Hair styles and hair loss

Recently published research has reviewed the link between hair loss and certain hair styles, particularly those popular with black women.

Researchers at John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, reviewed 19 previously published studies and, based on their research, confirmed a ‘strong association’ between certain hair styles and traction alopecia, a form of hair loss.

What is traction alopecia?

Traction alopecia is caused by tension being placed on the hair follicles, usually after a prolonged period of time. Statistics in America estimate that one-third of black women suffer from traction alopecia.

Initially, it may present as bald patches or hair loss at the margins of the scalp or on the edges of the individual braid, as these hairs receive the most force. The follicles can become inflamed over time, leading to scarring and permanent hair loss. This is typically a very gradual hair loss condition, so it can take a couple of years before hair loss becomes noticeable.

There are three main causes of traction alopecia:

  • Trichotillomania; a compulsive disorder where the sufferer repeatedly plucks their hair strands, resulting in hair loss over time
  • Telogen conversion; every individual hair on the scalp is in one of three hair growth stages at any one time. Excessive tension placed on the follicle over a prolonged period will prematurely force the hair follicle into the telogen phase in which hair growth is suspended
  • Over processing; chemical treatments, such as straighteners, dyes and bleaches can affect the structure of the hair, drastically weakening it and making it more susceptible to tension

Which hair style will cause most damage?

Published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, the report categorised different hair styles, depending on the amount of damage they did. Low-risk styles were low tension and avoided chemical relaxers. Heat treatments were categorised as moderate risk, because although they can weaken hair they are not usually associated with traction alopecia. The highest-risk styles included braids, dreadlocks and extensions when performed on chemically-straightened hair.

Traction alopecia can be reversible, but, like many hair loss conditions, early intervention is key.

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