Traction alopecia is the term “edges snatched”, personified.
Seeing your hairline slowly recede can be triggering, especially in today’s climate where laid edges are the gold standard.
How does this happen? And is there any way to reverse traction alopecia for black hair?
Let’s get into the science behind traction alopecia in natural hair.
What is Traction Alopecia
Traction alopecia (TA) is hair loss caused by repeated/chronic tensile forces to scalp hair (Hantash et al, 2003).
When we experience TA, the hair around the scalp has been subject to chronic tension from either tight hairstyles such as braids, or from general pressure along the hairline (such as wearing tight scarfs or installing long, heavy hair extensions).
This tension results in scalp and follicle inflammation and irritation, the precursor of hair loss.
If the tension is not relieved, we experience hair loss and breakage along the frontal margins of the head.
Usually the hair loss is reversible if we seek early intervension, however permanent alopecia from can occur if the tension persists.
Signs of Traction Alopecia
Traction alopecia doesn’t occur overnight. There are some early warning signs of oncoming hair loss from TA such as:
- Scaling and erthymena along the hairline, including little bumps;
- Hair breakage along the hairline;
- Scalp tenderness and redness;
- Scalp scarring that occurs from prolonged tension
If you experience any of the above symptoms, you may be at risk for experiencing TA.
Causes for Traction Alopecia
Black people represent the most susceptible group of experiencing traction alopecia – in fact, approximately 1/3 of women of African descent are affected (Billero & Miteva, 2018).
The commonly understood cause for traction alopecia is stress along the hairline due to tight hairstyles.
Hairstyles such as braids are a leading cause of TA, especially those that include heavy hair extensions that weigh the hair down and put significant stress along the hairline.
It’s important to note that braids are not the only hairstyle that can cause TA. Tight scarves, high pony tails and buns also put stress on our hairline.
Although anybody can put their hair in tight styles, the helical shape of natural hair makes black hair more susceptible to TA than other ethnicities.
Each bend on a single strand of our hair represents geometric points of weakness – in other words, the tighter your curl type = the more potential areas of breakage.
This makes natural hair more susceptible to breakage when our hair is subject to prolonged mechanical trauma from these tight styles, which contributes to TA (Billero & Miteva, 2018).
It’s also important to note that chemically relaxed hair, when coupled with these tight styles, can further increase the likelihood of traction alopecia.
Why? Because relaxer breaks the curl bonds in our hair (which results in the semi-permanent straightening of our hair).
The breaking of these bonds inherently weakens the hair and can put your hair at risk for breakage if you expose your scalp to prolonged tension.
Traction Alopecia: When Is it Too Late?
Traction alopecia is treatable with early prevention.
With prolonged exposure to tension, your hair follicles will scar. When scarring occurs, there is virtually no blood and oxygen flow to that part of the scalp. Blood flow is imperative for healthy hair growth.
In other words, once the scalp starts to scar, this is permanent alopecia. No hair will grow out of scarred areas. As such it’s important to treat TA once you start to experience the above symptoms!
Treatment for Traction Alopecia
Most cases of traction alopecia can be reversed (Billero & Miteva, 2018).
Traction alopecia treatment can be very simple, if caught early: the traumatic hair styles must be stopped.
Any and all tight styles must not be installed into the hair. This includes any styles that pull, tug or weigh down the hair, such as wigs, weaves, braids, buns and ponytails.
Avoid using direct heat and chemicals on the scalp and hair to avoid aggravating and inflaming your scalp further.
You should also see a dermatologist as soon as possible. They will be able to provide topical creams and oral anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the bumps and swelling along your hair line to prevent any scarring.
Depending on how far along your traction alopecia is, medication may be the best course of action and simply removing the hairstyle will not be enough.
Home Remedies for Traction Alopecia
Because of the nature of this type of hair loss, homemade solutions for traction alopecia is not the most effective.
In fact, experimenting with DIY mixtures can actually damage your follicles, because the follicles themselves are already irritated.
The best thing you can do for your TA is keep your scalp clean. Dirt, grime and bacteria can accumulate in your scalp, further irritating your scalp. This is especially true if you have coily roots that trap dirt.
Use shampoos that are gentle enough yet contain sufficient detergents/surfactants to keep your scalp build-up free.
Mielle Pomegranate & Honey Moisturizing Shampoo
Best for TYPE 4
This shampoo is one of the most moisturizing shampoos on the market. Key ingredients such as honey and panthenol reduce friction between hair strands, providing additional slip for detangling and does not overly strip the hair once rinsed. A must try for Type 4 naturals!
TGIN Moisture Rich Sulfate Free Shampoo
Best for TYPE 3 – 4
Best suited for coilier textures, this shampoo will ensure no product is left behind. Best of all, most of the hydrating ingredients (such as amla oil extract and sugar cane), are right up front in the ingredient list, meaning your hair won’t feel stripped after using it.
Hairstyles for Traction Alopecia
The best hairstyles for traction alopecia is to wear it natural.
Low maintenance styles that put zero weight on the hair, such as wash and go’s and twists, allow the hair to rest in its natural state while putting no tension along the hairline.
If you are experiencing significant hair loss, see a local hair stylist. Many hairstyles are able to cut and shape your hair to hide any bald or thin areas.
Final Thoughts About Traction Alopecia
Traction alopecia is not a death sentence to hair loss. It’s a sign from your scalp that it’s time for a break.
Watch out for small bumps, headaches, scalp tenderness or scaling around your hairline. If you notice small bumps or pain around your hairline after a style installation, take your style out immediately!
If you notice hair loss, speak to your doctor about next steps. The earlier you catch the hair loss, the easier it will be to grow the hair back.
Hantash, Basil M., Robert A. Schwartz, and C. K. Janniger. “Traction alopecia in children.” CUTIS-NEW YORK- 71.1 (2003): 18-20.
Billero, Victoria, and Mariya Miteva. “Traction alopecia: the root of the problem.” Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology 11 (2018): 149.