Citizen Reporter
2 minute read
28 Mar 2022
1:32 pm

What is alopecia? After Will Smith’s slap, here’s what you need to know

Citizen Reporter

Jada Pinkett Smith has been struggling with alopecia for the past two years.

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith attend the 94th Annual Academy Awards on 27 March 2022 in Hollywood, California. Photo: Emma McIntyre / Getty Images via AFP

Actor Will Smith shocked the world when he slapped comedian Chris Rock onstage at the Oscars on Sunday night.

The slap came after Rock joked about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith.

Rock compared Pinkett Smith’s bald head to Demi Moore in G.I. Jane.

Smith, who won the Best Actor award for his role in King Richard, seemed to be triggered by the joke because Pinkett Smith suffers from alopecia. It is this condition that led to her losing her hair.

What is alopecia? 

Alopecia is an autoimmune disorder that causes notable hair loss in different parts of the head, according to WebMD.

There are different types of alopecia, the most common is alopecia areata – where a person loses almost all of their hair. 

The main symptoms of alopecia are losing hair on small patches of your head at first, with the patches getting larger and eventually growing together into a bald spot. 

ALSO READ: Jada Pinkett Smith and other celebs who struggle with alopecia

According to the MayoClinic, alopecia can affect more than just your scalp – it can spread over your entire body.

There are many types of the condition but the American Academy of Dermatology says these are the most common:

  • Alopecia areata: Alopecia is the medical term for bald. Areata means patchy. This patchy baldness can develop anywhere on the body, including the scalp, beard area, eyebrows, eyelashes, armpits, inside your nose, or ears.
  • Alopecia totalis: The person loses all hair on the scalp, so the scalp is completely bald.
  • Alopecia universalis: The person loses all hair, leaving the entire body hairless. This is rare.

What causes alopecia?

Alopecia is an auto-immune disease, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, which means your immune system mistakenly attacks a part of your body.

The cells in your body’s immune system attack your hair follicles, which causes the hair to fall out.

Although, the hair falls out, the follicles aren’t damaged. This means the hair is able to grow back.


Though the main symptom of alopecia is hair loss, it may come in different forms.

  • Small bald patches on your scalp or other parts of your body
  • Patches may get larger and grow together into a bald spot
  • Hair grows back in one spot and falls out in another
  • You lose a lot of hair over a short time
  • More hair loss in cold weather


While doctors are not certain what the exact cause of alopecia is, they think there might be a genetic reason for the condition. This would also mean it is hereditary.

The Mayo Clinic says that the hair loss could also be related to:

  • hormonal changes;
  • side effects of medication or supplements;
  • radiation therapy;
  • stressful event, such as physical or emotional shock;
  • excessive hairstyling or hairstyles that pull your hair tight.

Additional reporting by Sandisiwe Mbhele