What is alopecia? Local doctor explains the disease after the Oscar night slap

After Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars, a hair loss disease called alopecia has been making headlines. A Maryland doctor explains what alopecia is and who it affects.

Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, whose head is shaved, has spoken publicly about her alopecia diagnosis. Smith slapped Rock after he made a joke about her appearance during Sunday night’s award show.

“It’s quite common in the United States,” said Dr. Zaineb Makhzoumi, director of Clinical Services in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

He said the disease typically comes on suddenly.

“The most probably common type of alopecia that we see is alopecia areata, which is a common autoimmune disorder that results in unpredictable patches of hair loss,” Makhzoumi said.

The national foundation for the disease said it affects about 6.8 million people in the U.S. Makhzoumi added it can affect all hair, including the head, eyebrows and eyelashes.

“It really can be a traumatic disease. Because your hair is something people see immediately,” Makhzoumi said.

She says it comes on suddenly mostly in people in their 20s and 30s.

“It really is one of those diseases that we as dermatologists see take quite a large emotional toll on people,” she said.

Treatments include steroid injections and topical and oral treatments. Makhzoumi said they also refer patients to places that offer specialized wigs.

She hopes that the disease being talked about more recently because of current events helps not only those who have alopecia but also those with other skin and hair conditions, as well.

“What we really hope that people realize not just about alopecia areata, but about acne, skin cancer, about a lot of these disfiguring conditions, is that they are, while maybe not life-threatening … they can be very traumatic and very difficult emotionally for patients to deal with,” Makhzoumi said.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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