Traction alopecia is form of hair loss resulting in bald patches where the scalp has been damaged. It often found in women who wear tight hair styles, which require extensive pulling on hair follicles, and users of hair extensions. While not permanent, the scalp may take months or even years to fully recover from the damage it has received.
The causes of hair loss of this kind are varied, but each type results in the same inflammation of the scalp and damage to the follicles. The main cause of traction alopecia is a deformation of the hair follicles, which occurs due to pulling, tension and excessive weight on the hair.
The natural growth cycle for a hair follicle involves going into a periodic dormant state, during which time the follicle repairs itself. When the follicle is deformed, the dormant state is lengthened; and sometimes becomes permanent. In these situations, the roots weaken and the hair no longer grows.
As a direct result of many follicles going into a prolonged dormant state, bald patches appear. This is known as traction alopecia. In addition, the scalp will often become itchy and inflamed in the area where the damage has been caused; which in itself can lead to further damage due to scratching and rubbing.
Pulling on the Hair Follicles
One of the main causes of hair loss in sufferers of traction alopecia is down to excessive pulling on the hair, and thus on the hair follicles. Hairstyles such as ponytails, which pull hair tightly at the crown, exert a lot of pressure on the hair follicles, which lead them to deform.
Pulling on the hair follicles is also caused by an excessive hair styling regime that requires a lot of combing and teasing of the hair in order to create the right look. When you wear a style like that, consider taking a few days off and letting your hair recover afterwards; to give your hair a chance to recover.
Tension on the hair
Tension on the hair is a major hair loss condition because it actively deforms the hair follicle. Tension is caused by pulling on the hair through tight weaves, and also by adding weight to the hair; as occurs when using hair extensions.
Tight weave braiding, whether for hair extensions or simply as part of a hair style, involves holding each strand of hair under significantly increased tension. This pulls on the roots of the hair and, when the hair grows, the tension is only increased. The tighter the braids and the closer the braids are knit to the scalp, the more tension the hair is under.
This results in damaged hair follicles, weaker hair roots and, eventually, bald patches caused by traction alopecia.
Excessive weight on the hair
Hair follicles are not designed to carry a lot of weight. The scalp sprouts hair that it can carry but any extra weight placed on the hair can overload the follicles in the scalp; which causes deformation of the follicles and thus leads to baldness.
Extra weight is placed on the hair by attaching hair extensions. Extensions can be added using a variety of methods, from traditional beeswax and modern glues; to braiding the extensions into the hair; or even tightly braiding the natural hair and stitching the extensions into the braids. Each attachment method adds weight to the hair, which pulls on the follicles.
Scratching and Rubbing
One source of traction alopecia that is often overlooked is due to mechanical damage to the scalp in the form of scratching and rubbing. Rubbing often occurs where tightly-fitted helmets are worn, such as crash helmets and safety helmets worn in the workplace. These press onto the scalp and rub both the scalp itself and any hair caught between scalp and hat.
Similarly, when the head is scratched repeatedly and on a regular basis, as can happen with an inflamed scalp caused by excessive hair styling, the hair is put under pressure and the damage to the scalp is exacerbated.
The result is that the hair is continually pulled while under pressure, and the scalp is inflamed. As with pulling and tension due to hairstyling, this causes damage to the hair follicles and traction alopecia can occur as a direct result.
The causes of hair loss by traction alopecia are varied but their effects on the scalp are similar. Each of the various causes damages the hair follicles, deforming them and causing their dormant phases to elongate. The hair roots become weaker and the hair will eventually either snap or simply fall out, at which point bald spots begin to appear. The only solution is to give the scalp time to heal itself; a process that can be sped up by using internal and external treatments for traction alopecia hair loss.