consequences are severe: total hair loss on the scalp and body.


  • Scarring alopecia, which affects about three per cent of people with hair loss, is marked by permanent loss of hair follicles, which are subsequently covered by scar tissue. Once this happens, hair regrowth is no longer possible and treatment is usually focused on containing the condition.


  • Trichotillomania is hair loss and breakage caused by compulsive twisting, twirling or pulling of hair. The damage from trichotillomania can be reversed by breaking these hair-threatening habits.


It’s no laughing matter

Alopecia can also cause dents and ridges in finger- and toenails but, in general, people with the condition can be in good physical health. The psychological effects of alopecia, however, may lead to depression, loss of self-esteem and social isolation. That’s why it’s important to be sensitive to the feelings of people with alopecia. While some may try to make light of their condition, joking about their hair loss is never funny.


Read: How pharmacists can help patients with depression

If alopecia is a concern for you or someone close to you, remember that your Express Scripts Canada Pharmacy pharmacist is available 24/7 to answer your questions or direct you to the appropriate resources.