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Frontal Fibrosing Alopecia: A Clinical Pearl for Treating a Challenging Condition

Featuring Charlie Dunn, MD |

Chief Dermatology Resident  
Orlando, FL

| Published April 15, 2024

In this episode of Topical Conversations, Charlie Dunn, MD, shares a valuable pearl for the management of frontal fibrosing alopecia (FFA). 

FFA is a clinical variant of lichen planopilaris (LPP) characterized by slow, progressive perifollicular inflammation resulting in eventual complete hair loss, primarily at the frontotemporal hairline. While historically observed mainly in postmenopausal women, there are increasing reports of men and children being affected. 

The etiology remains unclear, although hormonal influences, autoimmunity, genetics, immune dysregulation, and environmental factors like sunscreen exposure are speculated to play a role. 

Navigating limited treatment strategies 

Due to a limited understanding of its pathogenesis, there is a lack of standardized, evidence-based therapies, making FFA challenging to treat. Commonly utilized treatments include high-potency corticosteroids, intralesional corticosteroid injections, topical and oral minoxidil, 5-alpha reductase inhibitors such as dutasteride and finasteride, hydroxychloroquine, and tetracycline antibiotics like doxycycline. 

For refractory cases, therapeutic options become even scarcer. 

Growing evidence on the role of the JAK pathway in FFA 

Recent translational research suggests the Janus kinase (JAK) pathway may play a crucial role in lichenoid inflammatory dermatoses, including FFA and LPP. One study demonstrated that levels of JAK1 and JAK3 were elevated in lesional skin of patients with LPP, and there is growing evidence supporting the use of JAK inhibitors, both orally and topically, as promising treatments for FFA and LPP. Several case series have demonstrated significant reductions in disease activity within 1 to 4 months of treatment with oral baricitinib, oral tofacitinib, topical tofacitinib, and topical ruxolitinib in varying doses. 

Treatment pearl: JAK inhibitors for improved outcomes 

A notable treatment pearl gleaned from the discussion is the potential efficacy of JAK inhibitors for FFA. The frontal hairline area tends to have thinner skin, making it more amenable to topical treatments. Additionally, patient compliance may be higher with topical therapies, as they typically do not require lab monitoring. Therefore, when faced with a challenging case of FFA, considering topical or oral JAK inhibitors may offer a promising treatment strategy for eligible patients.


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