Traction alopecia is a form of gradual hair loss or thinning of the hair that happens because of continuous pulling on hair over time, usually as the result of particular types of hairstyling. Commonly, this condition is caused by hairstyles such as dreadlocks, braids, cornrows, weaves, clip-on pieces, tight turbans and high, tight ponytails or pigtails.
There are different forms of hair loss that affect both men and women. The most common is androgenetic alopecia, which is responsible for over 95% of hair loss cases.
What is alopecia?
Losing a certain amount of hair a day is normal. Most people shed between 20 to 50 hairs a day. Some sources cite 100 hairs as the norm, but that has been found to be an overestimation. These hairs are “terminal hairs” – those that have reached the end of their growth cycle and rest (telogen) cycle, usually at the end of 5–6 years on your head. All hairs go through three phases of growth – anagen, catagen and telogen. Even hairs of those suffering from alopecia (hair loss) go through these phases. The difference is that in those suffering from alopecia, a new hair does not replace the old one, resulting in visible hair loss.
With traction alopecia, there is a simple cause for the hair loss. What we know as a human hair can be divided into two parts: The follicle and the hair shaft. The follicle is the skin organ that produces the hair and resides in the dermis layer of the skin. The hair shaft is the visible hair that extrudes from the skin and can be pulled out. When too much pressure is put on the hair over time, it can speed up the hair shedding process, resulting in the loss of hairs already in the telogen phase. It can also have a negative effect on the follicles themselves, resulting in traumatised follicles that do not produce hairs to replace those that were shed.
Is traction alopecia reversible?
Unlike some other forms of alopecia, traction alopecia is usually reversible, as long as the pulling and tugging that has caused it is stopped and the scalp is allowed to heal. Repeatedly subjecting the same hair follicles to pulling may result in permanent hair loss in the affected area. It can take time for the hair to recover from the damage of over-pulling. Often, it can take up to six months before an improvement can be seen and felt by the sufferer. Topical hair loss products can often speed up the process as well as revive hairs in the telogen phase.
Traction alopecia in black women
Traction alopecia is common among black women, because of their choice of hairstyles, like weaves which involve tight pulling of the hair. It can often be mistaken for other types of hair loss, so professional assessment is often necessary to see what the problem is.
Traction alopecia often starts with a receding of the front hairline, and it often continues with a general thinning of the hair all over the head. Another form is when the loss occurs around the scalp edges. This type of hair loss is called banded traction alopecia. With another type of traction alopecia the hair comes out in clumps as the result of sleeping in rollers or having braids or tight weaves. Children can also be affected.
The good news is that the condition is not genetic and can be reversed if diagnosed and treated in time.