Often thought of as an urban myth, hair loss as a result of particular hairstyles does, in fact, happen. There are many tight hairstyles that can cause hair loss.
Can hairstyles cause hair loss?
Yes, there are hairstyles that can cause hair loss. These include tight ponytails, cornrows, extensions or buns. Any hairstyle where the hair is pulled tight can cause scarring of the scalp, and therefore cause new hair to be unable to grow.
Hair loss as a result of a particular hairstyle is referred to as traction alopecia. Traction alopecia is caused by hairstyles that are too tight, causing tension on the hair follicle itself. This tension can cause the hair to be ripped out, and eventually cause scarring of the follicle.
Other causes of traction alopecia can be specific headgears. Tightly fitted helmets, for example, those used for motorcycling, snowboarding or skiing can, if used extensively over long periods of time, cause traction alopecia. Sikh men are also susceptible to traction alopecia if the hair under the turban is tied too tightly for many years.
What hairstyles are most likely to cause baldness?
There are four main hairstyles that can lead to hair loss.
Buns and ponytails
While wearing your hair in a tight bun or ponytail every once in a while will not cause any damage, wearing it in this style repeatedly can cause long term damage to the hair follicles.
Tight buns and ponytails can often pull on the hair directly from the root, causing the follicle to become damaged, then scarred and eventually stop producing hair.
If you often wear your hair tightly pulled back, the first sign of hair loss may be broken hairs around your hairline or thinning hair where your hairstyle pulls tightly. Ponytails typically will produce frontal or parietal hair loss.
If you wear your hair in a tight bun or ponytail every day, consider changing your hairstyle. If this is required (e.g. due to workplace dress code), then you should look at ways to reduce the tension on the hair. Try a looser bun or ponytail, and avoid elasticated hair grips as these can increase the tension on the roots.
Cornrows can cause hair loss as they are often tight, which pulls at the roots of the hair. Tight braiding in cornrows produces marginal or central alopecia with widening of the part lines. You will know if damage is being done to your hair while your hair is being braided. If it’s painful or sensitive, let your hairstylist know. The braids need to be more relaxed to reduce the risk of hair loss occurring.
To prevent any hair loss as a result of cornrows, you can either:
- Wear looser braids
- Change hairstyles after 2 months
Weaves and extensions
Weaves can be a really good way to either add volume and length to your hair, or to change your hair totally, either for social, fashion or religious reasons. However, the constant maintenance that a weave requires, as well as the additional weight, can put a lot of strain on your hair follicles.
As the weave is attached to hair that is still growing, there is a lot of maintenance required to removing the weave, braiding the natural hair and then replacing the weave. All of this can be quite tough on the natural hair, causing traction alopecia. It’s also worth noting that Afro-Caribbean hair is tight and curly, and individual hair fibres have a thinner diameter than European or Asian hair. This makes Afro-Caribbean hair more fragile and prone to breakage. Because of this, traction alopecia is one of the most common causes of hair loss in women with Afro-Caribbean heritage.
To prevent either a weave or extensions causing permanent damage to the hair, you should:
- Only wear a weave for short periods of time. The pulling of the weave can significantly increase the risk of developing traction alopecia
- Remove them immediately if you feel any pain, discomfort or tenderness on the scalp
- Choose weaves that are sewn-in, rather than ones that use bonding glue
Braids are often included in several types of hairstyle, whether as a twisted low braid, half-crown braid, twisted headband or anything similar. Any of these braids can be worn tightly, which can have a lasting effect on the hair
If you often wear your hair in braids, be considerate of how tight the braids are. Similar to some of the hairstyles mentioned above, they can often create a lot of tension on the hair follicle, pulling the bulb away from the root hair follicle and causing damage. This will ultimately lead to hair loss.
Can traction alopecia be reversed?
If caught early enough, traction alopecia can be reversed. This can only happen if the hair follicles have not scarred. If scarring has occurred, then the hair follicles cannot grow back.
Scarring takes a long time to occur with traction alopecia, and there are other warning signs to look for that will indicate that traction alopecia is occurring. These symptoms include:
- redness of the scalp
- soreness or stinging of the scalp
- folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicles)
- pus-filled blisters on the scalp
If any of these symptoms are present, consider changing or altering your hairstyle to prevent further traction alopecia occurring, as well as any irreversible damage being done to the hair follicles.
Can traction alopecia be treated?
With moderate cases of traction alopecia, oral antibiotics, injected corticosteroids or topical minoxidil may be necessary. In severe cases, hair transplantation may be required to reshape the hairline and restore it to its original shape.
The most common treatment for traction alopecia is to simply change the hairstyle. Tight hairstyles, such as braids and cornrows, cause the most damage. If there is any pain when putting these hairstyles in, then there will probably be damage to the scalp as a result. Avoid these tight hairstyles altogether or, if absolutely necessary to have them in, try loosening them.
Chemicals and heat can also be a cause of traction alopecia, so be sure to avoid these where possible.
If the traction alopecia has progressed to a moderate or severe degree, a dermatologist may prescribe any of the following to treat it:
- antibiotics to prevent infection in any open sores
- topical steroids to bring down swelling on the scalp
- antifungal shampoos
- vitamin B complex supplements, such as biotin, to strengthen the hair
If you are worried about traction alopecia, you should consult a dermatologist. Remember that the best treatment for traction alopecia is prevention.
How long does it take traction alopecia to grow back?
Once treated, traction alopecia often grows back after six months. In more severe cases, it can take as long as one year for the hair to grow back. If scar tissue has formed, the hair will never grow back.