If you haven’t found the right treatment for your alopecia areata yet, it may be right around the corner.
There’s no cure for alopecia areata, but even with this condition, your hair follicles are still alive. This means your hair can grow back again, even if you’ve had more than 50% hair loss and if you’ve had it a long time.
Different People, Different Results
Alopecia areata treatments block your immune system from attacking and stimulate hair growth.
They may include:
- Oral medication
- Phototherapy or light treatments
- Topical treatments
Everyone’s experience with alopecia areata is unique. How effective a treatment is may depend on which type of alopecia areata you have, your age, and how much hair loss you have.
There’s no single treatment that works for everyone. Some work for some people, but not for others. Even if a treatment works for you, it’s possible your hair may fall out again later. So it’s best to keep trying until you find a treatment that works for you.
Treatment for Mild Alopecia Areata
If your alopecia areata is mild, your doctor may recommend a topical treatment or injection. If you’ve tried some of these but they haven’t worked, talk to your doctor about trying another.
This is the most common treatment for alopecia areata. Your doctor uses a tiny needle to inject corticosteroids into bare patches of your skin.
Your dermatologist will give you injections every 4-6 weeks. You may start to see hair regrowth within 4 weeks. But they don’t prevent new hair loss.
Side effects are minimal but may include tiny depressions in your skin that get better over time. When you get the injections, you may feel a pinching from the needle and some tingling from the medication.
This is a topical treatment that reduces inflammation around your hair follicles. It comes in many different types, strengths, and brands. You can try a cream, foam, lotion, ointment, or solution. If one doesn’t work, ask your doctor about trying another.
Topical corticosteroids may be effective at growing about 25% of your hair back. You can also combine them with other medications.
This is a topical solution you apply one to two times a day. It’s a solution with 5% minoxidil to help hair grow back. You use it on areas like your scalp, eyebrows, and face.
It’s easy to apply and doesn’t have many side effects. If your hair grows back, you can stop treatment.
Minoxidil comes in two different solutions: 2% and 5%. Neither works well for alopecia areata if you use it as your only treatment, especially if you have a lot of hair loss. Your doctor may recommend combining it with a topical corticosteroid medication for better results.
Anthralin ointment or cream
This is a topical treatment you apply to hairless patches once a day, then wash off after 30-60 minutes. It’s a tar-like substance that’s a common treatment for psoriasis.
Anthralin may grow new hair within 8-12 weeks.
It may irritate your skin or lead to discoloration. If you have these side effects, your doctor may recommend using it for a short time.
Treatment for Severe Alopecia Areata
If you have more extensive alopecia areata and you haven’t found a treatment that works, your doctor may recommend one of these stronger treatments.
Your doctor may prescribe pills for hair regrowth. They’re not for everyone, though. If you take these pills over time, you may have health risks and side effects. They’re not recommended for kids or people who don’t tolerate them well. Oral corticosteroids are best for healthy, young adults. Your doctor can help you decide if they’re a good option for you.
This is a chemical treatment you apply to your scalp. It causes an allergic reaction that changes your immune response to help regrow hair.
You may see results after 6 months of treatment. It works for about 40% of people.
The downside is that side effects are common. You may get itching, redness, and a rash where your doctor applies it. You have to keep using the treatment to keep getting results.
These are newer drugs that block your immune response. They’re taken as pills and include Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors like ruxolitinib (Jakafi) and tofacitinib (Xeljanz). They’re also called immunomodulators.
Immunomodulators are being tested for how well they work for alopecia areata. They were first introduced to treat blood disorders and rheumatoid arthritis. Many clinical trials are now studying them.
A new drug, Olumiant (baricitinib), was recently approved by the FDA. It’s a JAK inhibitor that blocks the activity of enzymes to prevent inflammation. Clinical trials suggest it may be helpful for adults with severe alopecia. It’s the first treatment approved by the FDA for alopecia areata.
New, Emerging Treatments
If you tried other treatments and aren’t happy with the results, there’s still hope. Experts are studying a variety of newer treatments for severe alopecia areata, and early results look promising.
Clinical trials. Talk to your doctor about joining a clinical trial. If it’s right for you, you may have early access to newer treatments that are being studied now.
Platelet-rich plasma injections (PRP). This is another emerging treatment that involves drawing a small amount of blood, separating the platelet-rich plasma and growth factors in a special device, and then injecting them into your scalp. After 6 months of monthly injections, some people see results. It’s still new, but it seems to regrow hair in some people.
You have many options for treating alopecia areata. Keep looking if you haven’t found the right one yet.
Photo Credit: Jon Feingersh Photography Inc / Getty Images
American Academy of Dermatology Association: “Hair Loss Types: Alopecia Areata Overview.”
FDA: “FDA Approves First Systemic Treatment for Alopecia Areata.”
National Alopecia Areata Foundation: “Treatments for Alopecia Areata,” “What You Need to Know About Alopecia Areata.”
National Institutes of Health: “Alopecia Areata: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Steps to Take.”
Yale Medicine: “Alopecia Areata.”