Skin of Color

Treatment of Frontal Fibrosing Alopecia in Black Patients: A Systematic Review 


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Frontal fibrosing alopecia (FFA) is a progressive cicatricial alopecia that can affect patients with skin of color (SOC); however, patients with SOC often are underrepresented in clinical trials and scientific publications on FFA. To better understand the management of FFA in patients with SOC, we sought to assess the clinical evidence for the efficacy of FFA treatment modalities specifically in these patients. This systematic review discusses studies on FFA characteristics and treatment outcomes in Black patients.

Practice Points

  • Treatment of frontal fibrosing alopecia (FFA) is challenging, and there are no evidence-based treatment guidelines available. Patients with skin of color (SOC) may have varying responses to treatment modalities.
  • Special consideration should be taken when treating FFA in patients with SOC.
  • Histologic evaluation through biopsy is paramount in securing an accurate diagnosis for Black patients with frontotemporal alopecia.



Frontal fibrosing alopecia (FFA) is a lymphocytic cicatricial alopecia that primarily affects postmenopausal women. Considered a subtype of lichen planopilaris (LPP), FFA is histologically identical but presents as symmetric frontotemporal hairline recession rather than the multifocal distribution typical of LPP (Figure 1). Patients also may experience symptoms such as itching, facial papules, and eyebrow loss. As a progressive and scarring alopecia, early management of FFA is necessary to prevent permanent hair loss; however, there still are no clear guidelines regarding the efficacy of different treatment options for FFA due to a lack of randomized controlled studies in the literature. Patients with skin of color (SOC) also may have varying responses to treatment, further complicating the establishment of any treatment algorithm. Furthermore, symptoms, clinical findings, and demographics of FFA have been observed to vary across different ethnicities, especially among Black individuals. We conducted a systematic review of the literature on FFA in Black patients, with an analysis of demographics, clinical findings, concomitant skin conditions, treatments given, and treatment responses.

Lichen planus pigmentosus of the forehead and lateral cheeks in a 68-year-old Black woman.

FIGURE 1. Lichen planus pigmentosus of the forehead and lateral cheeks in a 68-year-old Black woman.


A PubMed search of articles indexed for MEDLINE was conducted of studies investigating FFA in patients with SOC from January 1, 2000, through November 30, 2020, using the terms frontal fibrosing alopecia, ethnicity, African, Black, Asian, Indian, Hispanic, and Latino. Articles were included if they were available in English and discussed treatment and clinical outcomes of FFA in Black individuals. The reference lists of included studies also were reviewed. Articles were assessed for quality of evidence using a 4-point scale (1=well-designed randomized controlled trials; 2=controlled trials with limitations or well-designed cohort or case-control studies; 3=case series with or without intervention; 4=case reports). Variables related to study type, patient demographics, treatments, and clinical outcomes were recorded.


Of the 69 search results, 8 studies—2 retrospective cohort studies, 3 case series, and 3 case reports—describing 51 Black individuals with FFA were included in our review (eTable). Of these, 49 (96.1%) were female and 2 (3.9%) were male. Of the 45 females with data available for menopausal status, 24 (53.3%) were premenopausal and 21 (46.7%) were postmenopausal; data were not available for 4 females. Patients identified as African or African American in 27 (52.9%) cases, South African in 19 (37.3%), Black in 3 (5.9%), Indian in 1 (2.0%), and Afro-Caribbean in 1 (2.0%). The average age of FFA onset was 43.8 years in females (raw data available in 24 patients) and 35 years in males (raw data available in 2 patients). A family history of hair loss was reported in 15.7% (8/51) of patients.

Involved areas of hair loss included the frontotemporal hairline (51/51 [100%]), eyebrows (32/51 [62.7%]), limbs (4/51 [7.8%]), occiput (4/51 [7.8%]), facial hair (2/51 [3.9%]), vertex scalp (1/51 [2.0%]), and eyelashes (1/51 [2.0%]). Patchy alopecia suggestive of LPP was reported in 2 (3.9%) patients.

Patients frequently presented with scalp pruritus (26/51 [51.0%]), perifollicular papules or pustules (9/51 [17.6%]), and perifollicular hyperpigmentation (9/51 [17.6%]). Other associated symptoms included perifollicular erythema (6/51 [11.8%]), scalp pain (5/51 [9.8%]), hyperkeratosis or flaking (3/51 [5.9%]), and facial papules (2/51 [3.9%]). Loss of follicular ostia, prominent follicular ostia, and the lonely hair sign (Figure 2) was described in 21 (41.2%), 5 (9.8%), and 15 (29.4%) of patients, respectively. Hairstyles that involve scalp traction (19/51 [37.3%]) and/or chemicals (28/51 [54.9%]), such as hair dye or chemical relaxers, commonly were reported in patients prior to the onset of FFA.

Lonely hair sign on the upper forehead in an older Middle Eastern patient with frontal fibrosing alopecia.

FIGURE 2. Lonely hair sign on the upper forehead in an older Middle Eastern patient with frontal fibrosing alopecia.

The most commonly reported dermatologic comorbidities included traction alopecia (17/51 [33.3%]), followed by lichen planus pigmentosus (LLPigm)(7/51 [13.7%]), LPP (2/51 [3.9%]), psoriasis (1/51 [2.0%]), and morphea (1/51 [2.0%]). Reported comorbid diseases included Sjögren syndrome (2/51 [3.9%]), hypothyroidism (2/51 [3.9%]), HIV (1/51 [2.0%]), and diabetes mellitus (1/51 [2.0%]).

Of available reports (n=32), the most common histologic findings included perifollicular fibrosis (23/32 [71.9%]), lichenoid lymphocytic inflammation (22/23 [95.7%]) primarily affecting the isthmus and infundibular areas of the follicles, and decreased follicular density (21/23 [91.3%]).


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