The heated incident between Will Smith and Chris Rock during the recent Academy Awards awards showed that women’s hair loss is not something to joke about, especially for those close to the condition. After comedian Rock made a tasteless comment about Smith’s wife Jada Pinket Smith’s shaved head, she had an immediate reaction, appearing to be visibly upset and saddened. Unbeknownst to Rock, Pinkett Smith has had an ongoing struggle with alopecia and hair loss for years and his comment touched on an extremely sensitive topic.  

According to the Mayo Clinic, alopecia is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects hair follicles, resulting in patches of hair loss. Diving deeper into the syndrome, certified dermatologist and Nioxin brand spokesperson Dr. Mona Gohara explains, “There are many different forms of alopecia. Some are related to genetics and age, others are autoimmune, some stem from blood abnormalities such as thyroid, hormonal, or vitamin imbalance. Other times hair loss can come from styling practices or stress. There are a broad range of reasons that someone may note thinning, broken, or falling out hair.”

For Pinkett Smith, 50, this condition developed later in life and caught her completely off guard. In 2018, she opened up on her show Red Table Talk saying “I was in the shower one day, and then just handfuls of hair just in my hands, and I was just like, ‘Oh my God, am I going bald?’ It was one of those times in my life where I was literally shaking with fear.” She went on to say that the experience was “terrifying when it first started.” Over time, she decided to shave her head completely and has rocked her new look beautifully. She’s also continued to bring awareness to the condition and even shared a video on Instagram in December 2021, lovingly rubbing her head and declaring, “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends … period!” 

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Her candid nature about her experience is important because it affects so many of us. Renowned actress Viola Davis has also opened up about being affected by the condition, starting in her late 20s. In fact, some reports say up to 45% of Black and Latinx women face some sort of hair loss, which can be distressing since their hair is already so scrutinized. 

Psychologist Dr. Sabrina Romanoff says, “Unwarranted hair loss is so devastating because of the value our society places on hair health and its association to beauty, status, and overall physical health. For many people, hair is the essence of what makes them feel attractive, but it’s actually much more than that, because a lot of people who experience hair loss talk about how their identity is encapsulated in their hair, and when they begin to lose it, their sense of self feels unstable.”

As for remedies to treat hair loss, unfortunately there is no known cure; however some treatments have proven to be effective. Minoxidil, which can be obtained over the counter without a prescription, is the recommended standard for hair regrowth. In addition to topical formulas, there are also a range of other treatment options including hair implants, prescribed medicines, cortisone scalp injections, red light therapy and PRP treatments. Although there are a variety of options, each individual case is different and results are not guaranteed.