On Sunday night, people reacted with shock after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on stage at the Oscars. Comedian Rock was on stage to present the award for best documentary feature when he made a joke about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair loss, which is due to alopecia (a broad term that refers to any form of hair loss).
Rock said, “Jada, can’t wait for GI Jane 2.” Smith walked up on stage and hit Rock before going back to his seat and shouting: “Keep my wife’s name out of your f***ing mouth.”
The incident has since been bringing public awareness to Pinkett Smith’s condition called alopecia areata. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that causes one’s hair to come out, often in clumps the size and shape of a quarter, according to WebMD. Some people lose their hair only in a few spots while others lose a lot. The hair can grow back and then fall out again later. But for others, their hair grows back for good.
There are different types of this condition but alopecia areata is the most common, which affects one in every 500 to 1,000 people in the United States.
“It’s an autoimmune disorder of the hair follicle — any hair follicle, by the way — just usually presents on the scalp, but it can be elsewhere,” Dr. Elise Olsen, a dermatologist with Duke Health, told CBS 17. “It can involve any age, any race, any sex, (and) typically starts in childhood, but someone can develop this first time as an adult.”
Doctors are not clear about what causes alopecia areata, but they believe that it can have a genetic component. One is likely to get alopecia if a family member has it. People who have vitiligo, asthma, down syndrome, thyroid disease and iron deficiency can also get alopecia areata. Stressful events can also lead to the condition. Some people, particularly men, lose scalp hair with age due to changes in hormones known as androgens, and that is considered a form of alopecia, Dr. Angela Lamb, a board-certified dermatologist at Mount Sinai, told The New York Times.
Pinkett Smith first opened up about her alopecia diagnosis on a 2018 episode of her show “Red Table Talk.”
“It was terrifying when it first started. You know, 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?” she said. “It was one of those times in my life where I was literally shaking in fear. That’s why I cut my hair, and why I continue to cut it.”
In an Instagram video posted in December 2021, she showed the world a completely shaved head. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends,” she said.
She received praise for being open about her condition and for giving others the courage to go bald. Indeed, losing one’s hair can be scary and upsetting. By the age of 40, experts say that 40 percent of women experience hair loss.
To live with alopecia (the medical term for hair loss of all kinds) can be very hard to talk about but Pinkett Smith and the following Black women celebrities have opened up about their experience with hair loss, showing others that they are not alone.
Banks experienced hair loss because of stress while writing her best-selling Young Adult novel Modelland.
“Honestly, chilling for me was eating a meal,” the supermodel and former America’s Next Top Model host told the Wall Street Journal. “I couldn’t just look at the ocean. And in hindsight that wasn’t healthy. How can I say this without tearing up? I got a little alopecia from the stress.”
The actress lost half her hair to alopecia when she was 28. “I woke up one day and it looked like I had a Mohawk. Big splash of bald on the top of my head,” she told Vulture magazine.
“I was like, What is this? Until I found out it was stress-related. That’s how I internalized it.”
The actress had to learn to embrace her condition. “I am telling you, I have spent so much of my life not feeling comfortable in my skin. I am just so not there anymore.” She said she used to wear wigs because of her condition. Wearing wigs now is an option, she said.
The supermodel experienced significant hair loss. In 2012, there were concerns that she was suffering from traction alopecia – hair loss caused by the use of extensions. She revealed to Evening Standard she “lost all of it.”
Most of her hair has since grown back. “I do take more care of my hair now because I lost all of it with extensions,” she said. “I am more careful and I do different things.”
“Everybody in the world wears wigs. It doesn’t matter any more. I do what I want, or whatever the job calls for.”