Many African American women are at risk for developing hair loss as a result of their popular hair styling techniques. Traction Alopecia is a hair loss condition caused by damage to the dermal papilla and hair follicle by constant pulling or tension over a long period. It often occurs primarily in persons who wear tight braids, especially “cornrows”, that lead to high tension, pulling and breakage of hair. This condition is most prevalent in African American women who commonly wear tight braids when cornrowing and weaving their hair. It can also occur with the wearing of dreadlocks, tight ponytails, and single extensions. Traction Alopecia occurs most commonly in children, teenagers, and young adults. It is seen less often in the older individual.
Traction Alopecia can also be caused by overprocessing the hair – also a common practice in African American females.. This would include chemical straighteners, dyes, and bleaches which damage the keratin structure of the hair. As a result, the hair becomes very fragile and falls out with routine combing and brushing. These processes of straightening and braiding of the hair put the African American female at a great risk for developing hair loss from traction alopecia.
Often overlooked, is the negative impact traction alopecia can have on women. This includes:
- inability to style the hair
- dissatisfaction with appearance and body image
- low self-esteem
- loss of personal attractiveness and fear of not looking attractive to others
- embarrassment, loss of confidence, shyness
- social teasing and humiliation
- feeling of depression and introversion
- work-related problems
- negative effect on social life
Traction alopecia can be reversed if detected and treated early. However, if the condition is protracted, the condition is often irreversible. Hair styles and procedures that put undue stress and tension on the hair must be replaced for more “gentler” and looser styles. Stylists who service African American women have an obligation to inform their customers of the potential risk of significant hair loss inherent with certain hairstyles.
Unfortunately, there is no medical treatment available to reverse late-stage traction alopecia. Hair transplantation is the only practical solution to date once severe and extensive hair loss has taken place. Hair transplantation is a surgical technique that involves moving individual hair follicles from one part of the body to bald or balding parts. The procedure, however, is very expensive and may be unaffordable for most women.
African American women who feel they may be suffering from the early stages of traction alopecia must see a licensed dermatologist to prevent further hair loss. Hormonal and nutritional treatments may be beneficial. Counseling may also be indicated if the negative effects of the hair loss are severe.