By Audrey Sivasothy, author of The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair Care
Traction alopecia is a form of gradual hair loss that is caused by tension, stress, and pulling on the scalp and hair fibers. Though traction alopecia can occur in any race, it is most common among women of color who wear their hair pulled back in braids, or in other tight styles, away from the face. Traction alopecia usually occurs as a result of our desire to get that sleek, super neat hair appearance around the hairline. Both children and adults battle with traction alopecia, but the condition is most prevalent in children and young adults.
Traction alopecia does not occur when the hair is worn in a sleek, stressful, pulling style only occasionally. It only results when there has been regular pulling stress over several months or years. Traction alopecia most commonly affects the frontal hairline, especially the temple area and parts just above the ears. Occasionally, traction alopecia will affect the nape area.
Traction alopecia is caused by cosmetic hair stress. Styles that frequently pull the hair back tightly in one direction, such as braids, twists, locs, weaves, and cornrows, are the most common traction alopecia instigators. Hair accessories like headbands are also major traction alopecia culprits. Chemical relaxer products and excessive heat use can also encourage traction alopecia. Individuals who frequently part their hair in the same orientation can also trigger a widening of the part which is related to traction alopecia.
Symptoms and Course of Traction Alopecia
Traction alopecia begins with mild scalp irritation and swelling in the area of tension. A common, early sign of traction alopecia is the formation of tiny bumps or even scabs on the scalp. Hair breakage in the area then becomes apparent. If this strain continues over the next few months or years, scarring may occur to and around the hair follicles. Hair loss is gradual, with a thinning of the actual hair fibers occurring first until total hair loss takes place. Once scarring to the follicles has taken place, and hair loss has occurred, neither follicles nor hair will ever grow again.
The good news about traction alopecia is that it is reversible in its earliest stages if the sufferer changes the stressful habit or hairstyle. It may take several months for traction alopecia to reverse, and if the strain has been allowed to go on for too long, the hair may never return. If you experience any scalp tenderness of soreness, this may be an indication that its time to loosen or switch up your style.
The best prevention against traction alopecia is to avoid styles that place strain on the hair and scalp. Vary your hair style occasionally to shift tension and stress on the hair and scalp in a new direction every so often. Loose, free flowing hair styles are the best against traction alopecia. For those who protective style the hair, traction alopecia should always be in the forefront of your mind as you prepare the hair. Protective styling, or regularly pulling the hair back and out of sight, can increase your likelihood of having a problem with traction alopecia hair loss.
Weaves that require tight braiding to secure the hair should be loosened. Avoid harsh glues and weave tracks that pull on the hair near the roots. The weight of this hair can place tension on the delicate hair beneath.
Cornrows, twists, and braids should be braided loosely initially, rather than letting them “loosen” over time.
Those who wear their hair slicked back often like dancers, athletes, and others should consider either loosening these styles or allowing some “free‐flowing” hair to remain near the vulnerable temple areas.
Make sure that there is a little slack between your ponytail and head. Try to stay away from daily use of headbands or hats that can rub the hair out.
Avoid combing or brushing dried gel or hair sprays out of the hair. Similarly, avoid sleeping with your hair in tight, bound styles like ponytails or roller-set arrangements. These habits can also damage the fragile edges of hair.
Keep in mind that once the hair and scalp have had too much, the hair follicle permanently shrinks, scars, and dies– never to produce hair again. For this reason, traction alopecia should be prevented at all costs. The missing patches of hair traction alopecia can leave behind can have devastating effects on sufferers.
Ladies, have any of you suffered traction alopecia? How were you able to remedy the situation?
Audrey Sivasothy is a Houston‐based freelance writer, health scientist and author of The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair Care (available on Amazon.com & Barnes&Noble.com).