During last night’s 94th annual Academy Awards, Jada Pinkett Smith was thrown into the center of a major controversy when her husband Will Smith struck Chris Rock (who was presenting the award for best documentary) on stage after Rock made a joke about Pinkett Smith’s shaved head.
Many people in the audience and at home might not have initially understood why the King Richard star was so upset by the joke, which likened his wife to having a G.I. Jane-style cut, but Pinkett Smith has been open about losing her hair to alopecia. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s immune system attacks healthy hair follicles, causing them to decrease in size and production, typically resulting in hair falling out in clumps, according to the Cleveland Clinic. In rare cases, an individual can lose all the hair on their head or their body, but the severity of the condition varies from person to person. For some, the hair might grow back and stay there; for another person, the hair might regrow but then fall out again later. According to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation, estimates show that up to 6.8 million people in the U.S. are affected by alopecia.
Pinkett Smith first shared her hair loss experience in 2018 during her Red Table Talk series. “I was in the shower one day and had just handfuls of hair in my hands and I was just like, ‘Oh my god, am I going bald?’” she recalled. “It was one of those times in my life where I was literally shaking in fear. That’s why I cut my hair, and why I continue to cut it,” she added. Later that month, she took to Instagram, and in a now-deleted video said she was getting steroid injections which were helping “but not curing” her condition. There’s currently no cure for alopecia, but intralesional corticosteroid injections, the type Pinkett Smith received, are the most common alopecia treatment. During this process, a dermatologist uses a very small needle to inject corticosteroids into bare patches of skin every four to six weeks. The steroids work to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system’s attack on the hair follicles.
In mid-2021, ahead of her 50th birthday, Pinkett Smith debuted her shaved head publicly. Of course, she looked beautiful alongside her daughter, Willow Smith, who was also sporting a buzzed cut. “Willow made me do it because it was time to let go BUT … my 50’s are bout to be Divinely lit with this shed,” she wrote.