Hair loss of the beard: What are the considerations?

Question

I have had beard alopecia areata/alopecia barbae since the age of 21, I am now 33. It began with one small bald patch under the chin and later in this period either simultaneously or after the bald batch grew back (which was within say the first couple of years) developed numerous very small bald patches throughout the entire beard (which on the cheeks appear slightly jagged) however are barely noticeable throughout. One bald patch larger than these very small patches developed on one cheek say 5 years ago and remains to this day. In summary, the condition has never dissipated however has remained static in its behaviour for a number of years to the present day.

My questions are as follows.

1. What is the likelihood of the condition progressing to other hair bearing areas? (I am aware of the study you quote at https://donovanmedical.com/hair-blog/beard-alopecia however this only followed up with patients after 12 months)

2. In the event that the condition did not progress to other hair bearing areas would hair transplantation surgery on the scalp (I have had male pattern hair loss since 2015/2016 and have been advised that it would be not until around age 35 when surgery could sensibly be considered - using FDA approved medications have only slowed down the condition rather than halted, or to any extent, caused its reverse) increase the risk of the condition (alopecia barbae) progressing to other hair bearing areas, especially the scalp?

Answer

The key here is …. what exactly is your diagnosis? It may or may not be alopecia areata and without actually seeing your scalp and beard up close myself, it would be a mistake to assume that it is. There are many mimickers of alopecia areata that need to be ruled out here - especially autoimmune cicatricial alopecia. If the areas are relatively unchanged for an extended period of time, the chances this is alopecia areata goes down.

Of course alopecia areata is on the list (and quite high up on the list of possibilities), but true classic alopecia areata of the beard does not stay unchanged over an extended period of time. You might consider seeing a dermatologist for expert review. A full review of your history and review of your hair loss pattern via dermoscopy is needed. A biopsy might be needed as well.

As far as chances of progression to other areas, it really depends on the precise diagnosis. If the disease has an immune basis, there is most certainly a chance of progression to the scalp. Hair transplantation of the scalp could be associated with an increased risk of the disease developing in the scalp - but it depends entirely on the precise diagnosis. For patients with isolated beard alopecia, my feeling is that there is about a 65-70 % risk over 10 years of alopecia areata being identified in the scalp. This too may be only one patch or may be more severe- but the presence of beard AA sets the stage for scalp AA to develop. Having a transplant is a small risk but only a small one. 2 % of the world will develop alopecia areata and so one generally expects 2 % of hair transplant patients to develop alopecia areata in their lifetimes. In 60-70 % of patients who do develop alopecia areata of the scalp in the years following their hair transplant regrowth happens quite readily with conventional treatments. Some do, however, have a more refractory course.

If the cause of the beard alopecia is actually a variant of immune based primary scarring alopecia (i.e. lichen planopilaris, folliculitis decalvans, lupus) or secondary scarring alopecias (sarcoid, scarring folliculitis etc), a hair transplant carries the risk of actually triggering scarring alopecia on the scalp. The concerns about proceeding with hair transplantation become magnified if the diagnosis actually turns out to be scarring alopecia.

All in all, alopecia areata is still at the top of the list here in the question that has been posed - but there are features of the story that are a bit unusual. You should be absolutely certain before moving on that this is alopecia areata and not something else. There is a risk over the next 10 years of alopecia areata developing on the scalp but in a majority of cases conventional treatments can help maintain the density. It largely comes down to understanding the risks and benefits (so called risk benefit ratio) …. and making an educated decision together with one’s dermatologist and surgeon. Making sure one has as much information as possible before moving forward with surgery is key.




Share This
-->