Traction Alopecia explained... What is it?

We're going to talk about a hair condition that many women and men experience, in particular, 1 in 3 women of colour will face in their life-time: traction alopecia. You may know someone who has suffered from traction alopecia. Traction alopecia is hair loss, predominately around the hairline. Traction alopecia is caused by prolonged stress on the hair cuticle by either wearing tight braids or extensions, putting significant heat on the hairline, getting chemical relaxers, repeatably installing a weave, using tight sponge rollers and brushing already fragile hairs roughly with the incorrect brush. Usually, people with curlier hair suffer more due to more stress being put on the curls. There is a silver lining however, traction alopecia is preventable. What you need to know, is the signs of traction alopecia, so that you can prevent it happening to you before any permanent damage occurs.


Most of the time, getting traction alopecia is unintentional, so what causes it? 

Traction alopecia is most commonly caused by tight hairstyles like braids, buns, weaves and locs. Most women don't even know that they are doing their hair a disservice when they are constantly getting these hairstyles done. There is a common misconception that these hairstyles are good for the hair because they're not using heat to style the hair, however, it is the act of constant pulling on the hair which causes the damage. Hair loss is greatest where the hairstyle is pulled the tightest and for many people, this is around the "edges" or the hairline. Combining these tight hairstyles with chemical procedures like relaxing or bleaching of the hair also causes hair follicles to weaken and break, thus attributing to more hair loss. Those with long hair who constantly wear their hair up may also contribute to traction alopecia due to the sheer weight of the hair pulling on the scalp. 


What does traction alopecia look like? 

Traction alopecia is usually hair loss, more predominately around the hair-line but can be elsewhere too. A person may experience some redness and irritation to the area where hair is being pulled due to hair follicle inflammation. Traction or "too tight" hairstyles will often see the scalp being taught, and the skin being pulled up with a hairstyle. Traction alopecia can take years to form, but when it does, can take a long time for your hair to return back to normal, if it does. 


[image of woman with traction alopecia on the hairline, source:] 

Can it be cured? 

The good news is that traction alopecia can be reversed, however, it is important to note that there could be a point where your traction alopecia becomes irreversible. If you identify it early, then the hair can completely regrow if the actions causing the traction alopecia are ceased. However, longstanding traction alopecia can cause permanent destruction of the hair follicle; in this situation, the hair loss is permanent.


I think I could be on the way to having traction alopecia, how do I stop it from happening?! 

First things first, you need to take a break from the tight hairstyles you've been wearing. It is okay to do your hair in braids, however, it is important to give your hair and scalp a rest. Switch up your hairstyles, rather than wearing braids all year long. If you do have severe traction alopecia, then we suggest speaking to your hairdresser or dermatologist, as there are a number of medications that can be used to help your scalp repair itself. Enjoy your natural hair and give the tight hairstyles a rest, also rubbing soothing oils onto the scalp like our range of hair butters ​can help to soothe the scalp and promote new follicle generation. 


Traction alopecia, when recognised early, is reversible. Unfortunately, its one of those conditions that don't get talked about enough and women (and some men) have to deal with the consequences later in life. Implementing looser hairstyles, giving your hair a break from the styles and using natural products and less chemicals will get you on the right path to healthier hair. 



Banner image photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

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