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Frontal Hairine Loss in a 48 Year old Black Female

Question.

I'm a black female 48 years old with what I believe is CCCA. I started loosing my hairline in 2014, however in an 18 month period I lost my entire hairline. For the last 14 months I've been treating my scalp with natural oils/home remedies. The hair loss have stopped. I think my condition could be inactive. If the e disease is in fact inactive, without any medical treatment, can my hair grow back on its own or will I need a hair transplant?

Answer


Thanks for the great question. As a physician who sees a lot of women with CCCA, your brief story shouts out to me one main message: this may or may not be CCCA that you have and if it is CCCA, one or more other hair loss conditions might be present too.

Let me begin. Central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA) usually starts in the middle of the scalp or in the crown. CCCA does not usually start in the front like you described. However several conditions can affect the frontal hairline just like you described including traction alopecia, cicatricial marginal alopecia and frontal fibrosing alopecia. What’s a bit unexpected from your story is the complete loss of the hairline that you described. That certainly favours a diagnosis of frontal fibrosing alopecia over traction alopecia but of course I would need to see your scalp myself to answer that. An entity called cicatricial marginal alopecia is also on the list.

Your story is not a typical story of CCCA although of course you could have CCCA back in the mid-scalp too. Many black women with hair loss in the frontal hairline also have some degree of CCCA too.

What you really need now is a diagnosis. An expert dermatologist who treats a lot of patients with hair loss might be able to make the diagnosis without a biopsy but if you are thinking of hair transplants down the road a biopsy is going to be helpful to secure the diagnosis and also determine for you (and your doctors) just how active or inactive the disease truly is right now. My advice to anyone with a story like yours would be to consider a sample from the frontal hairline area and also from the crown. Remember that a biopsy always needs to have a hair in it so don’t biopsy any bare area as that is useless.

I’m suspicious about your diagnosis of CCCA but a few things about your story are more definite. First, it’s unlikely you’ll get spontaneous growth if you haven’t had growth since 2014. Depending on the exact and precise diagnosis, you still could get a bit of regrowth with treatment but likely only a bit. Second, you are probably not a candidate for surgery yet. Whether you become a candidate depends somewhat in the diagnosis but also on the activity level of your primary disease. I like to have patients take photos once they feel their disease is quiet... and if there is absolutely no change in hair loss after two years of photography then a hair transplant might be possible. If you feel your scalp has now become quiet, take a picture today and plan to compare that same picture in 2 years. If the two pictures look 100 % identical you might be a candidate for surgery. The longer answer as to whether you are a candidate for surgery actually depends on several factors.

In summary, your story suggests a diagnosis of frontal fibrosing alopecia or traction alopecia much more than it does CCCA. A biopsy could be extremely important for you and your treating physicians right now.



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Minoxidil Itching: What are the important considerations and actions?

Question:

Is it possible that patients using minoxidil get itching because of the minoxidil and that this itching in turn causes more hair loss. I have tried both foam as well as liquid form, but still get itching. Can you tell me a prescription for minoxidil compounded in glycerin, water and ethanol.

Do you have any suggestions?

Answer

Thanks for the excellent question. Itching is often experienced by users of minoxidil. An accurate diagnosis of the precise cause of the itching is important for anyone because there are actually many causes of itching in minoxidil users. The top three considerations for you and your physicians to sort out are 1) Is minoxidil worsening an underlying seborrheic dermatitis? 2) Am I allergic or irritated by minoxidil? 3) Do I actually have another itching diagnosis that has been missed?

1) Is minoxidil worsening an underlying seborrheic dermatitis?


We’ll begin by talking about seborrheic dermatitis. This is a common condition and minoxidil can make it worse for some users. For patients with itching associated with minoxidil use, one needs a full review by their physician. I often advise patients to shampoo daily and add a few anti-dandruff shampoos to their routines. Ketconazole shampoo on Monday, Zinc pyrithione shampoo Tuesday and selenium sulphide Wednesday and then repeat. These should be applied for 60 seconds each application. Often the itching improves dramatically with these shampoos.

2) Am I allergic or irritated by minoxidil?


If there is a concern about allergy, I advise patients to apply the minoxidil twice daily to the inner forearm for 1-2 weeks and observe if an irritation or true allergy develops. This is called a “repeat open application test” (ROAT). Photos should be take daily and shown to a physician. A dermatologist can guide if a true allergic contact dermatitis has developed. Some patients are allergic or highly irritated by the ingredients in the formulation (such as propylene glycol in the liquid form) but some a truly allergic to minoxidil. A dermatologist can perform a standard patch test if doubt still exists after the patient performs and analyzes the ROAT.

It irritation to propylene glycol is suspected, minoxidil can be made up (compounded) in 20 % glycerin, 20 % water and 60 % ethanol. The fact that the patient in this question is still itchy with the PG free “foam” formulation makes it less likely the glycerin compounded formulation is actually going to help. As an alternative 2 % minoxidil can be used as it often has less PG.

3) Do I actually have another itching diagnosis that has been missed?


In situations like this, one always needs to keep an open mind that another itching diagnosis is present too or instead. This is not a common scenario but one can imagine a patient with lichen planopilaris (LPP) who was misdiagnosed as having AGA. Minoxidil can make active LPP worse.

In summary, there are many reasons to be itchy from minoxidil. Only in more severe cases does it cause hair loss. A methodical approach often reveals the cause and best options to reduce itching. Readers may also be interested in my previous article

I’m Itchy from Minoxidil: What Should I do?

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Seborrheic Dermatitis vs Lichen Planopilaris: Which do I have?

QUESTION

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QUESTION:

My doctors can’t decide if I have seborrheic dermatitis or lichen planopilaris. My scalp does feel less itchy and becomes less red with anti dandruff shampoos. However, it also becomes less red and itchy with topical steroids. Overall my shedding has improved after 4 weeks of treatment. Does this information suggest one diagnosis over the other?


ANSWER:

Thanks for the great question. The short answer is that the information provided here does not actually suggest one diagnosis over another. You may have scarring alopecia and you may have seborrheic dermatitis. The key point I would like to make is that you may have both! Up to 50 % of patients with lichen planopilaris have seborrheic dermatitis too. A scalp biopsy can fully answer your question.

Let’s take a closer look at both of these conditions and we’ll see why some patients with lichen planopilaris will benefit from anti-dandruff shampoos and we’ll see why some patients with seborrheic dermatitis benefit from topical steroids (the same ones used to treat lichen planopilaris.)

SEBORRHEIC DERMATITIS
First, seborrheic dermatitis is closely related to dandruff. The exact cause is still being worked out but yeast such as Malassezia may have an important role. Patients with seborrheic dermatitis have many similar (and sometimes identical) symptoms to patients with lichen planopilaris. They have a red, itchy scalp! Seborrheic dermatitis however does not cause scarring for most people and usually only gives minor amounts of hair shedding. (Everything in medicine has exception and seborrheic dermatitis may cause scarring in some cases and may give excessive hair shedding when severe - see previous articles below).

DOES SEBORRHEIC DERMATITIS CAUSE SCARRING?

CAN SEBORRHEIC DERMATITIS TRIGGER SHEDDING?



Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammatory condition which means there is inflammation in the scalp. Although the standard first line treatment for seborrheic dermatitis is topical anti-dandruff shampoos, treatment with anti-inflammatory agents like topical steroids can help reduce the inflammation which in turn reduces redness and itching. Many patients with seborrheic dermatitis feels better with use of both antidandruff shampoos and topical steroids. In fact, studies have shown that adding topical steroids to a patient’s seborrheic dermatitis treatment plan can greatly help.

To come back to your question for a moment, we would expect seborrheic dermatitis to improve with dandruff shampoos and topical steroids. However, fact that your scalp did improve does not rule out a scarring alopecia as we’ll see next.

LICHEN PLANOPILARIS
Lichen planopilaris is a scarring alopecia that causes patients to experience itching and sometimes burning and tenderness in the scalp. The scalp is typically red. An important difference between lichen planopilaris and seborrheic dermatitis is that lichen planopilaris always associated with scarring. Biopsies of LPP show rings of scar tissue around hair follicles in early stages (called concentric perifollicular fibrosis) and deposits of large bits of scar tissue in the scalp in advanced stages.

Topical steroids are one of many agents used to treat LPP. They help reduce redness and scaling and help the patient feel better too with less itching, burning or pain.

Seborrheic Dermatitis in Patients with LPP: Is is More Common than We Realize?

Seborrheic dermatitis is present in a very large proportion of patients with LPP. In fact, a greater proportion of patients with LPP have seborrheic dermatitis compared to people in the general population. (About 5% of people in the general population have seborrheic dermatitis compared to nearly 50% of patients with LPP). On account of seborrheic dermatitis being so common in LPP, it makes sense that many people with LPP will feel better and gain some relief with use of antidandruff shampoos! The fact that a patient with LPP reports improvement with antidandruff shampoos does not rule out a scarring alopecia. It simply means they may have seborrheic dermatitis too!


Cleveland Clinic 2016 Study of Seborrheic Dermatitis in LPP

In 2016, Berfeld’s group at the Cleveland clinic studied the incidence of seborrheic dermatitis in patients with lichen planopilaris. This study is important to understand and relevant to the above discussion. It was one of the few studies to date which really documented the increased incidence of seborrheic dermatitis in patients with LPP.

The study I am referring to was a retrospective review of 246 patients seen over the period 2004-2015. Interestingly seborrheic dermatitis (SD) was present in 46.2 % of LPP cases. In 27.4 % of cases the SD was found outside the area affected by the LPP. On average the SD was diagnosed 7.8 months prior to the LPP diagnosis. Having SD seemed to delay an actual diagnosis of LPP. Patients with both SD and LPP diagnosis (LPP-SD) received their diagnosis with significantly more delay than patients with LPP who did not have SD (ie LPP). For example, patients with LPP-SD received their diagnose in 7.6 months on average comapred to 2.3 months for LPP alone.

Whether SD actually plays a role in the scarring process as well remains to be determined. It is interesting that there was a greater prevalence of late stage scarring alopecia in ptient with LPP-SD than LPP alone (41.5 % vs 15.7%). Patients with LPP-SD had greater rates of hyperandrogenism compared to patients with LPP alone.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

Thanks again for the great question. One can’t determine if you are more likely to have SD or LPP from the information provided. It would be entirely within the realm of expected for a patient with LPP to improve with topical antidandruff agents since many have seborrheic dermatitis present as well. Likewise, it would be expected that a patient with seborrheic dermatitis would improve with topical steroids because this is an inflammatory disease just like LPP.

A biopsy can help distinguish if lichen planopilaris is truly present or not.



Reference
Ratnaparkhi et al. Association of lichen planopilaris with seborrheic dermatitis l: A retrospective case-control study. Poster 3727. JAAD May 2016.


https://www.aad.org/eposters/view/Meeting.aspx?id=43&c=2

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