Main uses in hair loss: Alopecia areata

What is anthralin?

  • Anthralin is a synthetic tar-like substance which has been shown to be helpful in some patients with the hair loss condition alopecia areata

How is anthralin prescribed?

  • Your dermatologist may prescribe anthralin is prescribed as an ointment or as a cream. You may be prescribed a concentration ranging from 0.2 % to 1 %. Rarely higher concentrations (up to 2 %) can be used.

How should I use anthralin at home?

  • Generally, the treatment is applied for several minutes and then washed off. The duration that it is recommended to leave anthralin on the scalp may be slowly increased by the dermatologist. 

Can I use anthralin with other treatments? 

  • Anthralin can sometimes be used with other treatments such as minoxidil.  Your treating physician will advise if this is to be done.

When will I see results if the anthralin is helping?

  • Hair growth can be seen in about 8-12 weeks, but can occur as early as 5 weeks.
  • White colored hair may appear first followed by darker hairs

How effective is anthralin? 

  • In about 50 % of patients with alopecia areata occurring in patches, anthralin can be helpful
  • For patients with alopecia totalis (total loss of scalp hair), anthralin is helpful in about 25 % of patients

What side effects are possible?

Your treating physician will review all the side effects of anthralin. These are a few of the more common side effects. 

  • Anthralin temporarily stains the skin (and hair) a yellowy-brown and permanently stains clothing fabrics.

To minimize staining, patients should be advised to apply the medication wearing plastic gloves and to use old sheets and nightclothes.

  • Anthralin may cause burning and irritation.  Anthralin can be very irritating to normal skin and must be applied only to affected skin
  • Anthralin may cause enlarged lymph nodes (also called ‘swollen glands’) in the neck
  • Anthralin may cause blisters
  • Anthralin may cause severe itching

What side effects should prompt me to STOP anthralin?

  • Stop anthralin if you have any reaction that you are worried about.  In many cases it’s possible to simply stop the anthralin for a few days if severe itching or blistering occurs

Remember – some moderate amount of redness, scaling and itching with application of anthralin is a good sign. This means the anthralin is working and gives the right conditions to grow hair.  The amount of redness, scaling and itching should never be severe.

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