What is traction alopecia? If you've been wondering what exactly this form of hair loss is, you're not alone. It is a mechanical form of hair loss (not caused by genetics).

What is Traction Alopecia?

Last Updated on February 5, 2020 by

Traction alopecia is a prevalent form of hair loss, particularly among African-American women. It involves hair loss where tight ponytails, braids, and other harsh grooming habits pull at the hair follicles. The temple and edges of the hairline are common areas localization. Often, when the beginning stages of traction begin to present themselves, the first step towards healing is preventing further trauma. However, the resources currently available on the best way to go about this usually include misinformation that promotes the use of some oil, without any research to back it up. This article is intended to provide general information accessible to the public, with detailed descriptions of what is traction alopecia and what causes it, when to consult a dermatologist, and treatment methods available.

What Causes Traction Alopecia?

Traction alopecia, also called tension hair loss, is caused by hair follicles being put in tension with the scalp. In other words, pulling the hair forcefully. This damages the structure of the hair follicles. Over time the hair follicles in question can be ripped out by the roots.

Many associate hairstyles such as tight ponytails and various types of braids with traction alopecia.

What is traction alopecia? If you've been wondering what exactly this form of hair loss is, you're not alone. It is a mechanical form of hair loss (not caused by genetics).
What is traction alopecia? If you’ve been wondering what exactly this form of hair loss is, you’re not alone. It is a mechanical form of hair loss (not caused by genetics).

Hair Loss From Tight Ponytails

Pulling hair into a tight ponytail involves collecting the hair that frames the sides of the face and pulling towards the apex of the crown. Celebrities such as Arianna Grande and Bella Hadid are infamous for this exacting hairstyle. Since the hair around the edges of the face, i.e the hairline and temple points, experience a greater pulling force than other areas, people tend to notice hair loss here first.

What is Traction Alopecia from Braids?

Similar to the conditions that result in hair loss from tight ponytails, braid hair loss can also be seen around the edges of the hairline. The design of various braiding styles, however, opens up the possibility of additional points of hair loss. For example, styling hair into a Bantu-knot involves sectioning off hair, pulling it taught, and “screwing” into a rope-like shape. This rope is then twisted further, coiling the rope of hair in on itself. Thus, traction alopecia resulting from braids like these can potentially be seen dispersed throughout.

After looking up their hair loss online, many women wondering “What is traction alopecia?” A common follow up is if it can be caused by wearing braids.

Hair Loss From Relaxers and Hot Combs

A related form of hair loss often seen in association with harsh hairstyles is known as Central Centrifugal Cicatricial (CCCA). This is a condition in which harsh chemicals from relaxers and/or excessive heat from hot combs destroys hair follicles. This hair loss typically affects the crown of the head. Additional hair loss progresses gradually in a central or centrifugal pattern. Due to the popularity of relaxers in African-American hair salons, many women of African descent experience CCCA hair loss.

Wigs and Extensions

Some may opt to cover hair loss from traction alopecia. The go-to methods, however, may actually do more harm than good. Extensions, particularly heavy ones, can weigh down hair and pull hair follicles by the roots. Wigs and weaves can have the same effect, particularly those that must be sewn in. When aiming to conceal hair loss with wigs and extensions, try to find lightweight options. Ideally, these should clip in or use pins for securing.

When Does Hair Loss from Tight Hairstyles Start?

Due to the mechanical nature of hair loss from traction alopecia, there is not necessarily a definitive age for onset. In fact, Nickelodeon child star JoJo Siwa, previously on Dance Moms, has been the subject of much speculation about hair loss due to her signature high, tight ponytail. The star herself seems to be good-natured about the attention to her hairline. In a recent Q&A video on her YouTube channel, a fan asked “where is your hairline going?” to which she laughed and answered, “In the trash!” While this attitude is helpful for brushing off negative attention, it is recommended that you address traction alopecia before it is too late to treat with non-surgical methods.

After looking up what causes traction alopecia, many wonder how to prevent it from getting worse. The first step is easy - simply apply less force to your hairstyle.
After looking up what causes traction alopecia, many wonder how to prevent it from getting worse. The first step is easy – simply apply less force to your hairstyle.

Steps for Traction Alopecia Prevention

In general, hair loss, particularly that which predominantly affects women, is an uncomfortable topic. This is why we at Dr.UGro™ compiled a list of steps you can follow to get started on prevention and opening a dialogue on a delicate issue.

  1. Awareness – Chances are, if you think you are losing hair around your edges, you’ve already done an internet search. You might have followed up by searching “what is traction alopecia?” after seeing it come up in several results. If that search lead you here, then you are are on your way to becoming more aware of this common, yet rarely discussed form of hair loss.
  2. Recognition – After becoming aware of what is traction alopecia and what causes it, the next step is recognizing patterns in your grooming habits that could lead to this type of damage to your hair follicles.
  3. Making a Change – Now that you have identified possible harsh grooming habits in your routine, its time to make a change. You don’t have to stop styling your hair in ponytails or wearing braids completely. Instead, try using less force to achieve your desired look.
  4. Monitor Your Edges – Continue to monitor your hairline for signs of traction alopecia. If you notice continued hair loss, or your edges don’t seem to be growing back on their own, it may be time to consult a dermatologist near you.

How to Treat Traction Alopecia Naturally

If stopping harsh grooming habits does not reverse hair loss around the edges and temples, then a dermatologist may recommend the use of a topical medication such as Minoxidil. Rogaine, the most common form of Minoxidil, can be found over the counter in most pharmacies and drug stores. It works by increasing blood flow to the scalp in order to allow more oxygen and nutrients to replenish hair follicles. However, Minoxidil is only indicated for use on the crown. There is no guarantee of its effect on the hairline and edges.

Those interested in natural alternatives for what causes traction alopecia may want to look into other topical hair products. In order to determine the carefully-formulated from the cheap pretenders, it is important to pay attention to extraction methods. A current trend is to push castor oil as an all-in-one fix-it serum; however, many products marketed as such use heat to extract the oil from castor seeds, which de-natures the chemical components associated with hair benefits from the natural source. Cold formulation, on the other hand, is a more involved process which preserves these delicate chemical components. Therefore, applying a carefully-formulated natural botanical hair product allows for a more direct route to the hair follicles and scalp.

In more severe cases, where scarring has occurred, a dermatologist may recommend a hair transplant procedure to restore hair loss.

Frequently Asked Questions – What is Traction Alopecia?

Is there any particular hairstyle that causes traction alopecia?

In general, any hairstyle that pulls hair harshly can potentially cause traction alopecia. This includes ponytails, braids, buns (even man buns are not exempt), as well as the use of extensions and weaves. Hairstyles that require excessive heat and/or chemical relaxers can result in a form of scarring alopecia known as CCCA.

What are the steps for traction alopecia prevention?

After arming yourself with knowledge from reputable sources about what is traction alopecia and what causes it, you should be able to identify which of your grooming habits could be a potential cause. Using this information, adjust your grooming habits to be easier on your edges and roots and prevent further damage. Keep an eye on your edges and talks to your doctor if your hair loss continues or your hairline does not recover.

What are some natural and holistic traction alopecia remedies I can try at home?

There is no guarantee DIY traction alopecia remedies work. You should begin by easing up on the pulling force in your braids, weaves or pony tails. Often, many online self-help guides suggest the use of various oils. Many are not based on science, but there are research works that support a role for select groups of various plant extracts and oils in naturally supporting growing hair.

Further Reading

Read about what scientists discovered about the connection between Vitamin B6 and hair benefits.

Learn how researchers are using peppermint to study its effect on hair.

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