Traction alopecia is a form of hair loss caused by physical traction stress on hair follicles related to high-tension hairstyles. It is common among, but not exclusive to black women. Black women tend to wear hair extensions and treat their hair with chemicals more often than other groups of women. Traction alopecia usually starts at the front hairline, and then receding occurs with a general thinning all over, which makes it appear like male pattern baldness. People often underestimate or mistake hair loss in African American women related to traction alopecia for other types of hair loss.
African American women tend to use hair extensions. The extensions give women versatility in their hairstyle choices. For black women in particular, hair extensions make managing their natural tightly curled hair easier. It also provides length to their hair, which tends not to grow very long. Many tabloids mention hair loss conditions for celebrities who over use hair extensions and have damaged their hair follicles.
The hair shaft of African American hair tends to be flat shaped, with a twisted configuration and a thin diameter. There are intermittent variations in diameter based on the amount of curl. The curls cause recurrent weakness along each hair shaft. Because their curls are so tight, the hairs wrap around each other, which often results in serious tangles. Trying to detangle this type of hair can break it at it its weak point. Hair pulling adds stress to the follicles and leads to traction alopecia.
To avoid this constant cycle of having to detangle the hair, many African American women have their hair straightened using chemical relaxers. They also use rollers, blow dry, hot comb or oil press their hair. Each of these methods of straightening the hair invariably leads to traction alopecia and severe breakage of the hair.
Another form of traction alopecia occurs when the hair comes out in clumps. The main cause of this form of hair loss occurs from sleeping in hair rollers, and braiding the hair too tightly, particularly in children. Constantly wearing hair extensions in the form of weaves both sewed-in and bonded or glued-in extensions, drawstring ponytails and clip in hair extensions add to traction alopecia.
In order to prevent traction alopecia:
- Use a reputable and qualified stylist. A qualified stylist will know what styles your type of hair will support, and will avoid styles that pull your hair too tightly. Your chosen stylist should also be qualified to perform any chemical procedures, like hair colouring or straightening. Your stylist should be trained in fitting hair extensions. Unfortunately, many untrained and unqualified stylists exist, who inadvertently cause damage to the hair because their lack of training means they do not know the consequences of their actions.
- Limit the length of time of wearing hair extensions. You should not exceed the length of time you wear hair extensions. The time period depends on the attachment method. You should remove clip on hair extensions at the end of the night. For the glued-in method where a stylist glues each hair strand, strand-by-strand, you should only wear it for a few months at a time. If you do have to get bonded hair extensions, make sure you use a trained and qualified stylists that understands fitting your chosen method of attachment. In addition, you should visit your stylist on a weekly basis to have your hair washed. Washing it at home, by yourself, may lead to tangling, and additional pulling which causes stress to the follicle and begins the traction alopecia cycle.
- Avoid using large amounts of hair in weaves and other forms of hair extensions. The weight causes stress to the hair follicles. Regardless of what method of attachment you wear, your natural hair (and follicles) has to carry the weight of any extension used. The more weight your hair has to carry, the more stress it will be under. The extra weight will gradually pull the hair out of its follicle.
- Avoid applying chemicals too often. Do not apply harsh chemicals like relaxers and colorants to the hair more often than every 4 months. These harsh chemicals irritate the skin but also damage the structure of your hair by making it porous and weak. When you apply tension to the hair, porous and weak hair tends to fall out easier.
- Limit the use of tight ponytails or updos. Save the updos for special occasions. Additionally, tight ponytails apply pressure to the hair follicles around the hairline and the crown of the head. This constant pulling adds to traction alopecia.
- Use a hair conditioner before combing tightly curled hair. When you saturate the hair with conditioner, it acts as a lubricant and eases the untangling process. Use your fingers first to loosen any tangles and knots before following with a wide-tooth comb.
- Never wear hair rollers to bed. Your partner and hair will thank you. Hair rollers add continuous tension to the hair during the night. This constant pulling stresses the hair.
If you keep in mind these suggestions, you will limit the damage to your hair and slow down or eliminate the cycle of traction alopecia.
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