We as a collective unit of #BlackGirlMagic can all agree that are edges are fragile and when taken care of properly will thrive! So many miracle products have been placed on the natural hair market, to help bring back our edges, grow them in thicker, and maintain a killer hairline. We also can agree that our “kitchen” is another sensitive topic of discussion that can bring about great bouts of anger, frustration and dialogue. Everyone seems to have a cure to save the kitchen when you go over to a family dinner right? But what we don’t discuss very often is what can cause damage to our edges, kitchen, and the rest of the hair on our scalp. It seems that we are usually uncomfortable discussing anytime our hair isn’t in tip top shape.
It’s a tricky slippery slope African American women are on, where they tow the line of having beautiful styles and a head full of unhealthy hair that could possibly lead to a bigger issue. And that issue my dears is Alopecia. Most people talk in general about the causes and consequences but don’t dive any further. The most informative expose I recently ran into was in an xoNecole piece that shared some insight on what you need to know about such a common issue. Let’s continue to take a real look at the truth behind alopecia and how you could potentially and unintentionally be at risk.
The Truth Behind Alopecia
Causes: Alopecia can be caused by many different things, and there are about 8 different types of alopecia. There is Alopecia Areata which is one of the most common types that can not be cured, but can be treated. This type of alopecia must be diagnosed by a doctor, and occurs when your immune system starts to attack the follies of your hair. Stress is the number one cause of Alopecia Areata, and the main treatment used for it is topical scalp medications.
Another type of alopecia that is very common, especially in women is Traction Alopecia. This type of alopecia is what African American women often suffer from the most when it comes to their hair. Traction Alopecia occurs gradually and usually is caused by consistent frequent tension or pulling on the hair. This is often the case when braids, weaves, or pony tails are installed as a long term style. Even short term styling that ensues pulling, twisting and tension can be damaging.
Signs & Symptoms: When suffering with Alopecia Areata you want to watch out for clumps of hair falling out, leaving behind round smooth patches of hair missing from your scalp. An even more difficult way to spot signs of alopecia aerata is to look out for areas of thinner area, or hair that has consistently broken off. The hair in that specific area may grow back the same color and texture, but there is also a possibility they may grow back finer and white. In the most drastic and worst case scenario the hair in the area may never grow back resulting in permanent hair loss.
With Traction Alopecia is easy to spot as it is what we refer to when we say we “lost our edges” or have disrupted our hairline (when it starts “moving” further and further back). The infamous Naomi Campbell image is a classic yet disturbing sign of traction alopecia that has occurred due to tight braids installed for sew in weave purposes.
Traction alopecia doesn’t only occur with braids, weaves, twists that are installed too tightly. Our daily lifestyle habits can be causing traction alopecia without us even noticing/being aware. If you notice the parting in your hair is wider than usual, or the areas around your nape , edges, and behind your ears are thinner/missing then you are doing something that is causing too much tension on your scalp. A few examples of lifestyle behavior/choices that may be causing traction alopecia are:
- Very tight ponytails or pigtails
- Tight braids or cornrows
- Extension (single) braids
- Hair weaves or wigs attached with glue, clips or tape
- Certain hair clips, slides or barrettes that hold the hair tightly and are worn in the same position every day
- Headbands – even fabric ones – worn day after day
- Tight hairpieces
- Tight headgear like cycling helmets that are worn frequently or for long stretches of time and tend to rub or pull repeatedly on the same area of hair
- Repeated use of hair rollers
- Repeated pulling of the hair with the hands (this is an emotional condition called trichotillomania)
Catching hold of the behavior early is best, as it gives you more opportunity to fix the behavior that is causing the hair loss. If the tension has been too traumatic there is also a possibility that the follicle can become permanently damaged and never grow hair again.
Treatment: At the very first sign of alopecia (or when you notice something just isn’t right) it is important to head to a dermatologist to get a professional opinion immediately. Catching alopecia (in any form) early is the key to a proper solution and treatment. Most women want to just slap on some oil onto their scalp and claim they’ve changed their hair regimen. I for one love DIY, but I also rather be safe than sorry. After you’ve received proper treatment for the condition, you can continue to make the right/proper changes in your daily life to ensure that your hair doesn’t fall victim to alopecia again.
Have you ever suffered from Alopecia before? What steps did you take to keep up with the health of your hair? Share them with us in the comment box below.