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.
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.
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 cause “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.
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.
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.
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.