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What is Traction Alopecia?

Del Sandeen
Del Sandeen

Traction alopecia is the gradual loss of hair, usually caused by stress on the hair follicles. This condition is often seen in people who style their hair in tight styles that pull on the hairline over a period of time. It can also be caused by the abuse of chemicals that are used to straighten the hair.

Ponytails and pigtails can be worn without causing unnecessary hair pulling. These styles aren't usually the cause of traction alopecia unless they are worn extremely tightly. In most cases, any hairstyle that's tight enough to stress the follicles may also be painful to the wearer. No one should wear styles that hurt; this is an indication that the follicles are being pulled and probably damaged.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

An unflattering, derogatory term for the high, tight ponytails that sometimes lead to traction alopecia is the "Croydon facelift." It's derogatory because it's usually applied to women who are considered "lower class." Any lower-income area could be substituted for Croydon in the minds of people using it to deride women who wear their hair this way.

Other styles that lead to traction alopecia are tight braids and cornrows, particularly when these styles are worn with added extension hair. The extra weight of the hair extensions adds more stress to the hairline. The places on the head where traction alopecia is most often seen are the front hairline and nape of the neck. The hairline around the ears may also be affected.

Traction alopecia is a condition that can usually be avoided simply by refraining from wearing tight hairstyles. There's no harm in wearing ponytails or braids on occasion, but the longer these styles are worn every day, the more likely alopecia will result. The overuse of chemical relaxers should also be avoided, as the harsh ingredients found in relaxers can irritate the scalp if not applied properly. This treatment should be done by a qualified professional for the best results.

Women who like to wear braids with extensions should give their hair a rest period after the braids are removed. The next time they get braids, they should switch the style. Wearing the exact same style all the time places stress on the same areas, increasing the likelihood of traction alopecia.

If the condition is diagnosed early enough, it may be possible to save the hair follicles. With proper care, the follicles will recover and the hair will eventually grow back. If the alopecia is not stopped, and tight, extreme styles are constantly worn, the hairline may be permanently damaged. Hair will not grow back in these areas, and the wearer will experience thin hair and potential baldness as a result.

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