Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes fatigue, joint pain, joint stiffness, and a butterfly-shaped rash on the face. In addition, some people with lupus experience hair loss.
Losing your hair can be distressing, but there are ways to deal with this condition. Here’s what you need to know about lupus hair loss.
Not everyone with lupus experiences hair loss. But many people living with this condition notice gradual thinning or breakage along their hairline. Sometimes the hair grows back, and sometimes it doesn’t.
There are different reasons for this hair loss.
There are two types of hair loss involved in lupus according to research: scarring and non-scarring. Non-scarring hair loss is the result of inflammation.
Inflammation — which is a hallmark symptom of lupus — is often widespread. When it develops around the scalp and hair follicles, hair loss can occur.
It’s important to note that inflammation caused by lupus doesn’t only affect hair on the scalp. It can also cause loss of eyebrows, beards, and eyelashes.
Hair loss due to inflammation may be reversible, but only if you’re able to successfully treat lupus and the disease goes into remission.
Sometimes, lupus causes discoid sores or lesions. These lesions — which can form anywhere on the body — can cause permanent scarring. Lesions that form and leave scars on the scalp often damage hair follicles, resulting in permanent hair loss.
Hair loss can also be a side effect of the medications used to treat lupus.
You may also receive a prescription for an immunosuppressant. These drugs work by suppressing your immune system and helping you achieve remission.
Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) is a type of autoimmune disease that affects the skin, including the scalp and hair, and may leave permanent scars.
Lupus doesn’t always affect the hair. But when it does, there’s an increase in the number of shed hairs.
It’s normal to shed up to 100 hairs each day, says the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). However, people with lupus can lose more than this amount depending on the severity of the illness. If you have lupus, hair loss may be evident when washing or brushing your hair.
Some people may only have breakage around their hairline or minor thinning, whereas others may lose clumps of hair. Hair loss can be widespread, or limited to a section of the head.
One study examined non-scarring hair loss in four women with systemic lupus erythematosus and found variations in the degree of hair loss. The women lost between 55 percent and 100 percent of their hair. A larger scale study is needed in order to more accurately find trends.
Speak with your doctor if you experience any type of hair loss or hair thinning. Sometimes, hair loss is one of the first symptoms of lupus.
Lupus hair loss may be reversible, if you don’t have discoid lesions. Hair loss will only reverse itself, however, if you’re able to control the disease.
In addition to a corticosteroid and an immunosuppressant to manage symptoms, your doctor may prescribe an antimalarial drug to reduce lupus flares.
You may also receive biologics, which are intravenous drugs that can help relieve lupus symptoms. Follow your doctor’s instructions and take your medication as directed.
It can take weeks or months for lupus to go into remission. In the meantime, here are tips to help you cope with hair loss:
- Avoid sun exposure. The sun can trigger lupus flares and discoid lesions. Protect your skin and head when outdoors. Wear a hat and apply sunscreen.
- Change your medication. If you believe that your medication is contributing to hair loss, talk to your doctor and discuss alternative drugs, or perhaps reducing your dosage.
- Eat a healthy diet. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables may also slow hair loss. Also, ask your doctor about vitamins and supplements that can help strengthen your hair and reduce hair loss. Vitamins for hair growth include biotin, vitamin C, vitamin D, iron, and zinc.
- Limit stress. Certain factors can trigger a lupus flare and worsen hair loss. Stress is a known lupus trigger. To help reduce stress, try exercise and meditation. These 10 ways to relieve stress can also help.
- Get plenty of rest. Sleep between eight and nine hours a night
Understand that lupus hair loss isn’t always preventable. Even so, implementing a few hair care practices may help reduce how much hair you lose.
- Sleep on a satin pillowcase to protect your hair from breakage.
- Keep your strands moisturized. Dry, brittle hair can break off, resulting in thinning or weak strands. Try these home remedies for dry hair.
- Avoid harsh hair care treatments — such as coloring and heat — until you’re able to get the disease under control. You should also limit frequent brushing and tight rollers.
Until hair loss stops or reverses itself, experiment with wigs, or cut your hair into a shorter style. If you have permanent hair loss from scarring, talk to your doctor about your options.
Avoid using over-the-counter hair growth products (such as Rogaine) without your doctor’s approval. These medications are used to treat a different type of hair loss.
The outlook for lupus hair loss depends on the underlying cause. When hair loss is the result of inflammation or medication, there’s a chance that your hair will grow back once your condition improves.
On the other hand, when lesions form on your scalp and damage your hair follicles, hair loss may be permanent.
If you have any questions about lupus or hair loss, seek medical help. Your doctor can provide advice on how to reverse hair loss, as well as information on how to restore healthy hair through supplementation, a change in medication, or cosmetic procedures.