Author: Sarah Belgravia
A 2017 study found that one in five Black women risk hair loss due to societal pressures regarding Afro hairstyles. Various clinical research studies into two specific conditions have come to the same conclusion: that Black women are disproportionately affected.
Here we look at the issues and explain how to help in preventing hairloss where possible, as well as how to treat or manage each type.
Traction Alopecia (TA)
The first condition found to affect Black women more than their Asian and Caucasian counterparts is Traction Alopecia. This is a fully-preventable form of hair loss which presents as receding around the hairline and temporal areas, caused by excessive amounts of tension being applied to the follicles.
Atlanta hairstylist, Jasmine Collins gave a pointed interview in April 2018, about how the burgeoning popularity of wigs and weaves since the early 2000s has resulted in increased rates of hair loss among Black women. Talking to the New York Times, she notes “Remember 20 years ago, when people were wearing their own hair with relaxers?… People had heads full of hair”. She continues, “I am not anti-weave… I’m just trying to spread the word about an issue”. This truth-bomb is an unpopular sentiment echoed among many professionals who see their clients struggling with hair loss as a result of their styling.
There are two likely reasons for women with Afro hair being worse affected: the fact that this hair type is naturally the most stretchy yet brittle, making it prone to breakage and damage from over-styling, and the prevalence of traditional hairstyles and hairstyling practices – including misleadingly-named protective hairstyles – among the Black community.
TA is so prevalent among Black women that a colloquial term – ‘snatched edges‘ – has been adopted to refer to hair loss at the temples resulting from regularly wearing too-tight hairstyles.
The hairstyles that typically come to mind when thinking of Traction Alopecia may revolve around braided styles such as cornrows, Bantu knots and box braids – or where adornments are added via pierced or beaded braids, adding extra weight which can cause increased strain – but these are far from the only culprits.
Top knots, high ponytails and buns can all be just as damaging when not worn mindfully – meaning wearing occasionally, with breaks in between severe styles to allow the follicles to recover, and ensuring the hair is in optimum condition before adding to its woes by wearing strenuous hairstyles.
Despite its prevalence in women of colour, TA is in fact often referred to as ‘Ballerina Baldness‘; whilst professional ballet may be a traditionally White-dominated field, dancers are more prone to the condition due to wearing their hair scraped back into taut high buns, daily.
Researchers at Baltimore’s John Hopkins University School of Medicine published guidelines for best practice Afro hairstyling after discovering around a third of African American women were affected by the condition.
At Belgravia personalised courses of Traction Alopecia Treatment can be tailored to the needs of each client. These involve the use of a topical medication and a bespoke mix of suitable supporting products, to maximise the potential for healthy hair growth. Treatment can be stopped once the hair has sufficiently recovered, however, obviously preventing hair loss from happening in the first place is the best option.
In order to minimise the risk of Traction Alopecia, cut out – as per the ever-growing Natural Hair movement – or cut down on problematic hairstyling practices. Follow the John Hopkins guide which explains how often it is ‘safe’ to wear particular hairstyles for, and how often other stressors such as heat and chemicals can be withstood, plus try to wear your hair naturally as often as you can. If you prefer to have a straighter look, try kinder options such as African Threading.
Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia (CCCA)
The form of scarring hairloss known as Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia (CCCA) is prevalent among women of colour and is caused by inflammation. Whether this is related to the recent discovery that certain hair products aimed at Black women contain toxic ingredients, is currently unknown.
Quite how widespread it is, is hard to tell as many women just ‘get on with it’, using home remedies such as castor oil, or covering their heads with scarves or wigs, rather than having the condition properly diagnosed and receiving treatment. This may be due to concerns over not being taken seriously by doctors due to the condition’s “unfair trivialisation“, as Dr. Sharon Wong – a consultant dermatologist at London’s Homerton Hospital – puts it. However, women’s hair loss can have a severe psychological and emotional impact.
The Black Women’s Health Study at Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center in 2016 discovered that 40.9 per cent of the participants had CCCA – but only 8.8 per cent had received a professional diagnosis.
It can cause permanent hair loss, though if caught in its mild to moderate stages, before hair follicles have been destroyed or rendered inactive, the condition – which is also known as Follicular Degeneration Syndrome, Hot Comb Alopecia and Central Progressive Alopecia – can be treated.
Hair loss that appears in a well-defined patch then radiates outwards is the hallmark of CCCA, which is one of the only types of Cicatricial Alopecia that has any significant treatment options. The affected area often takes the shape of an almond or exclamation mark – not to be confused with exclamation mark hairs – but can also form a more rounded balding patch.
If the condition is suspected, it is worth getting a diagnosis from a hair expert, not least because Black women with hair loss from CCCA are also considered to have a four times higher risk of uterine fibroids, according to a 2018 study.
Whilst each of these conditions can appear independently, it is also possible for them to appear simultaneously, or alongside other issues such as Female Pattern Baldness. Therefore, if excessive, sudden or even simply unusual hair loss becomes apparent, it is wise to seek a professional opinion from a hair loss specialist who can get to the root of the problem. They can then provide a diagnosis, advice and personalised hair loss treatment recommendations based on the specific needs of each individual.
The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.