In honor of National Hair Loss Awareness Month, we’re highlighting the importance and impact that hair loss has on our daily lives. Alopecia is a common disease that directly attacks hair follicles and causes hair loss. However, there is a specific type of alopecia that directly affects people with natural hair because of the way we style our hair. Traction alopecia is a common condition for Black women due to tight and curly spiral hair that can be exasperated when wearing tight braids. Protective styles like cornrows, extensions, weaves, buns, and dreadlocks create constant tension on your scalp and potentially damage your hair follicles. Once the hair follicles are damaged it makes it harder for your hair to grow back which can lead to permanent hair loss. It can also be caused by certain hair accessories like elastic headbands, sports helmets, and relaxers which change the structure of your hair shaft
Am I Experiencing Traction Alopecia?
Traction alopecia can occur anywhere on the scalp and can look like broken hair around your forehead, receding hairlines, and any patches of hair loss where your hair is pulled tightly. If you have tight or protective hairstyles on a regular basis then you want to start checking for these early signs of hair loss. For some people, it gets to a point where the hair no longer grows back and there is just shiny, bald skin. You don’t want to let it get to this point because then your hair will not grow back.
Before you start feeling hopeless or panicking, the great thing to know is Traction alopecia is preventable and reversible in some stages. We spoke with Yetty Bames who has been a full service beauty artist (hair, makeup, brows, lashes, and fashion styling) since she was 15. She has been professionally working on set and in salons since 2009. She worked exclusively with models from 2009-2011, MIZU Salon 2011-2013, Garren NYC 2013-2015, John Barrett 2015-2020, Sharon Dorram 2020-current and currently works at Sharon Dorram Color at Sally Hershberger Salon.
What Is Traction Alopecia
Traction alopecia is a type of hair loss caused by consistent heat to scalp damage, incorrect chemical processes, hair pulling, and tightness to the hair follicle. Over time, tight ponytails, tight extensions, heavy locs, and tight braids can contribute to scalp sensitivity, hair breakage, and permanent hair loss.”
Is this more common with specific hair textures/types vs. others?
Traction alopecia was considered most prevalent amongst African American/ Black women or women with coarse/ coily textured hair. We now know that traction alopecia can affect anyone, male/ female from any background who puts considerable tension onto their scalp consistently over time.
What are the symptoms or signs of Traction Alopecia?
Traction alopecia is also noticeable when hair easily breaks or becomes miniaturized around the hairline and in the middle of the scalp where the hair is most sensitive. When any of these symptoms are identified, going to the dermatologist for a scalp test requires immediate action. A visual scalp test or a biopsy may be done depending on the hair loss degree.
Is Traction Alopecia preventable or reversible?
Traction alopecia is reversible and preventable if the symptoms are detected early on and if a hairstyle change is made. The symptoms of traction alopecia can be mild to intense scalp soreness, follicle bumps, tenderness, and inflammation.
What are your recommendations for products or tools to help treat it?
Topical scalp antibiotics like clobetasol may be prescribed for mild traction alopecia. For severe scalp pain and sensitivity, cortisone injections in conjunction with topical antibiotics may be necessary to slow down the progression of the traction alopecia. If all else fails and there is permanent hair loss, hair transplant and custom wigs are an option.
If you are experiencing Traction alopecia then we recommend a few steps you can take on your own before heading to a doctor. You can start avoiding any tight hairstyles, changing your hairstyle each week, and limiting any use of relaxers or chemical products on your head. You can also purchase hair growth products to help restore any thinning hair.