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5 Types of Alopecia, and How to Find the Right Treatment

By Marta Manning
Medically Reviewed by Jennifer T. Haley, MD, FAAD on November 18, 2020
Different types of alopecia call for different approaches to treatment.

Alopecia is an umbrella term for hair loss. There are several kinds, and your treatment options depend on the type you have. Talk to a board-certified dermatologist or trichologist to get a proper diagnosis. 

Some Common Alopecia Types and Treatments

Types of the condition that can affect your scalp include:

Androgenic alopecia. This is common for women and men. It’s also known as male- or female-pattern hair loss. 

If you’re a woman, it can thin your hair, but your hairline doesn’t recede and you’re unlikely to become totally bald. Women often notice a widening of their part. If you’re a man, the condition often leads to complete or partial baldness. Your genes and your environment seem to play roles in causing androgenic alopecia. 

Treatments include the drugs minoxidil (Rogaine) and finasteride (Propecia). 

A 2019 study in the journal Dermatologic Surgery says platelet-rich plasma shows promise in treating the condition. A 2019 study in Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology says clinical trials have also reported promising results with low-level laser therapy, also called “photobiomodulation.”

Alopecia areata. This is also known as patchy baldness. The bald patches can show up anywhere on your body, but many people get a round or oval patch on the scalp, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says. 

Alopecia areata is a type of autoimmune disease—your immune system attacks your hair follicles by mistake. Your hair may grow back on its own without treatment. (If it does, it’s also possible for it to fall out again.) Your dermatologist might ask you to wait and see if your hair regrows before they prescribe a treatment, the AAD says. 

Treatments include: 

  • Medications that you put on your bald patches 
  • Steroid shots that your dermatologist gives you in the office
  • Chemicals your dermatologist applies to your scalp for extensive hair loss (also called topical immunotherapy)

Alopecia totalis. This is a form of alopecia aerata that makes you lose all the hair on your scalp. Management strategies for alopecia aerata also apply to alopecia totalis. “In severe cases, systemic immunosuppressive therapy such as methotrexate or prednisone may be helpful,” hair loss specialist Abraham Armani, MD, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

Traction alopecia.This is caused by putting stress on hair through repeated pulling or stretching. 

“You can develop this condition if you often wear your hair in a tight ponytail, buns, dreadlocks, hair extensions, weaves, or braids,” says Armani. “In time, the continuous pulling can damage hair follicles. If the damage due to pulling persists, it can cause permanent hair loss.” Switching over to less-damaging hairstyles and rotating hairstyles can go a long way toward reversing traction alopecia. “Hair transplantation is the most common medical treatment for chronic cases,” says Armani. It is better to catch it early and modify hairstyles to prevent the progression of traction alopecia.

Cicatricial alopecia . This is a “scarring” type of alopecia. It involves inflammation that destroys hair follicles. The destroyed follicles get replaced by scar tissue, resulting in permanent hair loss in the area. Sometimes the condition brings on symptoms like itching, pain, and a sensation of heat. 

It isn’t clear exactly why people get cicatricial alopecia. But dermatologist Dina D. Strachan, MD, says the condition is “associated with a history of tight hairstyles, especially in African-American women, [and] is usually diagnosed with history, examination, and biopsy of the affected area.”

There’s a chance that oral, topical, or injected medicines could help you regrow hair if you take them early on in the course of the disease, before permanent damage happens, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Hair transplant surgery or an operation to reduce bald spots are other options, the institute says.