Hair Loss Terms Explained: Alopecia areata, alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis

Forms of Alopecia Areata

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease which causes hair loss from any part of the body. The three terms alopecia areata, alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis frequently cause confusion.  Individuals with extensive alopecia areata often wonder if they have alopecia totalis and some individuals with alopecia totalis often wonder if they really have alopecia universalis. Accurate definitions of these terms are given below: 

Alopecia areata. Alopecia areata refers to a specific autoimmune condition where there is partial hair loss on the scalp. If an individual has some scalp hair remaining, the term alopecia areata can be used. For example, if an individual has lost 60 % of his or her scalp hair, and has lost 100 % of the eyebrow and eyelash hairs, the appropriate term is still alopecia areata. About 1.7 % of the population is affected by alopecia areata.

Alopecia totalis. An individual has alopecia totalis when all of the scalp hair has been lost, but there is still body hair in other areas.  An individual with no scalp hair, and no eyebrow hair but who still retains some body hair has alopecia totalis. About 5-10 % of patients with alopecia areata will develop alopecia totalis.

Alopecia universalis. A patient is said to have alopecia universalis when all hair on the scalp and body are lost. Less than 1 % of patients with alopecia areata will develop alopecia universalis.




Dr. Jeff Donovan is a Canadian and US board certified dermatologist specializing exclusively in hair loss. To schedule a consultation, please call the Whistler office at 604.283.1887

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