Alopecia: Hair loss caused by Unhealthy Hairstyles
Although all human hair (and indeed all hair) is composed of hair follicles and shafts, there are distinct variations in the shape and behaviour of hair across different ethnic groups. Some ethnic groups, for example Native Americans, hardly suffer from male pattern baldness at all, while Caucasians suffer from it the most, followed by Blacks.
Interestingly enough, Black people are the ethnic group most heavily affected by the condition known as traction alopecia, a type of hair loss that is caused by pulling and weight put on the hair over time. This is partly the result of the types of hairstyles favoured by the Black community such as cornrows, tight braids, weaves and clip on extensions, as well as repeated straightening.
However, the structure of black hair itself is, in part, to blame for the susceptibility of black hair to the condition. The structure of black hair differs in shape from Caucasian or Oriental hair. Black hair shafts tend to be flat and relatively small in diameter. They have a twisted configuration and each hair has variations in diameter along the shaft as it twists. Because the hair is naturally curly, the hairs wrap around each other as they grow becoming tangled. The diameter variations and twists cause weakness along the shaft, making the hair more liable to break. On the other hand, trying to detangle the hair or straighten it will often lead to further damage, often resulting in severe breakage and traction alopecia.
Traction alopecia is one of the most common types of hair loss affecting black women, but it is often misdiagnosed and mistaken for another type of hair loss. It often starts at the hair line with a thinning at the front of the head, but the hair loss can spread and affect the entire head if not stopped in time. It's important to note, though, that the traction alopecia hair loss pattern will often depend on the type of hairstyles worn by the sufferer. Wearing the hair in rollers overnight in order to straighten it, for example, can result in traction alopecia causing the hair to fall out in clumps. Banded traction alopecia, on the other hand, affects the scalp edges around the entire head.
Although not all black women suffer from traction alopecia, the condition is common enough to warrant caution when styling the hair. The fact that it's the structure of the hair itself that can make Black hair prone to breakage and hair loss, suggests one should either avoid tight or potentially damaging hairstyles altogether, or watch carefully for early signs of traction alopecia and begin treatment immediately if hair loss or thinning is suspected.
Note that frequent straightening by means other than hair rollers can also be harmfu, and some experts actually recommend considering chemical straightening for those who are set on having their hair straightened. Although not ideal, this can be more suited for Black hair in the long run, as it reduces the amount of daily or weekly straightening activities that can do more damage to the hair overall.
Hair loss is one of the most disheartening conditions that can affect any woman regardless of colour or ethnicity. In order to treat it effectively, we must first understand its causes. Early, accurate diagnosis is essential when attempting to treat the condition, as different types of hair loss require different treatment. In all cases, the earlier it's caught, the easier it is to treat the condition. Many hair loss conditions that affect black women are fully reversible if treated early and in the right manner. Here are the most common types of hair loss that affect black women:
Caused by excessive pressure, weight or strain put on the hair over a period of time, this condition affects women who wear their hair in tight braids, cornrows or have long heavy dreadlocks, as well as those who use tight weaves, clip on hair extensions or drawstring ponytails. If you wear your hair in a tight ponytail, you could also be affected. Traction alopecia is often mistaken for other types of hair loss in black women but is actually extremely common. It often affects the hair in the hairline area, where the hair is most tightly pulled when styled. Traction alopecia is treatable and, if caught early enough, usually reversible. Apart from removing the cause (i.e. wearing the hair in softer, less tight styles), treatment involves increasing circulation to the scalp and stimulating and nourishing the hair follicles to produce more hair. This can be done by using any standard hair loss treatments, from shampoos to products like Rogaine that contain minoxidil.
Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia
A hair loss condition normally affecting the crown of the head (although if untreated it will spread further). This condition is also the result of harmful hair styling, although this time excessive heat treatment is the culprit, rather than tension and weight. This is actually an inflammatory condition, so a visit to a doctor is necessary for treating it. The doctor will prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs such as steroids that will most likely be given topically.
Androgenetic Alopecia (or Androgenic Alopecia)
Also known as "female pattern baldness" this condition also affects the crown of the head, with the rest of the hair usually remaining unaffected. This condition affects the majority of post-menopausal women, although it affects around 13% of pre-menopausal women as well. This is a more serious condition that is caused predominantly by genetics and hormones. Your doctor can give you some prescription drugs for treating it and there are food supplements said to also help. Topical treatments are commonly used to treat the condition alongside the internal treatment. There are both natural treatments and products containing minoxidil.
Other hormonal hair loss conditions
Women experience many hormonal changes throughout their lives as the result stress or illness, but also as part of the natural processes they go through in life – pregnancy and childbirth, the menopause and even the monthly cycle. Some of these hormonal changes can result in hair loss and most can be treated by a combination of over the counter food supplements, prescription medicine and topical treatments. Discuss your options with your doctor if you thing you may be suffering from hormonal hair loss.