A man holding a clump of hair in his hands while looking down and distressed

Hair thinning and hair loss thanks to Autoimmune Disease and Chronic Illness effects

Karin W

October 3, 2023

Shock and despair washed over me as I stared at the clump of hair in my soapy hand – a fun side effect of my immunosuppressant medication.

Hair loss can be devastating, and while there are alternative options, the experience can pile onto an already emotional load of coping with autoimmune disease symptoms and side effects. 

Alopecia, often associated with autoimmune diseases and chronic illnesses, goes beyond mere hair loss.

Man holding a clump of hair in his hand and distressed about it.

In this blog post, we delve into the complexities of alopecia, medical treatment options, alternative therapies, and ways to help embrace your look if you so choose to rock a new look! 

Understanding Alopecia, Hair Loss, and Hair Thinking with Autoimmune Diseases 

Alopecia areata, a medical term for hair loss or baldness, occurs in small, random areas on our scalp. Our immune system mistakenly identifies the hair follicles and nails as foreign to the body, leading to their attack. 

Researchers have found that alopecia areata results from an autoimmune response targeting hair follicles. This autoimmune response is triggered when the body’s immune system mistakenly identifies the hair follicles as foreign invaders and attacks them.

This mistaken immune response can also extend to the nails, resulting in white streaks across the nail and weakness and brittleness. It is essential to understand that alopecia is not merely a cosmetic issue but a medical condition with underlying autoimmune factors.

There are many classifications of alopecia areata. It all depends on how much hair you’ve lost and where the hair loss is happening on your body. 

  • Totalis means all of the hair on your scalp.
  • Universalis means all the hair on your scalp and your body hair.
  • Diffuse alopecia areata means the hair is thinning rather than falling out in patches.
  • Ophiasis alopecia areata means losing a band of hair on the bottom back sides of your scalp. 

Autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis, thyroid disease, diabetes, lupus, and vitiligo can increase the risk of alopecia. It’s a symptom that should be considered during the diagnosis process and treatment plan. 

Alopecia can also be a side effect of medications taken for autoimmune diseases. For instance, some immunosuppressants, including Methotrexate, can exacerbate hair thinning and loss, like in my case. 

The Nature of Alopecia Flares

The nature of autoimmune diseases like alopecia is such that they tend to have flare-ups and remissions. These flares can be unpredictable and may cause worsening of symptoms. It is common for individuals with alopecia to experience hair loss during flare-ups.

Chris Burton, Invigorate Your Autoimmune Disease Journey Podcast Co-host and brand ambassador, has shared that he experienced hair loss during his flare-ups but that it regrew after the flare ended. This is consistent with autoimmune diseases, where symptoms may wax and wane, often without apparent rhyme or reason.

While some individuals can ride out these flare-ups without significant long-term consequences, others may require more sustained treatment. 

Some strategies that may help manage alopecia flare-ups and promote overall hair health include using gentle hair care products, avoiding harsh treatments such as chemical relaxers or bleach, eating a clean diet, and managing stress levels. 

Additionally, some individuals may benefit from medications or other treatments to help manage symptoms during flare-ups. Working with a healthcare professional to identify triggers for flare-ups and develop strategies to manage symptoms during these periods is essential.

Medical Treatment Options for Alopecia

Treatment options for alopecia vary, and dermatologists play a crucial role in addressing hair loss and nail issues. We always think about dermatologists helping you with your skin, but they specialize in hair and nails too! 

Options such as corticosteroids, minoxidil, phototherapy, and topical immunotherapy may be prescribed based on individual cases. These treatments aim to reduce inflammation, stimulate hair follicle growth, and suppress the autoimmune response that leads to hair loss.

Sometimes, your rheumatologist may prescribe supplements, including folic acid or methofolate, to help mitigate hair thinning and hair loss, even when it’s caused by medications like some immunosuppressants. 

Dermatologists are an excellent resource for developing a treatment plan that suits one’s needs. Each person’s experience with alopecia is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Therefore, it is essential to have a personalized approach to treatment.

Supplements May Help Promote Hair Growth and Prevent Hair Loss

It’s important to note that when considering alternative therapies for alopecia or hair loss, there is limited regulation when it comes to supplements. This means that the quality and efficacy of these products may vary. However, some supplements have shown promising results in promoting hair, skin, and nail health.

Collagen peptides have gained popularity recently for their potential benefits in supporting healthy hair, nails, and skin. Collagen is a protein that provides structural support to these tissues, and supplementing with collagen peptides can help replenish and support their health. Collagen peptides have also been shown to support joint health, which benefits individuals experiencing joint pain.

When choosing a collagen peptides supplement, it’s essential to look for brands that have certifications such as Certified Paleo Friendly and Keto Certified. These certifications ensure that the product meets specific quality standards. Choosing a non-GMO supplement, free from artificial flavors, sweeteners, and hidden fillers, is also advisable to ensure a clean and pure product.

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Sports Research Collagen Peptides is a high-quality collagen supplement that ticks all the boxes. It provides protein and amino acids to support healthy hair, nails, and skin. It is also backed by certifications and is free from unwanted additives, making it a reliable choice.

Another supplement that can help support overall hair, skin, and nail health contains biotin, zinc, and manganese. Biotin, a B vitamin, promotes healthy hair and nails. Zinc and manganese are crucial minerals in various biological processes, including hair growth and maintenance.

Invigorate Favorite Resource star with tulip

Pure Encapsulations Hair/Skin/Nails Ultra is a high-quality supplement that combines biotin, zinc, and manganese to support overall hair, skin, and nail health. It’s essential to choose a reliable brand like Pure Encapsulations to ensure the purity and efficacy of the supplement.

While these supplements can promote hair, skin, and nail health, it’s important to remember that they should not replace a balanced diet and proper medical guidance. It is always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian before starting any new supplements, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking medication.

Alternative Therapy Options for Alopecia, Hair Loss, and Hair Thinning

However, it’s crucial to note that treatment options may not be effective for everyone. If the body does not respond to medical treatments or if the individual prefers not to pursue them, there are alternative therapy options people have had success with. 

One such alternative therapy that has gained attention in recent years is the use of essential oils.

Essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts known for their therapeutic properties. They have been used for centuries in traditional medicine practices for various ailments, including promoting hair growth. Research suggests certain essential oils can benefit people experiencing alopecia or hair loss.

In a seven-month study published in the Archives of Dermatology, participants with hair loss who massaged a combination of cedarwood, lavender, rosemary, and thyme essential oils into their scalps experienced new hair growth. To ensure safe application, these essential oils were diluted with milder carrier oils such as jojoba and grapeseed oils.

Cedarwood essential oil is believed to improve blood circulation to the scalp, promoting hair growth. Lavender essential oil has calming properties and may help reduce stress, a factor that can contribute to hair loss. Rosemary essential oil stimulates hair follicles and improves hair thickness and growth. Finally, thyme essential oil has antimicrobial properties that help maintain a healthy scalp environment.

To use essential oils for hair regrowth, it is recommended to dilute them with carrier oils before applying them to the scalp. This prevents any potential skin irritation or sensitivities. A suggested dilution ratio is 2-3 drops of essential oil per tablespoon of carrier oil.

Massage the oil mixture into the scalp using gentle circular motions. Leave it on for at least 30 minutes before rinsing it out. For best results, repeat the process a few times a week.

While individual experiences may vary, some people have reported positive results after using essential oils for hair regrowth. However, it’s important to note that essential oils should not replace medical advice or prescribed treatments. If you are experiencing significant hair loss or alopecia, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional or dermatologist for a comprehensive evaluation and personalized treatment plan.

Additionally, it’s essential to be cautious when using essential oils, as they can be potent and cause allergic reactions or skin irritation in some people. Always perform a patch test on a small skin area before applying essential oils to the scalp.

Alternative Options to Embrace Changing Hair 

If medical or alternative treatments for alopecia aren’t suitable or don’t provide the desired results, abundant alternative options are available to help enhance your appearance and boost your confidence. Two popular options are hair extensions and wigs.

Hair Extensions

Hair extensions can be an excellent choice for those who want to add length, volume, or even just a bit of flair to their hair. With a wide range of colors, textures, and styles, hair extensions offer endless possibilities for trying out new looks. 

Whether you prefer a subtle enhancement or a bold transformation, extensions can help you achieve the desired effect. They can be attached through various methods, such as clip-ins, tape-ins, or bonded extensions, depending on your preference and the expertise of a professional stylist.

When dealing with hair that breaks off but doesn’t entirely fall out, hair extensions can be a viable option to help achieve the desired length and volume. Hair extensions come in two main types: synthetic and human hair.

Synthetic hair extensions are crafted from artificial fibers and are generally less durable and long-lasting than human hair extensions. While they are more affordable than natural hair extensions, synthetic options have drawbacks. They can be challenging to care for and style, and they may not give as natural of a look as human hair extensions.

On the other hand, human hair extensions, also referred to as natural hair extensions, are made from real human hair. These extensions can be styled and treated like your hair, allowing seamless integration. Human hair extensions are more expensive than synthetic counterparts due to their quality and longevity. However, they offer a more natural appearance and can last longer with proper care.

One of the essential advantages of human hair extensions is their ability to blend effortlessly with natural hair, providing a seamless and natural look. They can be dyed, heat-styled, and even washed like your own hair. This versatility allows for greater flexibility in achieving the desired style or look.

One note to consider: synthetic hair extensions are typically more challenging to maintain. They can easily tangle, resulting in frequent split ends. Split ends occur when the tips of the hair look divided and lack the smoothness and natural appearance of undamaged hair.

When considering hair extensions for hair that breaks off but doesn’t entirely fall out, it’s crucial to determine your priorities. If natural and long-lasting results are essential to you, investing in human hair extensions may be the best choice despite the higher initial cost. However, if affordability is a primary concern and you’re willing to put in extra effort for maintenance, synthetic hair extensions could be an alternative option.

Ultimately, the decision between synthetic and human hair extensions should be based on individual preferences, budget, and desired results. It’s advisable to consult with a professional stylist or extension specialist to assess your specific needs and ensure the best outcome.

Exploring Wig Options

Wigs are another alternative option that can completely transform your appearance. They offer a quick and convenient solution for individuals experiencing significant hair loss or wanting to experiment with different hairstyles. 

Wigs come in various styles, lengths, colors, and materials, allowing you to change your look or mimic your natural hair completely. They can be made from synthetic fibers or natural human hair, allowing for customization based on your preferences and budget. High-quality wigs are designed to provide a comfortable fit, natural appearance, and style freedom.

Inexpensive Synthetic Wigs: These are often cheaper but may be itchy and hot. They suit individuals requiring a temporary solution or experimenting with different hairstyles without investing in a high-cost wig.

Lace Front Synthetic Wigs: Slightly more expensive than basic synthetic wigs, lace front synthetic wigs offer a more natural look. The lace front allows for a seamless hairline, making distinguishing the wig from natural hair harder.

Human Hair Wigs: While they require more maintenance and upkeep, they are worth investing in for individuals who want to wear them regularly. These wigs offer the most natural appearance and can be styled and cared for like real hair.

Choosing the right wig option depends on individual preferences, budget, and lifestyle. It is recommended to consult with a wig specialist to find the best fit and style that suits your needs.

Both hair extensions and wigs can offer versatility and self-expression, allowing you to explore different styles and looks that suit your personality and desired image. They can enhance your existing hair or completely cover any areas affected by alopecia. Additionally, these options provide a sense of control and empowerment, as you can switch up your look whenever you please.

Working with a professional stylist or consultant specializing in hair extensions or wigs is essential to ensure the best fit, style, and maintenance. They can guide you in choosing the right option for your needs and offer suggestions on care and styling techniques.

Experimenting with hair extensions or wigs can be a fun and confidence-boosting experience. It’s a chance to explore different looks, enhance natural beauty, and embrace uniqueness. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new – you never know how it might positively impact your self-esteem and overall well-being.

Finding Strength and Support with People Who Understand Autoimmune Disease

Hair loss can be a significant emotional challenge, often impacting our identity. However, it’s essential to remember that we are not alone on this journey. Through the Invigorate podcast, we aim to bring the autoimmune community together by sharing valuable information and personal stories. Embracing who we are in any season of life can be a powerful act of self-acceptance and strength.

Invigorate community member and brand ambassador Heather Knox shares her journey of embracing her shaved head and provides tips for feeling better with a new look, including fun glasses, makeup experimentation, and accessorizing with jewelry on the Invigorate Your Autoimmune Disease Journey Podcast.

Connecting with others who have experienced alopecia or other autoimmune conditions can provide a sense of belonging and understanding. The Invigorate Facebook group is valuable for those seeking emotional support and a safe space to share their experiences.

Embracing our unique appearance and finding support within the community empowers us to overcome the emotional struggles that may accompany hair loss. Remember, you are not alone – the Invigorate community is here to strengthen the autoimmune community by sharing stories, information, and hope. 

Sources

This blog post draws inspiration from various sources, including personal experiences, medical professionals, and reputable autoimmune disease organizations.

Listen to the “Coping with Hair Loss and Alopecia with Autoimmune Diseases” discussion on Spotify!

Prevention magazine: Herbal Remedies ALL-NATURAL CURES, July 2023

Hair Extensions Direct, What is Hair Extension? Here’s Everything You Need to Know – Hair Extension Direct

Disclaimer: Invigorate is supported by its audience. We may earn an affiliate commission when you purchase through links on our site.

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