Traction Alopecia: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
Traction Alopecia is a hair loss condition caused by damage to the dermal papilla and hair follicle by pulling or tension on the hair root over a long period of time. It often occurs in persons who wear tight braids, weaves and wigs. It is very common with black women and men who put their hair in tight braids. The segment of the black population where this condition occurs more frequently is with children, and young adults, it occurs less frequently in older women and men.
This is not an uncommon occurrence in other races but it seems to be widespread among those persons who wear tight hairstyles that pull on the hair. It occurs most often in the frontal hairline, especially the temple area and around the ears and also the nape area, although this is less common. Traction alopecia can be found anywhere on the head where the hair has been pulled and tugged consistently for a number of years.
What Causes Traction Alopecia?
- Hair Styles– that pull the hair and screw the hair root tight in a specific direction. Overtime the result is hair loss. Hairstyles that are most prone to developing this issue are: locs, twists, braids and cornrows.
- Over-processing Hair. Chemical processes such as bleaches, dyes or relaxers can contribute to this issue. According to Dr. Karyn Springer, the use of thermal or chemical hair straightening, and hair braiding or weaving are examples of styling techniques that place African American women at high risk for various “traumatic” alopecias.
- Vigorously brushing or combing hair.
- Headbands, Hats and other hair accessories, which are tightly placed on the head.
- Frequent Sectioning– parting your hair in the same spot for years.
Tips To Prevent Traction Alopecia
1. Vary your hairstyle on a regular basis. If you love a center part change your part to a side part or let your hair down occasionally. Mix up your hairstyle periodically and allow your hair to take a breather now and again.
2. If you feel any twinges at all on your hair root when catching up your hair in a ponytail, consciously slacken it.
3. Wear very loose protective styles and buns and try not to bun your hair in the same place all the time, this is very important because though protective styles are good for the hair, it can pull the hair in the same place all the time.
4. Avoid sleeping in setters or tight ponytails.
5. Avoid sleeping with tie-heads or scarves that are tightly bound along the hair edge. It is a good practice to tie the knots on tie heads at varying places on the head or consider using a silk mob-cap (like what Little Red Riding Hood’s Granny used to wear).
6. Harsh glues and weave tracks especially when placed at the same place on the head all the time should be avoided at all cost.
7. Avoid tight cornrows and braids; do not wait for them to be loosened with time. If your head aches or you cannot move your facial muscles after braiding then your hair is too tight. Be mindful that you are courting traction alopecia.
8. Sleek hair dos, which involve your hair, slicked back and not a hair out of place usually involves tying back the hair tightly. Avoid doing these styles frequently; they are a killer on the hair side.
9. Avoid using clips with claws and scrunches with exposed rubber bands. They usually pull out some hair when they are taken out. Instead, use satin covered hair bands.
10. Do not comb out curly hairstyles that will pull and drag hair. Wash it out instead with a de-tangling conditioner.
Traction alopecia is reversible in the early stages; however, it may take months for this situation to be reversed and only if the sufferers of this problem actually change their regular habits. If the condition goes unchecked it can lead to permanent hair loss. So the best suggestion is to make the changes to your hair routine now, especially if you experience any scalp tenderness or soreness while you wear a particular hairstyle.
- Karyn Springer Common hair loss disorders – Caring For Common Skin Conditions, American Family Physician, July 2003
- Basil M Hantash, MD, PhD, Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH, Traction Alopecia, Emedicine.com, Updated February 2005
- Traction Alopecia – Hair Loss Library.com