Section : History & Terminology

Localized non-scarring alopecia: What is Ophiasis ?

  • The Greek word of origin is:
    • οφις = ophis = snake
  • This term is used when alopecia areata affects the occipital and parietal areas of the scalp.
  • When the alopecic plaques are horizontal, and that they merge together, they appear as a sinuous line which reminds us of a snake.
  • This type tends to extend and to be quite resistant to treatment.
  • For the sake of completion let us add that when that when alopecia areata affects the anterior scalp, it was named “porrigo de decalvans” by the Brirish dermatologist Dr Robert Willan (1757-1812); he took the name from Latin:
    • porrigere = to extend
  • Willan was the first dermatologist to structure dermatology by basing himself on the elementary lesions by Dr Joseph Plenck from Austria in 1776.
    • Thus, the first “logical classification” based itself on the morphology of lesions:
      • Primary (elementary) lesions such as macules, papules, vesicles…
      • Secondary lesions such as crusts, ulcerations, fissures…
  • Trivia: Sisaipho (ophiasis spelled backwards) – Hair loss spares the sides and back of the head (term introduced in 1996, Sisaipho: A New Form of Presentation of Alopecia Areata. Munoz MA et al. JAMA Dermatology (Archives of Dermatology)


Dr Christophe Hsu – dermatologist. Geneva, Switzerland

Source of information:

-Harms M. Dermatologica Helvetica (The Swiss Journal of Dermatology and Venereology: