Alopecia universalis, also known as AU, is a complication of alopecia areata, a disease that causes circular bald patches to appear. Alopecia universalis is more severe and leads to a total loss of hair on both the scalp and the body. The mechanism of alopecia universalis is poorly understood but it seems to be an autoimmune disease in which the hair follicles are attacked by mistake and killed by the body's immune system. The trigger might be a combination of genetic issues and external factors. AU can't be treated at the moment but in some cases the hair is restored after a while.
Alopecia universalis is a complete loss of hair, from the entire body. This makes it the most severe form of alopecia areata, with extreme health consequences and serious social problems.
Researchers have been so far unable to identify the exact cause of alopecia areata (AA) and alopecia universalis. A number of genes that have an effect on immunity appear to be involved but there are probably several genetic and environmental factors. It seems that inheriting a genetic vulnerability to the condition is not enough to trigger it and the disease only starts after some unknown external factors. Studies have failed to discover these factors and to understand their exact role so far. Scientists suspect that major shocks, severe emotional or physical stress, hormonal issues or strong viral infection might be among the triggers of the disease.
People who develop AU are usually healthy. However, studies have revealed that individuals with AU have an increased risk to also suffer from the skin disease vitiligo, which leads to the skin losing its color, or thyroid problems. Some vitiligo patients will eventually also suffer from alopecia universalis. The condition is rarely present from birth and most people initially have normal hair. Genetic research has identified a mutation in the HR gene in chromosome band 8p21.2, the same that makes mice have no hair. This gene is transmitted as an autosomal recessive trait in the family.
An interesting question is if the genetic mutation is only present in people who suffer from alopecia universalis. Studies have not given a definitive answer but this seems to be the case. All the data available at the moment suggests that only individuals with AU have the mutation and are the only ones who can transmit it.
Losing all of the body hair leaves some areas extremely vulnerable and can have severe health consequences. People with AU must be very careful to shield their skin from the harmful action of the sun, bacteria and other external factors. The most sensitive areas are the nose, eyes and scalp.
The National Alopecia Areata Foundation has evidence of the disease also affecting the nails on both fingers and toes. Nails can just have minor holes on their surface or their whole shape can be deformed.
For unknown reasons, alopecia universalis is in most cases a permanent condition but recovery is also possible after a short period of time. Even people who have lost all of their hair for several years can regain it suddenly. No research has been so far able to predict if and when a regrowth will occur.
Most conventional medical treatments for alopecia universalis are ineffective and have very bad side effects. For this reason, many people give up on them and try natural cures that offer an alternative. The most common are herb treatments, special diets or aromatherapy.
One interesting approach is the use of a plant named the round leaved primula. Since the disease is caused by a mistaken immune response that makes the body attack its own cells, the use of the plant tries to take advantage of it. Primula obconica causes a strong allergic reaction and skin rash. This can force the immune system to deal with this problem, which appears to be more urgent, and stop killing its own hair follicles.
To test this mechanism, a leaf of primula obconica was first tied to the arm for a few days and then rubbed on the scalp, repeating the process after a few days. In some cases, it has been reported that the hair started to grow back after about one month. Using steroid injections seems to improve the efficiency of this cure.
Another possible solution for alopecia universalis is to massage the scalp with natural essential oils such as tea tree, lavender, lemon or sandalwood oil. Be careful however to mix them first with a carrier oil such as olive oil or almond oil before application. Elma 11 Hair and Scalp Revitalizer is another very effective natural solution, especially early in the disease.