How hair extensions cause Traction Alopecia

Hair exten­sions have been around for a very long time. They are used by women of all eth­nic­i­ties to broaden the range of styles they can use for their hair. They Clip on hair extensions can lead to thinning hair add vol­ume, colour and tex­ture to hair and they change the wearer’s appear­ance dramatically.

The ear­li­est hair exten­sions were used by the ancient Egyp­tians, where men and women wore hair exten­sion wigs to ward off lice. Back then it was not uncom­mon for men to shave their heads and wear a wig over their bald scalps.

Hair exten­sions have come into, and fallen out of fash­ion many times. In the 1800s, women were encour­aged to keep their hair nat­ural, so exten­sions fell by the way­side. Mean­while, hair exten­sions crept back into fash­ion dur­ing the 20th cen­tury and women used them to recre­ate the pom­padour; a French hair­style fea­tur­ing hair worn high on top of the head and dec­o­rated with jew­els, beads and flowers.

Dur­ing this time, the hair exten­sions were usu­ally attached using beeswax. The hair itself was mostly real hair cut from peo­ple with long hair, who would often grow their hair long specif­i­cally to sell it. Because of its high cost, only the rich could afford these hair extensions.

Nowa­days the cost is far lower and exten­sions are avail­able in both real hair, syn­thetic and mixed vari­eties. The meth­ods of pro­duc­tion have evolved as tech­nol­ogy pro­gressed, and so have the meth­ods of attach­ment. Gone are the days of beeswax. Now mod­ern attach­ment meth­ods include: micro braid­ing; strand-by-strand “fusion” meth­ods (hot and cold); sewn-in weaves; bond­ing weaves; Brazil­ian knots; clip-ins; and draw­string pony­tails. The range of options is dizzying!

It is not all good news, how­ever. The increased pop­u­lar­ity and afford­abil­ity of hair exten­sions has also meant an increased risk of hair loss by trac­tion alope­cia. This is the form of hair loss that is caused by apply­ing pres­sure to the hair follicle.

Pulling hair too tightly, or adding weight to the hair, causes increased pres­sure on the fol­li­cle. What­ever the attach­ment method used with hair exten­sions, they all put addi­tional weight on the fol­li­cles of your real hair. With con­stant use of exten­sions, hair fol­li­cles become damaged.

Under nor­mal cir­cum­stances, part of the growth cycle for a hair fol­li­cle is the tel­o­gen (“rest­ing”) phase. The hair will enter this phase once at the end of every growth cycle and, if the fol­li­cle has been dam­aged (such as through pro­longed use of hair exten­sions) it will not leave the rest phase. The hair fol­li­cle will become dormant.

When more and more fol­li­cles are ren­dered dor­mant, patches of hair loss become notice­able. In trac­tion alope­cia caused by exces­sive use of hair exten­sions, hair loss is found pri­mar­ily around the hair­line, where the roots are often weaker than those on the rest of the head, and on the crown; where the hair is most often pulled tight into a pony­tail, and the draw­string pony­tail attach­ment method for hair exten­sions is com­monly applied.

The most noto­ri­ous attach­ment method for caus­ing trac­tion alope­cia through Sew in weave hair extensionshair exten­sions is the sew-in weave. This method fea­tures hair tightly braided into “tracks” along the scalp, with the exten­sions sewn into the braids. The tracks must be braided very tightly if they are to with­stand the extra weight of the hair exten­sions; which puts a lot of pres­sure on the fol­li­cles. As new hair grows in, the extra growth is pulled on by the weight of the hair exten­sion, fur­ther dam­ag­ing the fol­li­cle and even­tu­ally result­ing in trac­tion alopecia.

Excess weight on the fol­li­cle is not the only prob­lem. Bonded hair exten­sions, which use a bond­ing glue that is, in essence, the mod­ern beeswax, to attach wefts to the scalp require a spe­cial glue-removing sub­stance to remove. Once the bond­ing glue is soft­ened or bro­ken down using the glue remover, the hair exten­sions can be sim­ply pulled out.

The prob­lem is that the glue is very strong and the remover is not always applied effec­tively to every sin­gle point that the glue is attached to the wearer’s head. As a result, nat­ural hair is pulled out at the roots when bonded hair exten­sions are removed. This dam­ages the hair fol­li­cles and can lead to trac­tion alopecia.

Other attach­ment meth­ods cause trac­tion alope­cia in ways sim­i­lar to the two meth­ods dis­cussed above. The strand-by-strand method adds excess weight to the fol­li­cle, and so causes alope­cia in a sim­i­lar way to the sew-in weave.

Brazil­ian knots, on the other hand, use a com­bi­na­tion of thread­ing and glu­ing. Because Brazil­ian knots are attached as close to the scalp as pos­si­ble, they put a large amount of pres­sure on the fol­li­cle both due to the exten­sions them­selves and through extra weight added when the hair grows out naturally.

Trac­tion alope­cia occurs at dif­fer­ent rates for dif­fer­ent peo­ple, but the worst dam­age occurs when exten­sions are used con­tin­u­ously. Use should there­fore be cur­tailed, with exten­sions worn rarely and always fol­lowed by a few months “recov­ery time” to let your fol­li­cles repair themselves.

Chem­i­cal relax­ants for your hair, and also hair colour­ing, weak­ens the roots and makes the hair even more likely to fall out under the strain of hair exten­sions. You should there­fore avoid colour­ing your hair or using hair relax­ants if you intend to wear hair extensions.

It is not all bad news though. Trac­tion alope­cia can be treated, even after years of hair abuse, but it requires patience and ded­i­ca­tion. Treat­ment is only pos­si­ble by stim­u­lat­ing fol­li­cles, mak­ing them grow new hair.

This requires a healthy scalp, so hair trans­plant surgery should only be used as a last resort. Trans­plant­ing hair into an unhealthy scalp only results in uptake fail­ure as the dam­aged scalp will not be able to nour­ish the new hairs and sus­tain growth.


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