What is traction alopecia?
This is a medical condition in which the hair on the scalp gradually becomes thinner, finer, and more brittle with time. This affects both men and women. The process is often irreversible, so traction alopecia can be a difficult health condition to manage. Women are most likely to experience this condition during pregnancy and childbirth; while male traction alopecia can happen at any age.
What causes traction alopecia?
Traction alopecia happens when there is excess stress on your hair follicles which leads to permanent damage of hairline roots over time. This excess stress can be caused by many things. For example, it may result from tight hairstyles such as braids, cornrows and ponytails. It can also happen when too much tension is put on the hair, for example during hair weaving or extensions. Other common causes of excessive traction on the hair include wearing your hair in a tight bun or ponytail all day long.
Traction alopecia is a relatively new condition which has been understood only recently (since 1960). It was first recognized and mentioned by the medical community in 1963 when it was explained that excess traction that occurred on the hair follicles caused by tight hairstyles could be a possible factor in causing alopecia. It was originally called traction alopecia areata.
How does traction alopecia occur?
First of all, the part of your scalp called the alopecia usually doesn't become thinner or thinner over time. This is because hair is composed of layers and every layer is attached to your scalp by fine roots from within but has a separate growth cycle from the layer underneath it. It's as though every strand of hair is growing four times. It starts out as a root on your scalp, which then splits into many fine hairs. These hairs then grow from the base of this root up, and are continuously pushed down onto the layer of hair underneath them. This push-and-pull action, or traction, is what causes the hair to become thinner with time.
When your hairline begins to recede over a period of time, it means that the damage to your roots is getting worse which is why it doesn't grow back as quickly as before. As a result, the roots around the area of receding hair begin to form smaller, thinner hairs. Although these thinner hairs are still healthy, they don't grow as quickly as before and they don't have as much strength. The stress on the hair roots that was caused by wearing tight hairstyles or having tight hair extensions will increase over time. And eventually this traction alopecia causes permanent thinning of your hair and permanent damage to your scalp's hair follicles which can never be reversed.
How does traction alopecia affect a person?
Traction alopecia makes it difficult for your scalp to repair itself after you wear tight hairstyles or have tight hair extensions for long periods of time. It makes it difficult for your scalp's hair follicles to grow back and heal. As a result, the surface of your hair eventually becomes a lot thinner; and not only does this make you look older, but it also makes it harder for your scalp to supply healthy hair follicles to replace the ones that are damaged.
In some cases, traction alopecia can cause permanent scarring on the scalp along with thinning of the hair. This most likely occurs when there is excessive traction on the hairs. Scarring of the surface of your scalp usually occurs in the frontal parts of your head near your hairline. This can cause permanent hair loss at the hairline area. Severe scarring or alopecia of the scalp is known as telogen effluvium and is usually caused by a severe medical condition such as surgery or illness.
What are the symptoms of traction alopecia?
The first sign that you have traction alopecia is when your scalp begins to lose its color, either lightening to a grayish white, or even more rarely going brown. The roots of your hair also shrink in size over time. Tiny white patches appear on the surface between these shortened roots and your healthy hairs; this is because these hairs are lying on top of scar tissue formed due to excessive traction on the skin's structure itself. This tissue is called a dermal papilla, and if the scar tissue which lies over it is large enough, it can block the hair follicles from growing. It can also cause rupture in the blood vessels which supply blood to your scalp's hairs. In some cases, this rupture can become severe. This causes permanent hair thinning and even alopecia of the scalp in cases where these ruptured blood vessels won't heal. In some rare cases, extreme scarring of your scalp's surface or telogen effluvium can permanently damage your hair follicles and make your scalp's hair thin and brittle permanently; at this point the condition becomes irreversible.
What is the treatment for traction alopecia?
If you experience traction alopecia in your scalp, it's very important for you to seek medical treatment. Your doctor will conduct tests to make sure that traction alopecia is causing your problem and not some other condition. It helps to have your scalp examined by a board certified dermatologist if you have been wearing tight hairstyles or having tight hair extensions for a long period of time and experience excessive traction on your scalp.
In order to prevent excessive pulling on the hair follicles at the base of the hair, it's essential that you avoid wearing tight hairstyles or having tight extensions while going through pregnancy and when trying to conceive. It also helps to trim your hair regularly, especially around the time of your menstrual cycle. This way, you won't be putting any additional tension on the roots of your hair when they're not growing.
If you already have traction alopecia and the scarring appears to be severe, then a professional scalp reduction at a certified dermatologist may help to reduce the amount of scarring and allow your hair's parts to grow back normally and more rapidly.
How can traction alopecia affect my life?
It definitely affects your appearance and self-esteem if traction alopecia is untreated for long enough. It's also a sign that you need to take better care of your scalp health, as well as your hairstyles and extensions. If you have a fine hairline and you're experiencing heavy traction on your hair roots, then it's highly recommended that you begin wearing styles which aren't tight. This way, you won't be causing excessive damage to the surface of your scalp or to its hair follicles.
Heavy traction alopecia also occurs when people with curly hair wear their curls too tightly, particularly when they use high-tech curling irons on their own hair. The best way to prevent traction alopecia on your hair is to cut down the amount of heat used in curling the hair. Also, it's always best to use a salon product or professional stylist while using hair extensions, so that you can use a wide variety of styles without causing any excessive pulling on your scalp or hair roots.
When are the first symptoms of traction alopecia present?
The first sign that you have traction alopecia is when your scalp begins to lose its color, either lightening to a grayish white or going brown, because these are normal signs of aging. Over time, when the traction on the hair follicles is excessive and your scalp has been damaged enough times, scarring of your scalp's surface will occur. This causes fragile or brittle hair which can lead to permanent hair thinning and even permanent alopecia of the scalp. The only way to prevent this is to take very good care of your hair in terms of styling it with heat and using tight hairstyles and extensions. It also helps to trim your hair regularly so that it doesn't get any additional tension while it isn't growing in and when you aren't wearing these styles.
How can I prevent traction alopecia?
It's best to prevent traction alopecia by making sure that your hair is healthy before you subject it to tight hairstyles or having tight extensions. Trim your hair regularly and keep it healthy, especially if you have a fine hairline. It also helps to wear professional stylist-made hairstyles or salon products while wearing hair extensions so that you don't suffer any excessive strain on your scalp. Even if you're doing it yourself, all of the methods of application should be done carefully and gently, so as not to put any additional stress on the roots of your hairs.