It’s probably safe to assume that a lot of people were not familiar with the word "alopecia" before the Oscar awards show Sunday night.

Now a household word after actor Will Smith walked on stage and slapped comedian Chris Rock on live TV for making a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and her hair loss.

So we're taking a moment to update our May 2021 story that explores alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss.

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Dr. Alyssa Daniel

In this article, Dr. Alyssa Daniel of Novant Health Dermatology – SouthPark is a hair-loss specialist who answers common questions about hair loss. Some 90% of her patients she treats for alopecia and other forms of hair loss are women.

What’s the root cause of hair loss?

“We always want to treat the underlying cause,” she said. “If a patient comes in for hair loss and tells me she’s stressed, I want to find out the source of her stress. I’ll ask about her diet and how much protein she’s getting. A complete nutrition history may be important to getting at the cause.”

There could be an inflammatory component to hair loss, which might point to to the autoimmune condition, alopecia. The exact cause of alopecia is not known. Hair loss can also be triggered by certain medications. It could be hormonal; it can happen during pregnancy or postpartum.

Lastly, it could also be related to aging. Hair loss is genetic in women, as well as men.

Aging? So, this is inevitable?

It may not be a noticeable loss, but yes. “Hair doesn’t grow as quickly as we age,” Daniel said. “It may not appear as lustrous as it once did. It’s normal for hair to get a little dryer as we age.”

Could hair loss be related to COVID-19?

COVID is causing some people to lose their hair. It can be both a side effect of having a virus and a response to stress. Just living through a pandemic is enough of a stressor for temporary hair loss, Daniel said. The medical condition for temporary stress-induced hair loss is telogen effluvium. It’s a form of alopecia.

Should I take a supplement, such as biotin?

Biotin is one of the most common hair-growth supplements out there. Daniel said many of her patients have tried or are considering it.

Biotin can be helpful, she said. But it can also disrupt thyroid labs and lead to inaccurate interpretations of lab results – and incorrect diagnoses and treatment.

“Some supplements can do a lot of good for people,” Daniel said. “But there’s so much out there. It can be hard to navigate. I tell patients: a supplement is a medication, to a certain extent.”

Daniel’s advice? “Let a medical professional walk you through if the ingredients in a supplement are right for you.” And when your provider asks you what medications you’re taking, be sure to include supplements in the list.

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How else can I encourage hair growth?

Daniel often recommends Nutrafol, a supplement that improves hair growth. But check with your doctor before taking it. Also on her list: gentle haircare products, shampooing every other day, using less heat and styling it less often.

She often discussed integrative care, including some treatments borrowed from Eastern medicine, with patients. Massaging the scalp for a few minutes every day promotes circulation and therefore hair growth.

Peppermint helps stimulate circulation, too. So, essential oils or shampoo with peppermint may help. But you can be allergic to peppermint, too, so check with your healthcare provider before using it.

Is there a way to prevent hair loss?

A good diet, sleep, stress management, exercise – all these are good for overall health, and that includes hair and skin.