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Reviewed by Jill Johnson, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
From genetics to bad habits, there are a variety of reasons women lose hair. One reason that’s often not talked about is lupus.
A number of people with lupus report that they lose even more hair than normal. Some people also experience breakage around the hairline, leading to a sparse appearance. There’s no one way that this type of hair loss looks — you may notice patchy hair loss or other types of hair loss patterns.
Since knowledge is power, read on to learn a bit more about what lupus is — along with how you can treat hair loss caused by this disease.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease. There are actually different types of lupus. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common. With this, the immune system attacks the tissue in your body, causing inflammation.
Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) is a skin condition that causes sores and scarring — particularly on the face and scalp.
Lupus is a disease that primarily affects women — specifically females between the ages of 15 and 45. However, it can affect men or women outside of that age range.
Lupus seems to be even more common among women who are African American, Hispanic, Native American and Asian.
Symptoms of lupus include:
Swelling in the joints
Rashes (most frequently in the face)
To diagnose lupus, a healthcare professional will likely take a medical history, perform an exam, do some blood tests and possibly take a skin biopsy and/or a kidney biopsy.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for lupus and it requires lifelong management.
It’s important to note that not everyone with lupus experiences patchy hair loss, or any type of hair loss. That said, many people living with lupus do notice hair loss — specifically, thinning hair or hair breakage around their hairline.
So, what gives? As we mentioned before, discoid lupus erythematosus can cause rashes—especially on the face and scalp. These rashes can lead to hair loss. This is considered scarring alopecia.
Additionally, medications sometimes prescribed to treat symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus (like steroids and immunosuppressants) can also have side effects of hair loss. This type of hair loss is considered non-scarring alopecia.
It’s normal for people to lose between 50 and 100 hairs per day. With regrowth, you may never even notice this hair shedding. But, with lupus, you may lose significantly more than this and your body is unable to regrow hair fast enough to make up for it.
One study looked at non-scarring alopecia in four women with systemic lupus erythematosus. These four women lost between 55 and 100 percent of their hair.
This is a very small study and a much larger one would need to be done to solidify conclusions—but it is interesting to note the wide range of hair loss experienced in women with systemic lupus erythematosus.
If lupus causes rashes that leave behind scarring, your hair may not grow back. However, treating your skin issues can help prevent further hair loss.
The best way to do this is to avoid things that cause your lupus to flare up. For example, you should be careful in the sun. See, lupus can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Even a little bit of time in those UV rays can cause your lupus to act up.
To protect your skin, always wear a sunscreen that offers broad spectrum protection and has a SPF of 30 or above.
Watching your stress levels is also wise. Emotional stress can cause your lupus to get worse. So keeping stress at bay is a must.
If you’re on steroids or other medication to treat your lupus, you may also want to ask a healthcare professional if they could be causing your hair loss. If they are, you can always ask if there are other options that won’t affect your strands.
From there, you may want to consider treatments that can boost the health of the hair you do have. Such as:
Minoxidil: Topical minoxidil (also known under the brand name Rogaine®) comes in a 2% solution or 5% foam. When applied, it encourages your blood vessels to open so that more nutrients and oxygen can get to the hair. Plus, it stretches out the growth phase for hair, so more hair follicles are created to replace lost hair.
Hair loss shampoo and conditioner: Dry, brittle hair is prone to breakage. And since lupus can lead to hair breakage to begin with, you definitely don’t want any additional issues.
Thankfully, there are options specifically formulated to boost moisture in your tresses. Try to use a hair loss conditioner after every time you use a hair loss shampoo to prevent fragile hair.
Biotin: One study suggests that taking biotin produces faster hair growth in people who have thinning hair. You can get your biotin fix through your diet: It’s found in eggs, milk and bananas. Or, you can take a supplement. Hers has a biotin gummy that also contains vitamin D, which, when low, can increase hair shedding.
Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that can cause inflammation and joint pain, as well as rashes. There are actually two types of lupus: systemic lupus erythematosus and discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE).
DLE is most associated with causing skin rashes (also called discoid lesions) that are particularly common on the face and scalp and can lead to scarring in those areas. People with lupus also notice broken hairs around their hairline.
This scarring can lead to permanent hair loss in people with lupus. In addition to this, medications often used to manage symptoms of SLE can lead to non-scarring alopecia.
To keep your hair in tip-top shape, you’ll want to limit lupus flare ups. Some of the ways to do this are to limit stress and protect yourself from the sun.
If you’re dealing with non-scarring hair loss, you may also want to speak with a healthcare professional about whether your medications are causing you to shed more hair.
Hair loss from lupus can be frustrating. But you’ll feel much better if you grab the bull by the horns and are proactive in trying to do something about it.
If you’re unsure where to start, consider making a virtual appointment to speak with a healthcare professional.
Dr. Jill Johnson is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner and board-certified in Aesthetic Medicine. She has clinical and leadership experience in emergency services, Family Practice, and Aesthetics.
Jill graduated with honors from Frontier Nursing University School of Midwifery and Family Practice, where she received a Master of Science in Nursing with a specialty in Family Nursing. She completed her doctoral degree at Case Western Reserve University.
Jill is a national speaker on various topics involving critical care, emergency and air medical topics. She has authored and reviewed for numerous publications. You can find Jill on Linkedin for more information.
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