Alopecia universalis is a rare form of alopecia (balding) that results in the complete loss of all hair on the scalp and throughout the body. A person with alopecia universalis has no eyebrows, eyelashes, head hair, pubic hair, underarm hair, or hair anywhere else. It can occur at any age.
Alopecia universalis is an advanced form of alopecia effluvium (AE), and both are immune disorders. In both conditions, the immune system mistakenly identifies the hair follicle as a foreign entity, and sends white blood cells to attack. Once the hair follicle is damaged enough to separate the hair shaft from its enriching blood supply, the hair no longer has enough nutrition to grow. The fundamental difference between AU and AE is the extent of hair loss.
Depending on where it’s placed, our hair serves a number of purposes to keep us healthy. A widespread lack of hair can cause a wide variety of debilitating health problems. Eyelashes and eyebrows keep debris from entering the eye in the same way that hair in the nose prevents debris from entering the nasal passages, which lead directly to the brain. Those with AU are more susceptible to debris entering the nasal cavity and potentially reaching the brain. Additionally, since there is no cranial hair to protect them from sunlight, those with AU should also take extra precautions to prevent overexposure.
People with AU are generally thought to be vulnerable to other autoimmune diseases such as thyroid disorders or pigment discolorations. They may also become more susceptible to asthma and trigger allergies as well. They may especially be vulnerable to nasal allergies due to a lack of hair in the nostrils to prevent debris, which may cause an elevated level of antihistamines in response to a perceived threat.
In a 1998 report, researchers studied a family that had one child born with AU for three generations. They found a distinct lack of hair follicles on the scalp of each of the seven subjects. In addition, they found a specific genetic marker (8p12) was present in all of the children as well, which they believe to be a gene that controls hairlessness. This suggests that the cause of AU may, in fact, be hereditary.
As of now, there is no known cure for long-term AU. Treatments often involve immunotherapy, which purposefully causes an allergic reaction on the skin that can stimulate hair follicles into producing hair once more. The success rate is not high, though possible. The treatment must be ongoing in order for the success to continue.
For a reason that is not known, AU seems to affect only one child per generation. That is to say, the brother or sister rarely has the condition himself or herself, though they may have children later in life that also have AU).
To get an idea of what people living with alopecia universalis have to deal with, you should see what people look like after you simply remove their eyebrows. Here is a website dedicated to this specific issue of missing eyebrows. It is not the most serious website but it does give an accurate representation of what the condition can do to one’s appearance. Wigs can be used for the scalp but not for eyebrows. In many cases eyebrows will be applied using temporary makeup techniques which can certainly be effective but real hair is obviously better.