Traction alopecia is a very common type of hair loss often experienced by African women. It occurs when we literally pull our hair out by repeatedly wearing it in tight weaves, braids and extensions. You can still develop this condition even if you don’t wear hair extensions from wearing hair in tight ponytails and buns. It can also occur in people with very long hair that is heavy and sleeping with rollers in your hair overnight.
Before we delve into the details of traction alopecia lets begin by understanding hair loss and hair shedding as a whole.
Typically, human beings shed between 75 to 100 strands of hair each day. This means that is is quite normal to see shed strands of hair on your comb or even on your collar/pillow as the day goes by. A typical hair growth cycle can last between 2 to 6 years with every strand shed regrowing in approximately twelve weeks.
Hair loss should only become a concern when you start to shed more than your average 75-100 strands of hair per day. This usually presents itself in the form of bald spots, or larger chunks of shed hair in your comb than you would have on a typical day.
The term alopecia refers to all forms of hair loss that is over and above everyday shedding. Some are reversible while others are not. We will briefly discuss three of the most common types of hair loss with links for further reading :).
Types of Alopecia
Alopecia areata is a form of hair loss where hair falls off in round patches leaving noticeable round bald patches on your scalp. This form of hair loss occurs most often on the scalp but can affect other parts of the body as well. Hair usually grows back in the bald patches and it is not uncommon for it to re-occur.
Androgenic Alopecia commonly referred to as male pattern baldness is another very common type of hair loss. It begins with a receding hairline and eventually forms a characteristic M shape or complete balding. It is mostly associated with men but also occurs in women. For women, it mainly involves hair thinning and will not necessarily result in an M shape bald spot or total balding.
Postpartum hair loss is a normal – and temporary – change that is not related to breastfeeding. Many women experience this form of hair loss after having a baby as their hormone levels change back to their normal state. Most women will return to their usual hair growth cycle between 6 and 12 months after birth
Traction alopecia, our main focus, as described above is a form of hair loss caused by repeated and excessive pulling on your hair. Due to its weak state, hair that is chemically treated (relaxers/colour) is more prone to this form of hair loss. This form of hair loss is reversible if you stop pulling on your hair although sometimes the hair loss may be permanent if damage to the hair follicle has been caused.
Symptoms of Traction Alopecia
Traction alopecia begins to show itself in the form of a rash or little bumps on your scalp. As the condition progresses, the main symptom quickly becomes bald patches and broken hair with the hairs along the hairline and sides of your scalp being the most affected although you may notice hair loss on other areas of your scalp, depending on your hairstyle.
Aside from the rash, traction alopecia can show itself through other symptoms like:
- redness of the scalp
- soreness or stinging of your scalp
- itching and
- folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicles)
- pus-filled blisters on your scalp
Eventually, the hair follicles can become so damaged and scarred that they can’t produce new hair. At this point, the damage is permanent and may never heal to resolve itself.
Traction alopecia differs from other forms of alopecia in that hair loss will occur in patches all over the scalp while in traction alopecia, only the hair that has been pulled will be affected.
You develop traction alopecia from wearing your hair pulled too tight. Pulling on the hair repeatedly loosens the hair shaft in its follicle.
Preventing Traction Alopecia
To prevent traction alopecia, wear your hair down every so often. If you have to pull it up into a ponytail or bun for work, for example, keep it loose and as low on your head as you can.
Some more tips to prevent this condition:
- If you wear your hair in weaves or extensions, wear them for only a short period say 3 to 4 weeks and take a break between each use.
- Change your hairstyle every couple of weeks to avoid stressing your hair at the very same points with every style.
- Avoid heat and chemically processing your hair if you mostly wear it in weaves or braid your hair as the two processes weaken your hair making it more prone to breakage and damage.
- When installing braids or dreadlocks, section your hair into thicker parts. Thin braids and dreadlocks are more likely to be pulled tightly and result in using a lot more extensions that will be heavy and weigh more on your scalp.
- Keep the heat setting low on your hair dryer and flat iron.
- Never sleep in rollers no matter how tempting it is.
- When wearing wigs or weaves, use a satin wig cap underneath. This reduces friction against your scalp and keeps your hair from being pulled on as hard.
Treating Traction Alopecia
To treat traction alopecia, see a dermatologist. The doctor will examine your scalp and may perform several tests to confirm what is causing the hair loss. He or she might also recommend: –
- antibiotics to prevent infection in any open sores
- topical steroids to bring down swelling on your scalp
- antifungal shampoos
- minoxidil (Rogaine) to regrow hair
- biotin supplements to strengthen your hair
If you’ve lost a lot of hair and it’s not growing back, a hair replacement procedure may be an option.
The main treatment for traction alopecia is to change your hairstyle regularly and avoiding tight hairstyles. You can tell a style is too tight if it hurts. Remove such braids, cornrows, or dreadlocks immediately.
When wearing your hair up in ponytail or bun, make sure to tight it as loose as possible.
If your hair is too long and heavy, trim it down to reasonable length.
Minimize the use of chemicals and heat, which can damage your hair.
Traction alopecia is reversible if treated quickly. There are no quick fixes. You must be consistent in staying away from what is causing it. Once the damage causing style is taken down, let your hair rest and give your follicles time to recover. Your hair will grow back in normally. But if you continue styling your hair the same way, the hair loss can become permanent.
Having healthy natural hair is easy if you follow our simple guide. Once you grow your hairline back you will love it even more.