Alopecia areata is a case study of the complexity of hair loss. It is a disease that develops when the body attacks its own hair follicles (from which hair grows), which can cause hair loss anywhere on the body. Obstructing this process can be a daunting challenge, but the evidence has helped find effective interventions. One of these procedures is to apply an anthralin cream.
Anthralin is a synthetic tar-like substance that is widely used for psoriasis – a skin disease that causes itchy, red, scaly patches.
It is also a common form of treatment for alopecia areata.
According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF), anthralin is applied to the hairless patches once a day, then washed off usually after a short time (usually 30 to 60 minutes later) or in some cases after several hours. .
“If new hair growth as a result of anthralin application occurs, it is usually visible within eight to 12 weeks,” says the NAAF.
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What the research says
In one study published in the journal JAMA Dermatology, anthralin cream has been used to treat 68 patients with severe alopecia.
The treatment was relatively well tolerated, although all patients experienced local pruritus and erythema and scaling.
Pruritus or itching is defined as an unpleasant feeling of the skin that causes the urge to scratch and erythema is a skin reaction.
For patients treated with anthralin, the average time to see results was 11 weeks.
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“Compared to other topical treatments currently available, anthralin appears to be a reasonable treatment option for severe alopecia areata,” the researchers concluded.
According to NAAF, anthralin can irritate the skin and cause temporary brownish discoloration of the treated skin.
“However, some patients can reduce these side effects by using anthralin for shorter periods without reducing the effectiveness of the treatment,” notes the health organization.
There are other things you can try if your hair loss is causing you distress.
Some of the above treatments may not be available on the NHS.
“If your hair loss is causing you distress, your GP may be able to help you get advice,” advises the NHS.
You may also benefit from joining a support group or talking to other people in the same situation on online forums.
You can find a support group near you on the Alopecia UK website.