Hair Loss Vocabulary: Do We Use Words Appropriately?

Do We Use Words Appropriately?

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The professional world that I live in (ie the “hair world”) loves words - all kinds of words.

Some of the words serve to make things a bit clearer. A “pustule” is a much better term than a little bump. Hair follicle “miniaturization” is a much better term than hair thinning. 
But words are not always effectively used. We seek to teach our junior doctors and students the importance of effective communication with patients. Yet, without realizing it, we continue to teach the value of miscommunication. For example, we train our physicians to use the term “erythema” instead of simply saying or writing the word “redness.” We train them to say “pruritus” instead of saying “itching.” Instead of saying “scarring” ...we often opt to use the word “cicatricial” instead. We inform our patients of options to administer “intralesional” steroids instead of simply calling them “steroid injections.” The list goes on and on.

Words must always keep the patient in mind.

It would appear that the term perifolliculitis capitis abscedens and suffodiens of Hoffman (yes, an actual disease!) to describe the scarring hair loss condition needs a bit of an overhaul. In case you didn’t know, the hair loss condition called lichen planopilaris has nothing to do with lichens.

When it comes to hair terminology, frankly we are all in a bit of a mess.

Some names are changing and not necessarily for the good of our patients nor our profession. Did you know that low level laser therapy is now known as photo biostimulation. Did you know that we no longer refer to “FUE” hair transplants by the name follicular unit extraction. It’s now called follicular unit excision. 

The dictionary of hair loss is filled with countless bizarre terms. Some terms are needed because there are simply no better terms to describe a given phenomenon. Not every term in hair medicine needs to be clear to patients and practitioners alike. But where possible, one must remember at the core of every phrase, term or word is a patient with hair loss. If we can make this alarming, confusing and perplexing world of hair loss a bit clearer by choosing our words to optimize communication.... why wouldn’t we?


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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