Actors and women of colour are among the groups of people most likely to be affected by Traction Alopecia. This is a form of hair loss caused by excessive strain being frequently placed on the follicles, often as a result of tight hairstyles, hair extensions or weaves.
Laverne Cox, the actor, LGBTQI+ activist and all-round glamazon, spoke to InStyle magazine about how she and her stylists take steps towards preventing Traction Alopecia.
Extra care of the edges
The former Orange is the New Black star and regular wig-wearer, who has a tightly coiled 4C Afro hair type, stopped relaxing her hair in 2011 after the chemical process “destroyed” her hair. She chose to go natural, but still flits between extensions, lace-front wigs and braids – all known to cause hair breakage and Traction Alopecia.
Cox gave InStyle readers the following advice on preventing Traction Alopecia without compromising on hairstyles…
“You want to make sure that under your weave, your hair is braided down – and not too tight… When we’re braiding, we braid around [the perimeter] of the hair to really be protecting my edges as much as possible. With wigs, the rubbing of the lace is real, so sometimes changing the position of your wigs helps, also.”
In terms of looking after her hair, she explained her haircare routine, saying: “I probably wash my hair every two weeks with the braids, and then, depending on my schedule, ideally once a month – sometimes six weeks – I take my braids out. We wash, deep condition, sometimes do a hot oil treatment, and then we braid her back up.”
What the experts say…
Researchers from the John Hopkins School of Medicine found that traditionally protective hairstyles, such as braiding, can damage hair and cause hairloss. However, they came up with some hair-styling guidelines to help people, specifically those with Afro hair, which is naturally more porous and brittle than the other hair types.
“For all types of hair, but especially those with a very tight curl and Afro textured hair I would advise:
- Avoid chemical trauma – this includes treatments like perms, relaxers and bleach. Most of these products are strong alkali and, if used incorrectly, can cause severe damage to both the hair and scalp. Occasionally, this might result in permanent hair loss if there is a chemical burn on the scalp. They are very strong irritants, so for some people this may trigger contact dermatitis. The constant scratching can cause hair breakage and carries the additional risk of secondary infection;
- Avoid thermal trauma – this includes hot combs, high heat hair dryers and hair straighteners. The strong heat, especially if used just after a relaxer (e.g. blow drying the hair after it’s been relaxed to make it smoother), can also cause permanent damage to the hair – and, of course, to the scalp – if it is transferred to the scalp which may happen with hot combs;
- Avoid or severely restrict physical trauma – this includes all taut hair styles, such as tight braiding but also extensions and weaves, tight pony tails, buns, and tight pulling and twisting of the hair using hair rollers or whilst blow drying.
Hair loss may not occur just from one use of the above-mentioned treatments. It is often due to repeated trauma to the hair and very frequently it is a combination of a few types of trauma, for example the person might be relaxing their hair (chemical trauma), then blow drying it to make it nice and smooth (thermal trauma), and pulling on the hair tightly with the round brush while doing so (physical trauma). All of this while the hair is already weak can lead to trouble; It doesn’t take much for the hair to be overprocessed and hair breakage can be experienced for weeks after overprocessing.”
In terms of how best to prevent Traction Alopecia, Rali says, “I encourage patients to keep the hair in good condition and for every patient this might involve a different routine, depending on their lifestyle or medical history. But overall, keep the hair well hydrated, especially in these harsh temperatures. Afro textured hair really benefits from regular steaming and also regular use of leave—in conditioners. If the hair needs to be braided, I would advise that the braids are loose so they don’t cause further physical trauma. And I would definitely advise against any chemical trauma or the use of additional extensions or weaves.”
For those who do find themselves experiencing thinning edges, a receding hairline or other signs of hair loss they suspect may be hairstyle-related, help is available. The obvious first step is to remove the source of the tension and wear the hair naturally; a haircut to tidy up damaged ends and breakage is also wise in many cases. If this is not enough to allow normal healthy hair growth to start to come through, recommendations for Traction Alopecia treatment can be sought from a professional hair loss clinic.
The Belgravia Centre is an organisation specialising in hair growth and hair loss prevention with two clinics and in-house pharmacies in Central London, UK. 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 world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which includes the world’s largest gallery of hair growth comparison photos and demonstrates the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time to arrange a free consultation.