Alopecia is hard to bear for patients and has been difficult to treat, but “there’s been a revolution in thinking about how to treat alopecia areata,” according to Maria Hordinsky, MD.

Dr. Maria Hordinsky of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

Dr. Maria Hordinsky

Dr. Hordinsky, professor and chair of the department of dermatology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, discussed hair disorders in multiple presentations at Skin Disease Education Foundation’s annual Las Vegas Dermatology Seminar. In an interview after her session on alopecia areata, she elaborated on the state of research and treatment for patients with this diagnosis.

DERMATOLOGY NEWS: What has changed in alopecia areata treatment over the last few years?

Dr. Hordinsky: There is still no Food and Drug Administration–approved treatment for this disease. But recent studies have helped us understand how alopecia areata occurs, how important interleukin-15 is, and how to target this cytokine as well as others. At the same time, expertise has developed at several centers across the United States with using the Janus kinase inhibitor tofacitinib [Xeljanz] at 5 milligrams twice a day. This has led to more off-label use. Concurrently, many pharmaceutical companies with interest in alopecia areata have begun to study different JAK inhibitors that target different cytokine receptors. Researchers also are exploring topical JAK inhibitors.

DN: What about the high costs of these drugs?

Dr. Hordinsky: Some insurers are covering tofacitinib, and patient assistance programs are very helpful and beneficial. In my own practice, most patients taking these drugs are using those programs.

DN: Are any treatments being used less than in the past?

Dr. Hordinsky: We’re still using tools that we have in the toolbox because we don’t have an approved treatment. We use topical steroids and intralesional steroids. We also use prednisone as needed, and we use contact sensitization therapy.

DN: In your presentation, you talked about alopecia areata in body areas outside of the scalp. What should dermatologists know about the eyebrows in patients with alopecia areata?

Dr. Hordinsky: Some patients don’t care as much about the scalp hair loss because they’ve figured out how to deal with it. What really bothers some patients is their eyebrow hair loss. You can think of situations where alopecia areata creates a circle in the middle of the eyebrow on the left side, but not the right, or you lose one eyebrow but not the other. We use techniques such as intralesional steroids. If there’s some hair growth present that’s lightly pigmented, we may apply topical minoxidil or Latisse [bimatoprost] to the brow area. Patients may also do microblading.

DN: Are there eyebrow prosthetics?

Dr. Hordinsky: Yes, there are. The National Alopecia Areata Foundation provides a lot of information to patients and providers about these devices. There are devices that you can tape on your brow area. Some don’t look great cosmetically, but some look fantastic. Microblading may create the most normal appearance.

DN: What about eyelashes?

Dr. Hordinsky: Eyelash loss is tough and really bothersome to patients if they don’t wear glasses because of the protection provided by eyelashes, such as when you blink against airborne dust. If there is some hair present in the eyebrow regions, one can try to regrow hair and use something that’s safe in that region, like topical Latisse. These treatments have to be tried for a couple of months before you say yea or nay, and you and the patient have to have reasonable expectations.

DN: What about men’s beards?

Dr. Hordinsky: You can treat those areas with topical or intralesional steroids. My own experience is that you have to use intralesional steroids, and overall, this form of alopecia areata may be one of the most difficult to manage successfully.

DN: Do men complain about missing chest hair?

Dr. Hordinsky: Chest hair doesn’t come up a lot for me. For men, it’s mainly the beard area. But people with alopecia areata may sometimes minimize or not bring up discussion of loss of hair in the underarms, the genital region, or the chest. It may be because they’ve figured out how to deal with it.

DN: How do you think treatments will improve over the next 5-10 years?

Dr. Hordinsky: We have a number of companies putting JAK inhibitors into clinical trials. A major step forward will be figuring out which one works the best, and then the next hurdle will be sustainability. There are very few studies in alopecia areata about how long a response to treatment can be maintained. Another big step will be the development of a topical agent that is able to penetrate through the skin to the level of the immune attack at the lower part of the hair follicle and provide the opportunity to possibly not only grow hair but also to maintain hair growth. So there’s a lot of evolution going on right now.

Dr. Hordinsky disclosed consulting work with Procter & Gamble, Concert, and Cassiopea, and grant/research support from Aclaris, National Alopecia Areata Foundation, Allergan.

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