What is our current understanding?
Facial papules are present in a significant proportion of patients with FFA. The papules appear as small yellowish colored bumps that may cause the patient’s face, forehead and chin to feel “rough.” For years, it’s been confusing as to what these papules really are. Early studies by Dr. Aline Donati et al showed that these papules contain inflamed vellus hair follicles. More recent studies, including those by Pedros and colleagues showed that biopsies of facial papules contained no inflammation … and no hairs!
The following diagram is a diagram that I use when teaching about the facial papules in FFA. It’s a schematic cartoon of the current hypothesis about what these hairs represent and why they disappear.
It appears that early in the course of the facial papules, inflammation is present in the vellus hairs. Over time, the hairs disappear and what is left is a dome shaped papule containing hypertrophic sebaceous (SG) glands.
Over time, some papules do flatten and some even disappear. This can take a long time. Studies by Pedros and colleagues have shown that use of oral isotretinoin can help reduce the appearance of these facial papules.
Pedros et al. Yellow facial papules associated with frontal fibrosing alopecia: A distinct histologic pattern and response to isotretinoin. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2017; 77:754-765.
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