Author: Dr Darshan Singh MBChB, Registrar, Department of Dermatology, Waikato Hospital, Hamilton, New Zealand, 2001. Updated by Adjunct A/Prof Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Waikato Hospital, Hamilton, New Zealand. May 2018.
Frontal fibrosing alopecia describes hair loss and scarring in the frontal region of the scalp. It was first described in a group of Australian women in 1994 . It is a localised form of lichen planopilaris.
Frontal fibrosing alopecia usually affects post-menopausal women over the age of 50. It is uncommon in younger women and in men.
The incidence is reported to be increasing in white-skinned women (possibly because of greater awareness of the condition), and it is uncommon in women with dark skin.
The exact cause of frontal fibrosing alopecia is unknown. There is a disturbed immune response to some component of the intermediate-sized and vellus scalp hair follicles. Genetic, hormonal and environmental factors may be involved. Contact allergy or photocontact allergy to cosmetics, hair dye, and sunscreens have been suggested as possible but unconfirmed causative factors [2,3].
Frontal fibrosing alopecia is considered a variant of lichen planopilaris.
Frontal fibrosing alopecia is characterised by a usually symmetrical band of hair loss on the front and sides of the scalp, and loss of eyebrows. The edge may appear moth-eaten, and single 'lonely' hairs may persist in the bald areas.
The skin in the affected area usually looks normal but may be pale, shiny or mildly scarred, without visible follicular openings. At the margins of the bald areas, close inspection or dermatoscopy shows redness and scaling around hair follicles.
In some cases, there are skin coloured or yellowish follicular papules located on the forehead and temples . Some women with frontal fibrosing alopecia also have female pattern hair loss.
Trichoscopy reveals absent follicles, white dots, tubular perifollicular scale and perifollicular erythema. In skin that tans easily, perifollicular pigmentation may be observed.
The clinical features of frontal fibrosing alopecia are characteristic. A skin biopsy examination in the laboratory may help to make or confirm the diagnosis. The newly affected hair follicles are surrounded by a lichenoid pattern of inflammation associated with scarring. The histopathological features are identical to those of lichen planopilaris.
Biopsy of skin papules may show a lichenoid pattern of inflammation, fibrosing alopecia, or sebaceous gland hyperplasia.
Usually, frontal fibrosing alopecia is slowly progressive. In a few patients, it stabilises after a few years. Hair regrowth has been reported in some patients.
There is no very effective treatment available for frontal fibrosing alopecia as yet. A short course of oral steroids, intralesional steroid injections, anti-inflammatory antibiotics such as tetracyclines, or antimalarial tablets may benefit patients who have a rapid onset of hair loss. The five alpha-reductase inhibitors finasteride and dutasteride have been reported to stop further hair loss in some women but has not been confirmed by controlled studies.
The use of the antidiabetic agent pioglitazone (off-label) for the treatment of frontal fibrosing alopecia was reported to reduce symptoms, inflammation, and progression of frontal fibrosing alopecia  but its use has not been supported by further investigations . Side effects include ankle swelling and weight gain.
See the DermNet NZ bookstore.
© 2019 DermNet New Zealand Trust.
DermNet NZ does not provide an online consultation service. If you have any concerns with your skin or its treatment, see a dermatologist for advice.