How Oscars opened a conversation on alopecia

Meghan O’Halloran

Will Smith and Chris Rock’s Oscars altercation has sparkedthe long overdue conversation on alopecia.

The 94th Academy Awards was held on the 27th of March in Los Angeles. The stand out event of the night occurred after comedian and actor Chris Rock who was presenting an award made a joke directed at Will Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith. Smith stormed the stage and slapped Rock following the joke. While the events of the night were incredibly controversial it has opened the conversation about alopecia. 

According to the HSE alopecia is the general medical term for hair loss. While the average person will lose 50-100 hairs a day, it is often not noticeable or anything to be concerned about. However, there are times that hair loss can be a sign of a medical condition. Hair loss can be both temporary or permanent. Temporary hair loss usually will grow back once a person has recovered from an illness, causes such as stress or an iron deficiency can trigger this temporary hair loss. For permanent hair loss a person’s GP may suggest treatments however no treatment on the market is known to be 100% effective. Steroid injections and creams are often used on the affected area. Immunotherapy and light treatments are also used. For immunotherapy a chemical is applied directly to the to the bald patches. Light treatment involves shining an ultraviolet light on bald patches. 

At the age of 25, Arklow local Steven began to develop alopecia. He gradually started to lose his hair.  Steven was first made aware that he was beginning to lose his hair when his mother noticed a small patch on the back of his head,which subsequently began to spread. He began treatment getting courtazone injections into the patch however, this did not have an effect.

“The patches got bigger, my hair started to fall out bit by bit. At this point I shaved it off, which was a big decision. It started with my head and then it moved to my eyelashes and eyebrows and for a time I just had no hair at all,” Steven said. 

Prior to developing alopecia, Steven didn’t know what the condition was. After his doctor diagnosed him he began his research. Steven’s doctor then referred him to start treatment for the condition after many appointments and specialists. He had ultraviolet light treatment and courtazone injections. These treatments unfortunately did not work for him.

“I just kind of got on with it then. My hair did come back for a while, years later probably for about four or five years, then it went again so it’s kind of re-occurring,” he said. 

“I was about 24 or 25 when I got alopecia. There would have been a lot of comments made initially people at the start thinking I was sick with cancer and then they found out what it was. I would have got an odd comment here or there but I have thick skin I just ignored it and got on with it and tried not to let it affect me.”

Alopecia is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the bodies immune system mistakenly attacks the body. The immune systems primary task is to attack foreign cells such as bacteria and virus however in cases of autoimmune disease the body attacks its own cells. According to the Chicago Chronic illness attorneys, traumatic events can trigger autoimmune diseases. 

“I had a very bad car accident in 2001 with my Dad, we were on our way home from work and I dosed off behind the wheel of the jeep. The accident was very serious and it was a big shock to my body at the time with the impact of the vehicle hitting a tree stump and then obviously the fright that I got seeing my Dad very badly injured I think it was a big part to play with it. I lost my hair probably a year later,” he said. 

Alopecia Ireland, a voluntary organization, was established with the aim of provide a safe space for people in Ireland to avail of following their alopecia diagnosis. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic the group’s events were held in person usually in hotels across the country. 

Speaking with Alopecia Irelands PRO, Paddy Pender, she said that as lockdowns were enforced these meetings moved online to Zoom. She explained that many people were more comfortable on Zoom as they could keep their cameras turned off. Paddy explained that going forward the aim is to have meetings both online and in person. She noted the importance however of in person meetings in public places such as hotels which she emphasised allows people to become more familiar with the condition in their communities. 

“We would feel more supported I would have it 11 years, when I got it first it was very much an unknown in my circle of friends,” Paddy said. 

“Because I am very public a lot of people around where I am are quite comfortable around the condition and don’t bat an eyelid, that’s my experience but I’m not sure if around the country are hiding from the real world with their condition if they’ve had the same experience,” she said. 

Alopecia Ireland’s support groups can be joined through the organizations private Facebook group or by joining the groups mailing list on their website. There is a group for both adults and children who have the condition.