What is Traction Alopecia?
Traction alopecia is hair loss caused by frequent and extreme pulling of the hair, known as traction, often as a result of certain hair techniques and styles, such as tight ponytails, braids, plaiting, hot combing and corn rows. It can affect men and women. Chronic cases can lead to scarring (cicatricial) alopecia, where the hair loss is accompanied by scarring of the scalp. Scarring can cause permanent damage to the hair follicles, and so no regrowth of hair growth may be possible in the affected areas.
What causes it?
One of the main causes of traction alopecia is the pulling of hair in hairstyling. The hair is typically pulled tight towards the top and back of the head (known as the vertex). This can inflame and damage the hair follicle and result in thinning hair or hair loss.
Other causes include the pulling of hair through the use of hairpieces, hair weaves, clips and barettes, hair extensions.and braiding. In fact, due to the fashion for tight braiding, Afro Caribbean hair is particulary prone to traction alopecia.
Traction alopecia can also be aggravated when pulling on the hair is accompanied by the use of dyes, relaxers or bleaches during hairstyling. These can further damage the follicle and add to the hair damage and/or loss.
Symptoms and signs
Traction alopecia generally shows as hair loss, hair thinning and hair shortening at the front and side hairlines.
Why see a trichologist?
A trichologist will be able to make or confirm a diagnosis of traction alopecia, and will be able to recommend action to take as is appropriate, for example ceasing the hairstyling or other cause of the condition.
Traction alopecia has physical causes, so the first response is to stop the hairstyling technique, or other physical tension on the hair and scalp, that creates the pulling on the hair. If the condition has not advanced too far, then hair regrowth is possible as the follicles are restored to health naturally. If the condition is severe and there is scarring of the scalp and permanent damage to the follicles, then hair regrowth cannot be expected. There is no medication that will help, and sufferers may want to think about cosmetic treatment such as a wig or hairpiece, taking care, of course, not to repeat the extreme pulling on the hair that may have caused the condition in the first place.