In this article I’m going to be talking all about hairstyles that cause hair loss – a common cause of traction alopecia.
What is traction alopecia?
It’s a type of hair loss due to chronic traction or stress on the hair follicles that first leads to a lot of hair breakage and then later on down the road, if the traction forces persist, leads to weakening of the hair follicle and ultimately hair loss.
Hair loss from traction alopecia is going to be most obvious around your hairline, especially in the frontal hairline around your temples and right in front of your ears.
This is because those hairs are a lot finer, they’re baby hairs and they’re more fragile and susceptible to breakage and becoming weak from those pulling forces.
Traction hair loss can and does happen in all people, but it’s more common in women, because women style their hair in such a way that puts a lot of traction on their hair. It’s very common in African-American women. It’s estimated that a third of African-American women suffer from traction hair loss.
So if that’s you, listen up.
There are a variety of different hair styles that may be contributing, such as tight braids or weaves. Another issue that goes alongside that in terms of your hair care habits, might be if you are putting heat directly on your hair, right along your hairline. That will weaken the hair, make it more susceptible to breakage and then you have those pulling forces on the hair shaft that further contribute to you hair loss in those areas.
Culprit hair styles include: tight braids, ponytails, really tight slicked back buns. Also if you have weaves. They put a lot of stress on the hair shaft and can lead to traction alopecia. Tight sponge rollers also can put a lot of stress on the hair.
If your little baby hairs are already weakened from heat styling and chemical treatments, then even hair bands can also put a lot of traction and cause their breakage. Head wraps too can put some additional stress on those hair shafts.
That’s not to say though that tight braids, hair bands and things like this are completely off the table and that you should never style your hair that way.
But it’s to make you aware that if you choose to wear your hair that way every single day, day after day after day, it’s going to put a lot of stress on your hair shafts and can contribute to this problem.
With time that can be a more stubborn problem to correct and can lead to permanent hair loss in those areas under chronic traction.
So switching up your hairstyle a lot can help!
Another hair styling habit that can lead to this is using long wear hair gels, especially if you are slicking back the hair really tight and putting long wear hair gel in the hair.
Unfortunately a lot of those long wear hair gel products have a lot of alcohols in them, which are very drying on the hair shaft, making it more brittle and more fragile and more susceptible to breakage and becoming weak.
Other thing about long wear hair gels is a way that you put them into the hair. Some women take a brush and brush their hair up into a ponytail and they keep brushing to get all the little bumps and whispies out. They are brushing in that hair gel. That’s really hard on those baby hairs.
The combination of the alcohols in the hair gel and the forces from the brush and then you’ve got it pulled back really tight for long time. That’s hair style is a setup for traction hair loss.
Traction hair loss is actually pretty insidious. It happens very slowly. Some signs of traction hair loss are going to be if you start noticing some thinning in the frontal hairline, around the temples. Also if you have a hairstyle that causes you pain and leads to a headache, that’s probably a red flag that you want to rethink that hairstyle or at least not wear it very often, because with time that can obviously cause issues. If you see broken hairs, that is a red flag that you’re going in the direction towards traction hair loss.
Another sign of traction hair loss, especially in the early stages, is if you get little bumps in those areas of the scalp under chronic traction. They look like little whiteheads. That is due to the inflammation from that chronic pulling force on the hair.
What are some things though that you can do if you start seeing some of the signs of traction hair loss?
Take a break from the tight hairstyles. As I said, it’s not so much that they’re totally off the table, but it’s how often that you’re wearing your hair that way. You want to take a break of a few weeks at least to give your scalp some time to recover and to remove some of that external force on the hair shaft.
If you like wearing hair gel in your hair, try and choose one that’s not long lasting hold. This tend have more drying alcohols. Try and select one that’s more moisturizing and has some more moisturizing ingredients.
Don’t go to bed with the hair gel in your hair. That just exposes the hair shaft to that drying alcohol for a much longer time.
If you enjoy wearing extensions, that’s fine. Just take a break from them. Don’t wear them indefinitely. I don’t think they should be in place for longer than six weeks, but discuss that with your stylist. And definitely take a break of at least two weeks, if not four weeks. An entire month off just to give your scalp some time to recuperate and to remove some of that external traction on the hair.
The sew in type of hair extensions are likely going to put even more traction on the hair.
If you’ve been wearing tight hairstyles for a while and you are realizing that you have a lot of traction hair loss, one thing that you might do beyond taking a break from some of these hairstyles, is you might consider trying minoxidil.
This is sold over-the-counter brand name Rogaine. It’s FDA approved for pattern hair loss in both men and women. By pattern hair loss I’m talking about hormonal hair loss, totally different from traction alopecia.
What it can do is kickstart some of the hair follicles into the growing phase and get you in the direction of getting more hair growth.
But what you need to realize about using that over-the-counter medication is that it will push more of your hair follicles into the growing phase and get you in the direction towards hair regrowth, but as it does that, it also will push the hairs that are already in the growing cycle into the resting phase and then the shutting phase.
So initially you’ll actually get a little bit more shedding and that can be alarming, but that initial shedding with minoxidil is not true hair loss. It’s just rearranging the cycles. So when you see that don’t be alarmed.
If you continue using it, eventually the hairs will be recruited into the growing phase and they’ll get a kickstart of hair growth.
Another option is to see a dermatologist in person and have a steroid shot into the scalp. It’s often used for a variety of different scalp issues. What that does is quiet down some of that inflammation and irritation that is contributing to some of the hair loss.
That’s pretty much everything about traction alopecia. Understand that it’s not necessarily one hairstyle, but it’s kind of a combination of different hair styling habits done daily that really can wreak havoc on those baby hairs, especially in the frontal hairline. But also in the back of the scalp.
The combination of things like heat, chemical relaxers, long hold hair gels with a lot of alcohols can push you over the edge for traction hair loss, especially if you’re doing this daily.
So take a break for several weeks and give your scalp some time to recuperate.
Samantha is a hairstylist with over 12 years of color and stylist experience. She enjoys using her knowledge to create what her clients really want when they sit down in her chair. Her passion is creating unique looks that her clients feel great in.