Topical immunotherapy, also known as contact immunotherapy, was talked about by a few of the young people we interviewed as a treatment for alopecia areata. This treatment is when a chemical (such as diphencyprone/DPCP) is applied to the skin to irritate it and cause an allergic reaction in order to stimulate hair growth.
Rosie described the process as “a liquid that effectively got painted onto my scalp.” Hannah says it works by trying to “divert” the focus of the immune system away from the hair follicles. Rosie says topical immunotherapy worked well and her hair regrew but later fell out with the stress of exams. Rosie had to see her dermatologist every 10 days for the treatment. Over time, the strength of the chemical DPCP was increased which gave Rosie an itchy, “raised, rashy effect for a few days.”
Lots of people had been offered topical immunotherapy but didn’t want to develop dermatitis (eczema) on the areas being treated. Grace says her skin is sensitive and Emma has had eczema since childhood, so both worried it would be too uncomfortable for them. Beth and Grace decided against topical immunotherapy as they thought it would be too irritating to wear a wig after the treatments.
Michael didn’t have topical immunotherapy because he would have had to travel back to his family home from university to go to his dermatologist weekly for treatments, which would have been “quite a commitment”. Hannah turned down topical immunotherapy as she heard the success rates were about the same or lower than steroid injections.
Meghan hopes to have topical immunotherapy soon, but thinks she probably won’t be able to go swimming or dye the rest of her hair during treatment.