Jada Pinkett Smith's struggle with hair loss: What is alopecia areata?

·Lifestyle & Features Editor
·5 min read
Jada Pinkett Smith has been vocal about her struggle with alopecia areata. (Image via Getty Images)
Jada Pinkett Smith has been vocal about her struggle with alopecia areata. (Image via Getty Images)

The 94th Academy Awards took an unexpected turn after Will Smith confronted comedian Chris Rock for making an insensitive joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.

On Sunday night, Rock was on-hand to present the award for Best Documentary Feature but opted to utilize his time on stage to make a few jokes about the evening's festivities. The 57-year-old comedian had the crowd laughing until he focused his attention on Pinkett Smith's shaved head.

"Jada, I love you— 'G.I. Jane 2', can't wait to see it," Rock said, referencing the 1997 film starring Demi Moore that required the actress to shave her head.

Pinkett Smith, who has been vocal about her struggle with hair loss, looked visibly upset by the jab. The result was Smith taking to the stage to engage in a physical confrontation with the comedian for his off-base comment about the actress's appearance.

While fans are dividied on Smith's violent act — there's no doubt that fans of Pinkett Smith familiar with the star's struggle with alopecia know just how thoughtless and hurtful Rock's comment was.

Jada Pinkett smith hair loss
Will Smith and wife Jada Pinkett Smith hours before the actor's altercation with comedian Chris Rock. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

What is alopecia?

Alopecia is a blanket term for an autoimmune disorder that attacks the body's hair follicles and results in hair loss either in patches (alopecia areata), all over the scalp (alopecia totalis) or hair loss over the entire body (alopecia universalis).

Pinkett reportedly suffers from alopecia areata, which is estimated to impact 2 per cent of the population at some point in their lifetime.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), alopecia areata rarely destroys the hair follicles it attacks, meaning there is potential for regrowth.

Pinkett Smith first revealed her struggle with hair loss in 2018 during an episode of her Facebook Watch series, "Red Table Talk."

Pinkett Smith first revealed her struggle with hair loss in 2018. (Image via Reuters)
Pinkett Smith first revealed her struggle with hair loss in 2018. (Image via Reuters)

“It was terrifying when it first started,” Pinkett Smith admitted. "I was in the shower one day and had just handfuls of hair in my hands and I was just like, ‘Oh, my God, am I going bald?’ It was one of those times in my life where I was literally shaking in fear. That's why I cut my hair, and why I continue to cut it."

The "Girls Trip" actress said that taking care of her hair had been a "big part" of her life and she struggled with the lack of control over her sudden hair loss.

"Taking care of my hair has been a beautiful ritual, you know?" she continued. "And having the choice to have hair or not, and then one day to be like, ‘Oh, my God, I might not have the choice.’”

In Dec. 2021, the star once again shared her candid thoughts on living with hair loss. In a video to Instagram, Pinkett Smith said she was determined to become "friends" with alopecia and did her best to make light of the condition.

"Now, at this point, I can only laugh,” Pinkett Smith said. “Y’all know I’ve been struggling with alopecia and just all of a sudden one day, look at this line right here. Look at that. So it just showed up like that and this is going to be a little bit more difficult for me to hide. So I thought I’d just share it so y’all are not asking any questions.”

What are the signs and symptoms of alopecia areata?

The most common symptom of alopecia aerate is hair loss that begin usually in small, coin-sized patches on the scalp.

Most alopecia aerate is considered sudden and can vary in severity by person. Some people have been said to experience itching or burning on the scalp or impacted area prior to hair loss.

Who gets alopecia areata?

Although most cases of alopecia areata occur before the age of 30, the condition can impact anyone at anyone at anytime regardless of gender.

Pinkett Smith shaved her head following significant hair loss due to alopecia areata. (REUTERS/Phil McCarten)
Pinkett Smith shaved her head following significant hair loss due to alopecia areata. (REUTERS/Phil McCarten)

According to the AAD, approximately 10 to 20 per cent of people with alopecia areata have a family member who also suffers from the condition.

People who live with thyroid disease, vitiligo, Down syndrome, asthma or hay fever are also more likely to get alopecia aerate.

While women are reportedly more likely to experience alopecia areata, race may also play a factor. A 2018 Nurse's Health Study found there was an increased risk of alopecia areata in Black and Hispanic women.

How is alopecia areata treated?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for alopecia areata. However, there are a number of treatments and therapies that can help stimulate hair growth— depending on your level of hair loss.

Anti-inflammatory steroid injections, known as corticosteroids, administered every four to eight weeks by a dermatologist into the impacted areas of the scalp is one form of treatment for alopecia areata. Another alternative, although considered less effective by the AAD, is topical corticosteroids that is applied once or twice daily to bald patches at home.

Minoxidil, better known by the brand name Romaine, can also help stimulate hair growth when applied to to three times a day.

There are other natural therapies, such as acupuncture and following a non-inflammatory diet, that have been said to help aid hair regrowth.

Since alopecia areata can be particularly stressful, there are a number of ways people suffering can help conceal their hair loss.

Many people opt for wigs or hair pieces to help mask their hair loss, while others, like Pinkett Smith, opt to wear turbans or shave their head completely.

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