Ethnic behaviour of black hair and traction alopecia

Although all human hair (and indeed all hair) is com­posed of hair fol­li­cles and shafts, there are dis­tinct vari­a­tions in the shape and behav­iour of hair across dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups. Some eth­nic groups, for exam­ple Native Amer­i­cans, hardly suf­fer from male pat­tern bald­ness at all, while Cau­casians suf­fer from it the most, fol­lowed by Blacks.

Inter­est­ingly enough, Black peo­ple are the eth­nic group most heav­ily affected by the con­di­tion known as trac­tion alope­cia, a type of hair loss that is caused by pulling and weight put on the hair over time. This is partly the result of the types of hair­styles favoured by the Black com­mu­nity such as corn­rows, tight braids, weaves and clip on exten­sions, as well as repeated straightening.

How­ever, the struc­ture of black hair itself is, in part, to blame for the sus­cep­ti­bil­ity of black hair to the con­di­tion. The struc­ture of black hair dif­fers in shape from Cau­casian or Ori­en­tal hair. Black hair shafts tend to be flat and rel­a­tively small in diam­e­ter. They have a twisted con­fig­u­ra­tion and each hair has vari­a­tions in diam­e­ter along the shaft as it twists. Because the hair is nat­u­rally curly, the hairs wrap around each other as they grow becom­ing tan­gled. The diam­e­ter vari­a­tions and twists cause weak­ness along the shaft, mak­ing the hair more liable to break. On the other hand, try­ing to detan­gle the hair or straighten it will often lead to fur­ther dam­age, often result­ing in severe break­age and trac­tion alopecia.

Trac­tion alope­cia is one of the most com­mon types of hair loss affect­ing black women, but it is often mis­di­ag­nosed and mis­taken for another type of hair loss. It often starts at the hair line with a thin­ning at the front of the head, but the hair loss can spread and affect the entire head if not stopped in time. It’s impor­tant to note, though, that the trac­tion alope­cia hair loss pat­tern will often depend on the type of hair­styles worn by the suf­ferer. Wear­ing the hair in rollers overnight in order to straighten it, for exam­ple, can result in trac­tion alope­cia caus­ing the hair to fall out in clumps. Banded trac­tion alope­cia, on the other hand, affects the scalp edges around the entire head.

Although not all black women suf­fer from trac­tion alope­cia, the con­di­tion is com­mon enough to war­rant cau­tion when styling the hair. The fact that it’s the struc­ture of the hair itself that can make Black hair prone to break­age and hair loss, sug­gests one should either avoid tight or poten­tially dam­ag­ing hair­styles alto­gether, or watch care­fully for early signs of trac­tion alope­cia and begin treat­ment imme­di­ately if hair loss or thin­ning is suspected.

Note that fre­quent straight­en­ing by means other than hair rollers can also be harmfu, and some experts actu­ally rec­om­mend con­sid­er­ing chem­i­cal straight­en­ing for those who are set on hav­ing their hair straight­ened. Although not ideal, this can be more suited for Black hair in the long run, as it reduces the amount of daily or weekly straight­en­ing activ­i­ties that can do more dam­age to the hair overall.

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