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Alopecia (young people)

Alternative and complementary therapies, supplements and home remedies for alopecia

Some people we talked to had used alternative and complementary therapies or hoped to try them in the future. While it is not scientifically proven that these treatments are effective for alopecia, some people found them helpful. Alternative therapies can be used alongside conventional medicine (such as topical steroids and steroid injections for alopecia areata) or on their own. Annie X started trying things like homeopathy at the same time that she was using topical steroids. Often, alternative therapies were seen as the ‘next step’ after trying conventional medical approaches without much success. Rochelle didn’t feel that doctors took an interest in helping her and, after being told to stop using a prescribed steroid cream without a follow-up dermatology appointment, thought to herself “you’re just going to have to figure something out”. Elizabeth says she’s fed up of trying steroid creams and is keen to try a free trial of a machine at a local hairdressers which uses electric impulses to try to “stimulate growth”. Some people liked the idea of more ‘natural’ alopecia treatments and contrasted them to conventional treatments. However, Rochelle was shocked to learn that some products claiming to be ‘natural’ and ‘herbal’ actually contain steroids.
 

Arti’s read online about home remedies for alopecia, but would like to try the conventional medical options first.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 22
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Have you ever been offered any treatments that you’ve turned down for any reasons?

The only thing which I’ve turned down-, I suppose I wasn’t directly offered them but like, are sort of home remedies. I’d rather try the medical stuff first and if I sort of don’t get a success with that then I might turn to home remedies but yeah, my mum found out quite a lot of home remedies for me [laugh]. And told me about all the stuff with ginger and rubbing things on your head. And I’d probably be up for trying it if nothing else worked but at the moment like I would rather just stick to, you know, hopefully well-researched medical knowledge. So yeah, yeah, so I’ve not directly turned things down but that’s something which I’m not willing to try at the moment. 
Some alternative therapies require going to see a practitioner. Annie X has seen practitioners for health kinesiology, homeopathy and hypnotherapy. She also goes for a regular procedure where an alternative therapy practitioner “holds a hand-held laser over the area and you can’t feel it and you can’t see any obvious difference, but what it does is sort of warm the follicles and it encourages them to grow”. She likes that the appointments with alternative therapy practitioners often include a chance to talk about her feelings about having alopecia.
 

Ben saw a trichologist (hair specialist) who gave him a treatment to use alternately with his steroid cream. He describes how he used these.

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Age at interview: 18
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 14
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You kinda just rub it on there and it’s exactly what the dermatologist prescribed to me as well with a steroid cream but, you know, the trichologist couldn’t give me steroids but it was just a steroid cream I put on like every- every morning and every night for about two weeks and then you stopped doing it cos-. And then you’d do the, the, the blood flow ointment. You kinda swap. I did that for a couple of months and you shouldn’t really do it too much cos the steroid cream can be quite nasty to your head.
 
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Annie X says health kinesiology is the “weirdest” alternative therapy she’s tried, but that “it does help a lot”.

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Age at interview: 15
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 11
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Health kinesiology is really weird. So basically, I go into the room and I lie on a bed and I have to put my arm up and it’s all about reflexes. So it’s like, ‘yes’ [moves arm], ‘no’ [moves arm], and then she asks me a series of questions and it’s all about energy balances and releasing emotion. And she like waves bottles over my, over me and tuning forks and all sorts of stuff. But, it has – out of all the treatments – worked the best just because we saw an actual improvement after three years of not really seeing anything. We’ve seen an actual improvement of my hair growing back and then not falling out again, touch wood. So that’s probably been the one, although it’s the weirdest one, it’s helped the most. 

How often do you go to see the health kinesiologist?

Yeah. I go to see her, I used to go see her every four or five months. But recently, she’s felt like she doesn't need to do as much work. But she can also treat me remotely, which is really weird. But it’s all about energy so she can do it remotely. But it’s kind of like she says, “If your body says you need to come visit me, come visit me”. So, it’s weird. But there is like this thing that sometimes crops up in my mind, like this thought that just repeats itself that’s like, ‘you need to go see her’. So then, my mum does make an appointment straight away and we go see her. But yeah, she just, she says it’s all about releasing trapped emotions, which makes sense, because I build, have been building up emotion which they thought triggered it falling out. It still kind of feels like she’s some kind of like a witch type thing. But it does help a lot. 
 
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Annie X describes her experiences of homeopathy.

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Age at interview: 15
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 11
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Homeopathy, I went to one woman and that didn't really help that much. And then I went to, and then [name] has helped and just given me drops which is quite easy, because I haven't got to take like six pills. I can just drop it in some water and drink it. And I think that does help. I don’t think I would feel comfortable not getting rid of, not taking it just because when I was little I had really, really bad eczema like all over my body. And when I went to a homeopath, that just, that just cleared up completely. So I think it does help.

What was it like when you first went to the homeopath?

It was really hard, because I didn't really know what was happening. She was asking me all these questions like, “How do you feel? How do you feel? Do you know anything that could have triggered it?” And I just didn't, so she was trying to get it out of me and sometimes it felt like the sessions weren’t really helping, because she was just giving me the same stuff over and over again. But then, when I went to [name], he sort of knew exactly what, because he treats other people with alopecia. So he sort of knew exactly what I needed and then if I said, “Oh, my scalp is feeling sore,” or, “Oh, my eczema is playing up again”. He’d just put something slightly different in the drops and it would sort itself out within a couple of days. So, yeah, homeopathy definitely helps.
Other types of alternative remedies people had tried, including vitamin tablets and herbal drinks, were bought from shops or online. Some of the tablets were for general health, such as fish oil tablets and multivitamins. Others were aimed specifically at hair growth. Elizabeth remembers taking seaweed-extract tablets that her nan bought. Becky tried different brands of hair, nail and skin supplements. Grace, Rochelle and Annie X all felt that paying more attention to nutrition and getting a ‘healthy’ diet might help their hair regrow. Some people said drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated was important too. Imogen thinks aloe vera products help, including drinks and topical gels (applied to the skin/hair).

Lots of oils and herbal creams were mentioned as things which could be rubbed into the skin/hair to try and increase hair regrowth. Examples include: coconut oil, castor oil, almond oil, shea butter, soya oil and jojoba oil. Emily had heard of using cedar wood oil or tea tree oil. She thinks the idea behind it is to causes “a mild allergic reaction which then your immune system stops attacking your hair for a little bit and starts attacking that [skin irritation]”. Krista had heard of rubbing onion juice on bald patches. Sometimes people made home remedies by mixing together ingredients. Becky remembers making hair masks out of ingredients like eggs, milk, honey and oats which she used to put on for two hours several times a week.
 

Michael remembers a time when he was recommended an oil treatment.

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Age at interview: 19
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 13
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I was recommended a product from India, by a woman in the Post Office, which was strange. Yeah, near my old school. We just ended up having a discussion about alopecia, and her daughter had it, so. And what cured it for her, or seemingly, was this oil. So she sent me the information, and I got it as well. But I didn't stick to using that really, because it smelled funny, mainly. And then coconut oil I just bought from the shop, and that made the- it helped my head be smoother, and my skin, it improved that. But, but it didn't really help with the alopecia.

Can you remember roughly how much they would have cost each treatment?

They were both quite cheap, in comparison to other remedies online. I think the oil from India was probably £5, but it took a while to get here. And then the coconut oil was just like £3 in the shop. 
 
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Rochelle adds in products specifically for hair growth/regrowth to her normal haircare and styling routine.

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 14
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So in a day I would use a moisturiser, so a moisturiser would be an oil whether that's, so at the moment that’s an almond oil and then I would use a sealant. So a sealant is something to keep the oil texture in with the hair so that’s shea butter which is, it’s a-, oh what can I call it? It’s a cream that turns into oil when you really rub it in. So that’s what I would use at the moment and I’d put that through my hair and I’d canerow it and then put my wig on. If I had sewn in weaves then I would try and put the oil through the tracks, through the tracks, each through the tracks and then I’d make sure that with the Groganics where my alopecia is, I need to rub that in especially. And then I would do my hair, once a month I would wash it and then weave it again straight after which is bad so I’ve stopped doing that. So I’d just, see now cos I’m in transition so I’m thinking I might need to wash my hair every two weeks again and then, instead of once a month, but we’ll just see how that works out. 
Some people had tried special shampoos. There are medicated shampoos containing steroids available, but the people we talked to had tried shampoos bought from shops or online rather than prescribed by a doctor. These shampoos were advertised as being for hair gain or to give volume. Most people said shampoos did not make any difference to their hair regrowth. Kayla used a shampoo for hair gain but found it made her hair silky which meant it was more difficult to hide the patches with her remaining hair. Laurel bought a caffeine shampoo which she had heard worked well, but “it didn’t do anything” for her. A few people said they preferred using shampoos with fewer chemicals (such as fragrances and colours) and Annie X used mineral water to rinse her hair.
 
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Elizabeth talks about a shampoo, conditioner and leave-in foam she used.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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I tried Nioxin which is a certain type of shampoo and conditioner and then this foam stuff you put in your hair and wash that out as well and it’s supposed to stimulate growth. It didn’t work for me but then it has worked for others. It got recommended to me by a friends who’s a hairdresser.

So when would you have tried that shampoo and foam treatment?

A year and a half ago now I think, so quite a while ago. And it tingled at the time but it didn’t actually help in any way.

I stopped using the shampoo cos it didn’t work for me. It was something that GP’s were only starting to kind of prescribe for people but I didn’t get it on prescription so I’m not using any treatments at the moment cos, yeah, like I said I’ve kind of given up with-.
Information about alternative therapies often came from looking online. For most of the people we talked to, it had been family members who first started researching alternative therapies. Kayla says her aunt looked into options for her to try as she found it upsetting to research herself. A few people had been given advice from strangers about alternative therapies for alopecia. Sometimes they were happy to get the advice. Rochelle enjoys going to hair shops so she can talk to the shop owners and customers about what they recommend. She says, “It’s a great experience going there,” as she gets suggestions on what to try as well as a chance to look at and smell the products. Others found it frustrating to get unwanted advice and pressure to try different things.

Decisions about whether or not to try an alternative therapy can be difficult. Annie X is open to trying lots of different alternative therapies. She says it “seems silly not to try homeopathy and health kinesiology and hypnosis, because they can’t harm you physically”. However, some people did have negative experiences of alternative treatments or found there were off-putting aspects (such as a fear of needles with acupuncture). Rochelle had one shop-bought cream which “burnt” when she used it. Elizabeth says the seaweed-extract supplements she tried tasted “vile”. Michael stopped using some oils because he didn’t like the smell. The cost of trying lots of different alternative therapies and home remedies could add up. Annie X says she’s lucky that her parents pay for alternative therapies.
 

Emily finds other people often make suggestions about treatments to try. She sometimes gives low-risk remedies a go to show she’s “doing something”, even though she doesn’t think they will work.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 19
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I think for me it was I felt like I should try things to try to stop it progressing as far as it possibly would. But I also think other people, a lot of people who were trying to be helpful but ended up sending me like newspaper articles and stuff about treatments that I should do, now it’s like I’ve looked at this treatment and I know that it exists. I’ve looked at the risks and I’ve said no. And they’re like, “Oh you should really try this, you should really try this thing.” And I thought I’m not, like I’m not going to try chemical treatments for other people’s sake but if it will make them feel better then I’ll try natural things. And at least I can say well I tried this, it didn’t work. Nothing’s going to work. Done. ‘Cos it’s a lot easier to kind of stop people talking about it if you can say that you’ve tried it and just end it there instead of people going, “Oh you should try this, and you should try this.” And you know they have your best interests at heart, but it’s not stuff that you’re not aware of, because I’ve done so much research into it and I’m very aware of all the treatments that are possible and available.
There were mixed views on whether alternative therapies helped manage alopecia. Some who had tried alternative therapies or approaches didn’t see a difference in their hair regrowth, but others said they were pleased with the outcome. Emily thinks it’s important to be aware that what works for one person’s alopecia, might not work for another.
 
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Rochelle says it’s “trial-and-error” finding what works for her hair regrowth. She keeps track of things she’s tried before and those she plans to use in the future.

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 14
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I’ve tried a two week rule since I was 14. I’ve tried a two week rule of trying all these different things and as well since Youtube has blown up, you see a lot, you just, I write, I’ve written down a chart of all these oils that I could use and just tick them off as I go along cos it doesn’t work. Right now coconut oil, coconut oil never worked on me two years ago so I don’t know why I went back to it, I just wanted to try something else and now I know it’s just not going to work. So that’s what I do just write down a list of all the things I could use and all of the things I’ve heard of and all of the things I’ve researched and had a look at what they contain, and then I would see that okay maybe I can use this or maybe I could use that. And stuff that a lot of people have used for alopecia already or just general hair loss, then I would use that as well. But anything like a lot of people I know use like Head and Shoulders I haven’t tried that but a lot of people say it’s good so I might.

Okay.

So yeh.

So do you keep like a record of stuff that you’ve tried before?

Before, I know them in my head but I need to start keeping a record of all the things that I’ve tried because it’s important because I actually need to start ticking them off like Dr. Miracle or KaraCare, hell no. And so it’s just like Groganics and organic greases, that’s all I use now like soya oil, jojoba oils, anything organic I’ve started to use as well. 
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