Traction Alopecia

Traction alopecia is not actually a disease but a loss of hair in time that is caused by pulling the hair too often. Many hairstyles involve the forceful pulling of hair, which in time causes it to become thin in marginal areas. The most vulnerable zones are behind the ears and at the edge of the hairline, in both the front and the back.

This condition can affect people of any sex and race but it is more common among individuals with African roots, because of the traditional hairstyles of the region. It is more prevalent among women from Africa or with an African heritage.

What are the causes of traction alopecia?

Traction alopecia progresses slowly in time and can be hard to detect at first. The cause is the pressure or strain on the hair that can have many different causes.

Most often, the hair is pulled for esthetic reasons and is styled in tight braids or cornrows, pigtails or very tight ponytails, single extensions such as braids, dreadlocks, as well as weaves or wigs attached with glue, tight clips or tape. There are also many items that can affect the hair, like hair clips, slides or barrettes that hold the hair tightly, their effect is worse if the position is the same every day. The daily wear of headbands, even the best quality cotton ones, is another cause of strain. Various tight hairpieces and headgear can affect the hair, especially if used for long periods of time. One classic example is a cycling helmet, which is tight and rubs the same area of the scalp if worn every day. Other bad practices that cause traction alopecia are a psychological disorder named trichotillomania, when a person frequently pulls its own hair with the hands, or the usage of hair rollers.

Any of these practices or a combination of them puts constant pressure on the hair. After a while, the hair can't take the strain and becomes thinner, in particular behind the ears or in the temple area. Another symptom is the increase in size of the forehead, which appears to get wider in time.

There are a number of other warning signs that should not be ignored. For example, you might feel that your scalp is irritated and sensitive after freeing it from a ponytail. In many cases, the hair becomes relieved as soon as it is untied. Braids or weaves can make the scalp itchy as soon as they are removed. In severe cases, the hair is tied so tightly that it causes a headache and you even have to take painkillers to relieve it.

You should constantly monitor your hair for any of these warning signs of tension. The messages of the body should not be ignored and you have time to act until it's too late.

If you don't do anything about it, you will eventually notice that parts of the hair have become thin or even bald. Even though the most vulnerable areas are the hairline and the temples, it can affect the crown as well. Any area of the scalp can suffer from traction alopecia, depending where the strain was.

In the most serious cases, the scalp is put under extreme tension. Its surface can even become covered with small pimples or painful blisters filled with pus. This is the most obvious sign that the hair follicles are unable to resist the extreme pressure applied to them.

Hairstyles that cause traction alopecia

Many of the hairstyles that lead to traction alopecia are popular among both males and females of African descent. One of the most harmful is the braiding and corn rows style. The hair is braided and knotted very tightly at scalp level, which puts a lot of pressure on it. Hair additions are also popular in order to boost the natural hair. Some people leave the braids to hang freely, while other style them into the distinctive corn rows, also known as French braids. Corn rows are especially dangerous and can cause traction alopecia since the hair must be braided extremely tight on the scalp in order to get the desired effect.

Weaving is a procedure that aims to make the hair appear bigger, the end-term effect being similar to a wig but more durable. Basically, new hair is added to the existing one across the entire scalp, in order to make the hair seem longer or denser. There are several ways to achieve this, the most common being netting, braiding, bonding or fusion, using either a type of glue or braiding. Both techniques harm the hair.

Extensions are also popular and resemble weaving. Since the goal is only to give an impression of length, they are only applied to the lower part of the scalp.

Ponytails are common among kids and adults. The hair is grouped tightly into one or several groups, using a band or tie to hold it in position. The use of barrettes to fix the hair in place can also have a bad effect on it. The condition is usually most visible on the frontal hairline and on the top of the crown.

Treatment options

The easiest way to prevent this condition is to simply avoid any stress to the hair and not use any of the dangerous styles or items. The problem is that traction alopecia can't be cured if it's already established. You can only try to hide the condition, using a wig for example. Wigs are also a good option combined with one of the traditional hairstyles, in order to relieve some of the stress on the hair and hide any bald patches. Massaging with Elma 11 Skin and Scalp Revitalizer can help to soothe the scalp and regrow hair.