At Alopecia UK, we work hard to keep up to date on all the latest research into alopecia including research into not only treatments and causes but also the impact alopecia can have on wellbeing. What is very apparent is that most research focuses on the experiences of women. This is not something that is unique to alopecia, in fact in most areas of research men are under-represented. Two years ago, we were successful in securing funding to investigate the impact of alopecia on men. In collaboration with the Centre for Appearance Research we sent out a survey which looked at men with any type of alopecia and then interviews were conducted with men with alopecia areata (AA). We focused on AA in the interview study because in this type of research it is better to focus on the same condition. Currently most people we have contact with have AA (including AU and AT) so we decided that was the place to start to help us understand how we can develop the support we offer. In the future we hope to see this type of research with men with different types.

Why did we look at the impact of AA in men?

As we mentioned, it is an area which hasn’t been well investigated. We wanted to know more about the challenges men can experience so that we can make sure we are delivering support that meets men’s needs.

What did the research involve?

Fabio and Nick (Research Fellows at the Centre of Appearance Research) interviewed 18 men with alopecia areata. These interviews were then analysed to look at what was common about the experiences of AA across the 18 men. After analysing the data from interviews, four main themes were found which represented the experiences of the men interviewed.

What did the research tell us about the impact of AA on men?

We will be publishing the results of this study and will share the final paper when it is available but we wanted to take the opportunity to share some of the key findings so this is intended to be a summary. We thought it would be helpful to share some of the snippets of men’s stories here – perhaps some of these resonate with you. Here are the four main themes:

1. There is a lack of understanding about AA

Men talked about the lack of understanding in the general population about AA and the lack of visibility

The men interviewed said that mainstream media was dominated by appearance ideals of how men ‘should’ look and men with AA are not represented.

2. Talking about the impact of AA

It was reported that there hadn’t been much opportunity to talk about the impact of AA. For some of the group interviewed they felt there was a real need for support options to be made more available; however, this wasn’t the same for all. Some men said they didn’t feel like they wanted to talk about the impact of their hair loss and instead wanted to focus on medical treatments.

3. Judgements of others

Men described people making judgements and assumptions about them based on their hair loss. Being called out for it in a pub or workplace, or people making assumptions they are ill, even down to health care professionals making assumptions. There can be a lot to manage.  

4. Impact of AA on mood and wellbeing

Men talked about how having AA had affected their mood – some said they felt they had lots of self- doubt and low confidence, and avoidance of social occasions. The impact on feelings of masculinity was also discussed, especially the impact of losing facial hair and body hair.

Final word

Alopecia can have a big impact and sometimes there can be a tendency to seek solutions and try and ‘fix’ the condition. There is a lot of pressure from society to look a certain way and conform to stereotypes and this can be draining. There is also stigma around asking for, or getting, support when things feel difficult. However, seeking support is a strong thing to do. Support options have also changed. Gone are the days of lying on a couch in a psychologist’s office (although sometimes that can be quite good). There are so many different types of support out there. You might prefer a traditional talking therapy which looks at how patterns of behaviours have emerged or a problem-focused approach which focuses on the here and now. You can speak to your GP about support options. There are other types of help too, for example you may want to speak to others who also have alopecia who ‘get it’. It can be refreshing to be around others who have hair loss and share experiences and practical tips. Whatever type of support works best for you.

What this research tells us is that we need to continue to raise awareness of alopecia and the support options available to men. If you want to help us, perhaps by sharing your experiences, please get in touch with us at [email protected]