This post was originally published on Defender Network

By ReShonda Tate

For years, Kim Roxie has been helping women enhance their beauty. The Houston native has garnered national acclaim as a makeup artist with her company Lamik Beauty. But throughout her successful career, she was harboring a secret: she didn’t always feel beautiful because alopecia had robbed her of her crown.

“As a young girl, I had beautiful naturally curly hair and I hated my hair because I grew up during a time where straight hair was in. And so I did everything to get those waves out my head – perms, weaves and I discovered I’d put so much tension on my scalp and edges. I just abused my hair,” Roxie said.

The 38-year-old mother was diagnosed with alopecia, a degenerative disease that causes hair loss, in early 20s.

“I was shedding and finding bald spots in certain areas. I went to a dermatologist that didn’t look like me, and he didn’t help,” she said. “I tried castor oil, growth serums, all different kind of things, and nothing helped. Then I went to a Black female dermatologist, and she confirmed that I had two different kinds of alopecia.”

Roxie recommends a good support system for anyone dealing with hair loss.

“I’m in a hair loss support group. We get on zoom and we talk about our hair loss, and I can be so transparent.”

A common problem

Like Roxie, many women of color experience alopecia. About a third of women will suffer some form of hair loss in their lives, according to Harvard Medical School. And a peer-reviewed study published in 2018 found that Black and Hispanic women in the U.S. have a “significantly greater” chance of developing alopecia areata in their lifetime than white women.

Jada shines a light

The recent fiasco at the Oscars has shined a light on the debilitating disease that, each year, affects so many women. Actor Will Smith has had a front row seat to his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith’s, battle with alopecia since 2018. Pinkett Smith has been vocal about the diagnosis, embracing the challenges of the condition and publicly displaying evidence of hair loss with confidence and candor.

She even released a video on Instagram to talk about a new patch of baldness caused by alopecia. The video, which has over 2 million views, shows a smiling Pinkett Smith acknowledging the discovery.

“Look at this line right here,” Pinkett Smith, 50, said as she pointed to her scalp. “Now this is going to be a little bit more difficult for me to hide, so I thought I’d just share it so y’all not asking any questions — but you know, mama’s going to put some rhinestones in there, and I’m going to make me a little crown.”

Pinkett Smith is among the notable women of color who have broken their silence about hair loss, including Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., who revealed she had alopecia in 2020. The Massachusetts Democrat said she felt compelled to go public to free herself of the shame of her condition and provide true transparency to all the people empowered by her hair style.

“I felt naked, exposed, vulnerable. I felt embarrassed. I felt ashamed. I felt betrayed,” Pressley said. “And then I also felt that I was participating in a cultural betrayal because of all the little girls who write me letters, come up to me, take selfies with me. Hashtag twist nation.”

Hair matters

When Roxie watched the Oscars, her heart went out to Pinkett Smith.

“I felt her hurt. When somebody does that and they’re making fun of you, you’re thinking, it’s a autoimmune disease. It’s nothing that you can control. The joke was just a very low blow, and I didn’t appreciate it. Sometimes people like to belittle alopecia, thinking, ‘oh, it’s just hair.’ They don’t realize that your hair is an extension of you,” said Roxie, who posted her own bald photo after the Oscars, a move she said felt liberating. 

“It was healthy to shave my head so I could accept me. Anybody around me had to accept me. You think, just shave your head, no big deal. But people look at you funny. Thankfully, everybody around me accepted me for me. And that made me feel better. So when I put a wig back on, I still feel good about myself.”

Is it alopecia or normal shedding?

It’s normal to lose about 50 to 100 hairs a day, but for most people, new hair is growing in at the same time to replace it, according to Memorial Hermann in Houston.

“Hair is in a constant recycling, with growth, resting and shedding,” said Dr. Christopher Levert with Memorial Hermann Medical Group.

Dr. Jennifer Ukwu, from Memorial Hermann Medical Group in Pearland said many people struggle emotionally with this identity change.

“Seventy million people have it, it pops up in the 20s to 30s. What’s most commonly discussed is tension or traction alopecia, which occurs with tight hairstyles over time, and that one’s a little more treatable. Alopecia areata is actually an autoimmune form. There’s no cure,” Dr. Ukwu said.

Ukwu said diet, topical creams or steroids can help slow the progression for some people. However, Webb said embracing it has been the best medicine yet.

In addition to eating a well-rounded diet with adequate protein, experts suggests that people experiencing alopecia get a diagnosis from a board-certified dermatologist who can perform a biopsy. For Black women, it’s important that they seek a doctor specialized in African American hair loss, because not everyone has equal expertise, she said.

ALOPECIA 101

What is alopecia?

Alopecia is a broad term that refers to any form of hair loss.

What are the types of alopecia?

Traction alopecia – Caused by tension on the hair from tight hairstyles and extensions.

Central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA) – A form of scarring alopecia that occurs on the scalp and causes permanent hair loss. CCCA almost exclusively arises among Black women between ages 30 and 55, and research suggests it may afflict as many as 15% of such women.

Autoimmune alopecia – Caused when the immune system starts attacking their hair follicles

Alopecia areata – The most common form of hair loss.

How is it diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose alopecia areata by taking a biopsy of the scalp and then sending it to pathologists who study the skin cells under a microscope to determine what may be causing the hair loss.

People with alopecia areata are more likely than those who don’t have the condition to develop related conditions, too, such as thyroid disease, diabetes, allergies and asthma.

What causes alopecia?

It’s unclear what causes alopecia areata, but doctors beleive it can have a genetic component. If a parent has alopecia areata, for instance, their child has a one to 10 percent chance of developing it too. Alopecia areata can also be triggered by stressful events and by nutritional deficiencies, such as iron deficiency.