Autoimmune diseases are a family of more than 80 conditions that can impact health and hair in a variety of ways. They affect over 24 million Americans, and nearly 80% of these patients are women.
Keep reading to uncover which of these diseases are most often associated with hair loss, the connection between autoimmune diseases and hair loss and what you can do right now to help support thicker, fuller, healthier hair.
Alopecia areata (AA) is a hair loss condition caused by an underlying autoimmune disorder.
“Most commonly with alopecia areata, hair loss occurs in circular patches,” said Dr. Maryann Mikhail, board-certified dermatologist with Waverly DermSpa. “Rarely, it’s more extensive and can affect all the hair on the head (called alopecia totalis) or even all the hair on the body (called alopecia universalis)."
In fact, alopecia areata is a family of hair loss conditions that occur with varying degrees and different hair loss types:
- Diffuse alopecia areata: Unlike the patchy hair loss associated with general AA, this type presents as thinning hair over the entire scalp.
- Persistent patchy alopecia areata: Patchy hair loss that continues over time without developing into a more serious form of AA.
- Alopecia areata totalis: A form of alopecia areata where all the hair on the head is shed.
- Alopecia areata universalis: A form of alopecia areata where all hair on the body is shed.
Alopecia areata occurs when the immune system attacks your hair follicles. “Though the attack of the cell follicles does happen, it doesn’t typically destroy the follicles, implying that your hair can still regrow,” said Dr. Daniel Boyer, medical doctor and researcher with Farr Institute.
While this is good news for people with AA, it is important to note that although follicles aren’t typically destroyed, long-term or permanent hair loss is often seen with the more severe forms of alopecia areata.
Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune thyroid disease, which is why it’s also known as Hashimoto's thyroiditis. It causes hypothyroidism, which means the thyroid is underactive and impaired in its ability to produce hormones that are important for regulating the growth of hair shafts. The disease can impact hair growth cycles, too.
Because Hashimoto's can impact both hair shaft growth and cycles of growth, it can also contribute to a form of hair loss called telogen effluvium and/or slow regrowth, which could lead to an overall thinning of the scalp in the long term. While managing the condition with thyroid medications is a way to minimize the impacts to your hair caused by Hashimoto’s Disease, some of these medications can contribute to or cause hair loss.
As an autoimmune disease that can target different organs and systems in the body, lupus often leads to systemic inflammation, fatigue and, unfortunately, hair loss. And like alopecia areata and Hashimoto’s, lupus can also cause different forms of hair loss.
Damage to your hair’s growth can occur when antibodies attack the hair follicles, causing the hair to weaken, break and even fall out. Plus, like Hashimoto's, lupus can also cause telogen effluvium after a flare-up of the disease or a change of medications.
“A type of lupus called discoid lupus can cause hair to fall out and be replaced with scarring,” said Dr. Mikhail. Unfortunately, with scarring forms of alopecia, the follicles become so damaged that hair loss can be permanent.
Graves disease is another autoimmune disorder that impacts the thyroid. However, unlike Hashimoto’s, with Graves, the thyroid becomes overactive (hyperthyroidism).
In the same way that prolonged hypothyroidism can cause hair loss, so can the hyperthyroidism associated with Graves. The hair loss typically associated with Graves is an overall thinning across the scalp.
Psoriasis is another common autoimmune condition that affects the skin — and sometimes the scalp — of millions of people in America. With psoriasis, the immune system causes skin cells to turn over too quickly, which causes itchy, scaly and inflamed patches on the skin known as plaques. The American Academy of Dermatology Association estimates that about 50% of those who experience plaque psoriasis will have a flare-up on the scalp.
When these plaques happen on the scalp, they can lead to hair loss in the affected areas. Generally, scalp psoriasis is non-scarring, which means follicles aren’t permanently damaged, and hair can regrow. In severe cases, however, scalp psoriasis can cause scarring and permanent hair loss. Some people might also experience hair loss due to psoriasis medications.
Crohn’s Disease and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and celiac disease, are still not fully understood, nor is the connection between IBD and hair loss.
Regardless, research shows that the immune system is involved in the mediation of inflammatory bowel diseases, and this might be one way IBD can contribute to hair loss. Often, immunosuppressant medications are given to help manage IBDs, and these might also contribute to hair loss.
Also, people who are dealing with inflammatory bowel diseases often have trouble absorbing adequate vitamins and minerals, so dietary deficiencies might also cause hair loss. And then there’s stress. Stress and IBD are often joined at the hip, and stress can have some pretty major impacts on our follicles, too.
With rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints causing them to become stiff, painful and swollen. But RA might not solely target the joints and can cause a variety of other symptoms in the body, including hair loss.
In patients with RA, hair follicles are rarely targeted directly by the disease. (It's possible but typically doesn’t become chronic.)
RA is also seen with concurrent cases of alopecia areata.
And some RA treatments that are used to suppress the immune system, called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), might also cause hair loss.
See A Doctor
If you have an autoimmune disease and are experiencing hair loss, it’s important to have a clinical evaluation with a doctor to uncover what is causing the hair loss and receive treatment guidance. If you’re experiencing hair loss alongside an autoimmune disease, always consult with a doctor before adding new supplements, hair products or topical treatments to your routine.
Holistic Hair Wellness From the Inside and Out
Managing autoimmune disorders can be stressful and challenging. And simultaneously managing an autoimmune condition with hair loss can be downright overwhelming. The good news is that taking care of your general health is foundational to hair health. Here are some suggestions to help.
Eat a Healthy and Well-Balanced Diet
It probably comes as no surprise that a healthy diet filled with fresh foods, healthy proteins and fats is important for growth. Since inflammation is part of many autoimmune disorders, consider giving extra love to foods with anti-inflammatory benefits like tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, avocados and berries.
To help you get all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients you need, VEGAMOUR has carefully crafted supplements to support your hair wellness routine. Our all-vegan GRO Biotin Gummies contain a proprietary blend of vitamins and minerals to support the growth of beautiful strands by supporting your follicles from the inside out.
Or, support your gut and scalp microbiomes with our GRO WELL Hair Boost Supplement Powder + Probiotic, a delicious variety of adaptogen/probiotic drink mixes made from vital, vegan nutrients that are clinically proven to help promote visibly thicker, fuller, longer-looking hair.
Unfortunately, the psychological effects of hair loss might also heap even more stress on your system. But no matter what your source of stress is, active stress management is key to restoring healthy hair growth. Actions you can take are eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep, routinely engaging in stress-relieving activities like yoga and meditation or even taking a long walk in some green, outdoor space.
Destress: 9 Ways to Naturally Lower Cortisol
Add TLC to Your Hair Routine
Give your follicles some well-deserved TLC. Be gentle when combing or brushing, avoid heat styling when possible, and when choosing an updo, keep it loose with extra-soft scrunchies from our Organic Bamboo Hair Tie Set.
You can also use scalp-friendly shampoos and conditioners designed to nourish and support while leaving strands silky smooth. Our GRO Revitalizing Shampoo & Conditioner Kit does all that with the added benefits of wild-harvested marula oil, organic murumuru butter and ximenia oil to hydrate and fight damaging free radicals.
Autoimmune conditions are complex and can impact your health in many ways. Many autoimmune diseases are treatable conditions, which is, in fact, the best way to manage hair loss that might be caused by an autoimmune disease. Managing the underlying condition will, in turn, help protect your hair follicles and encourage new hair growth. Be sure to consult with your doctor before adding any new supplements or products to your routine.
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