Alopecia Areata is never a smooth ride, but for those living with total or near total hair loss to the whole body (called Alopecia Areata Universalis) the condition can have extra hurdles. The loss of brows and lashes can be a blow to self-image and greatly effect self-esteem and confidence. Fortunately, there are many guides out there for how to manage these appearance issues with through makeup. But body hair has a range of functions beyond appearance, and many alopecians find themselves surprised and unprepared for the ways universalis can affect them.
Never fear, my friends. Love, Alopecia has got your back. Drawing on many years of experience managing the weird, wonderful and oft overlooked side effects of all over hairlessness, we’ve created this super convenient list to help you, whether you’re new to the AU experience or an experienced veteran.
*Featured image titled ‘Sue’, from Daniel Regan’s The Alopecia Project. View the collection here.
Hair on the Head
What’s it for?: So why do humans have so much more hair on their head than the rest of their body anyway? There are a lot of theories on the subject, but the most popular is heat regulation. You’ve probably heard the fact that humans loose most of their body heat through their heads. That’s not entirely true , but we do feel very sensitive to changes in temperature our heads and faces, hands, and feet. This is likely due to the concentration of nerves in these areas and the fact that they’re further away from the bulk of the body.
So hair on the head doesn’t do a lot to keep you warm, but surprisingly actually, it does a lot to keep you cool. Humans do a lot of their sweating via the head, because brains really don’t like overheating. Human hair takes part in this cooling system by being extremely absorbent which allows the person to sweat enough to keep their head cool on a hot day without constantly dripping. Fun fact: human hair is so absorbent it’s sometimes even used to help clean up oil spills .
The final function of head hair is probably some UV protection. Back in the days when humans spent a lot of time outside, the tops of our heads would get a lot of direct sunlight. Though a full head of hair won’t protect you from sunburn, it can slow down the effects.
If you’re going to get anywhere with AU, you’re going to need a beanie and a sunhat. Unless you live in the lovely warm north, in which case I recommend two sunhats. A full wide brim will give the best protection.
Sunscreen is also a must. Australia is the skin cancer world capital and just take my word for it that a sunburnt scalp is not fun. I find the best sunscreens for my head are ones designed for the face or under makeup, as these tend to be a bit lighter and don’t feel gluggy or oily. SPF 50+. You know how this works.
On hot days or when exercising there are a few things you can do to combat the sweat-tacular experience of lacking that wonderfully wicking head of hair. For wig wearers, I highly recommend keeping a packet of tissues on your person at all times. Some wigs can be worn while exercising but if you find it uncomfortable or overly warm, consider opting to for a hat or scarf or going au natural (if you’re inside). Scarves made from cotton or natural fibres like bamboo will breathe the best. I’m also a big supporter of sweatbands for AU gym junkies. It’s a bit 80’s, but it does stop you from dripping all over the yoga mat. You can find them in the tennis section of most sporting stores.
What are they for?: Eyebrows primarily function is to aid communication so I’m not going to write much on them. Lashes however are a different story. The help shade your sun from your eyes, they keep sweat out of your eyes, and they help defend against particulates and dust. They also help your eyes stay moist by directing air currents away from your eyeball.
Universalis Guide: If you, like me, happen to have glasses as well as universalis, you are in luck my friend. Universalis can do a real number on the eyes, and the extra protection from a pair of specs can be a huge help. But no need to worry, my 20/20 visioned friends, there are other things that can help to.
Sunglasses are a good idea to reduce damage from glare, while looking snazzy at the same time. Eye drops and eye gels can also help to moisten dry eyes and shift grit or particulates which can cause damage to the surface of the eye. Always best to talk to your optometrist first about what kind of drops might work best for you.
When applying makeup, the lash-less should always take extra care. The particles and dust from powder makeup (like eyeshadow, pressed powder foundation or setting powders) can easily get into the eyes when you don’t have lashes. Even liquid makeup like foundation or eyeliner can get into the eyes without lashes as a barrier, even long after applying if the makeup shifts with sweating. Once again, eye drops can help rinse the eyes of these particulates, but discuss with your optometrist.
What’s it for?: Nose hair has got to be ranked Number 1 on list of things you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone. Much like eyelashes, its function is pretty much to keep out the things that should be out and keep in the things that should be in. Wait, things should be in my nose?
Yep, the reason we have a nose at all is to warm and moisten air before it gets to our lungs. The moistening part is done by a mucous membranes, and if you don’t have nose hairs to help keep that mucus where it’s meant to be, it’s, well, not so pretty. Your first head cold as member of the universalis family is very memorable. Bring tissues.
All jokes aside, lacking nose hair puts people with universalis at greater risk of sinus infections, allergic rhinitis, colds and other airborn infections, and hay fever. There are some things you can do to help.
Sterile saline nasal sprays can be used regularly to help prevent particulates and allergens being inhaled. These are usually un-medicated (sterile saline being clean salt water) and can be used as much times as needed, which is particularly useful during pollen season or when you have a cold.
Medicated nasal sprays can help to alleviate severely runny noses, but use with caution. Many of these have very strict dosage limits, shouldn’t be used with certain other medications and can dry out the nose uncomfortably.
You may also find that your nose also feels very dry and may even bleed during hot months or after spending long periods of time in dry air conditioning. The saline nasal sprays may provide some relief, as will a humidifier. There are also nasal gels which can help, but again, try to find un-medicated ones if you can.
What’s it for?: Can you guess what ear hair does? That’s right! It does try to keep particulates and dust out of your ears! You’re good at this.
Universalis guide: Don’t use Q-tips! This goes for anyone, not just our AU family. Don’t stick things in your ears.
Ear wax exists for the same reason as ear hair – it keeps things out of your ear that shouldn’t be there. And it’s usually self-maintaining. Using Q-tips actually pushes wax further into your ear and can do some real damage to your hearing. If you feel like your ears are blocked or stuffy, go see your doctor. They can most likely help with ear drops or by syringing the wax.
Aren’t human bodies just super fun and not at all gross?
Arm pit hair:
What’s it for?: Like head hair, the function of having hair in arm pits is still being fairly hotly debated. Like head hair though, most people think the major purpose is to wick sweat and aid in ventilation.
Universalis Guide: I lost the hair on my head over a decade before I started losing it on my body, and let me tell you, the day my armpit hair finally abandoned ship was a celebration. Literally. I bought champagne.
However, as with so many parts of the universalis experience it wasn’t quite as simple as expected. As armpit hair is mainly for sweat wicking, you might find yourself needing more deodorant than usual. Popping a backup into your purse or workbag can be a good idea, and I especially recommend it in summer. Some people find that long acting stick or soft solid antiperspirants can help, but you may also find that the skin in your armpit is more sensitive than usual, especially if you’re also prone to eczema, and these long acting products can dry your skin. Look at buying sensitive or hypoallergenic versions and go for soap free body washes.
There you have it, my dear friends. While this isn’t a comprehensive guide by any means, we hope that it will cover some of the basics of flow on effects of AU that may not have come up in your dermatologist visits. If you have any great advice that we’ve missed in this column, or things you’d like to see us write about in the future, let us know in the comments.