There are many different causes of hair loss, and also many misconceptions about them. How we wear our hair most often is based on what is most convenient or what looks good. This seemingly trivial task is something that we do not pay much attention to on a daily basis, and we only get to focus our attention on it when things start to change, like if we see the first signs of thinning or shedding hair.
We often attribute hair loss to internal factors such as our genes and the quality of our health but to many, it may come as a surprise to know that the choice of hairstyle can actually contribute to hair loss.
Baldness, another hair loss cause, scientifically referred to as alopecia, refers to partial or complete loss of hair on the scalp and in other areas of the body. This condition comes in many forms but the kind that is caused by wearing certain hairstyles is called traction alopecia, which is hair loss that results from styles that require the hair to be tugged or pulled, either gently or tightly for extended or frequent periods of time.
Hairstyles That Cause Traction Alopecia
The easiest way to keep hair from your face is to gather it toward the back or top of the head and hold it together with a tie. Although this hairstyle may be the most convenient to maintain, wearing the hair pulled backward or upward too tightly has its disadvantages. Its association with traction alopecia has been observed as early as in 1907. Women in Greenland were found to have receding hairlines due to prolonged wearing of tight ponytails.
Evidence of hair braiding or plaiting in history is shown on many archaeological findings, for example the statuette Venus of Willendorf that was dug up in a 1908 excavation near Willendorf, Austria, that was estimated to have been made between 28,000-25,000 BCE.
Through the years, interlacing strands of hair into braids has evolved from being a means to communicate a person’s status in society into a social art form among cultures that use the time to braid to socialize and teach their children.
Today, braids are used by both women and men with long hair and are popular among African-Americans. A total of 326 African-American women participated in a 2011 study. The study measured risk factors contributing to a common condition among them called central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA) – hair loss that usually starts at the crown of the head and spreads out to the periphery. The study concluded that there is a higher risk of CCCA caused by hairstyles causing traction or pulling.
While they may seem similar, braids and cornrows have distinct characteristics that set them apart. Braids use three or more strands weaving and overlapping and are tied at the end by a rubber band or clip. They are easier and faster to do and are usually let loose after a short period of time.
Cornrows, on the other hand, are tighter plaits that are woven very closely to the scalp. Because they take more time and effort to create, people with cornrows often wear them for considerable periods of time. This makes maintenance more challenging as the hair gets washed less frequently to maintain its form, which can lead to bacterial infection and eventual hair loss.
Commonly referred to as dreads, this become a permanent hairstyle by those who choose to wear it because of the time it takes to create. Dreads are teased, knotted and left to grow for weeks at a time. As hair grows and sheds through time, it gets tangled into more knots and results in a matted look. Dreads are washed less often – usually every three to seven days. Those who wear them sometimes use a bandana or scarf to absorb oil when they sleep.
Like cornrows, dreads bring a higher risk of hair thinning and hair loss because of increased tension. They also bring a higher risk infection from clogged pores due to oil build-up. Traction alopecia may appear to be non-cicatricial or without scars in the initial stages. However, a delayed tension and traction can cause the hair follicles to be permanently damaged.
If you are wearing a bun, you might want to go easy on its tightness. Buns worn by ballerinas or librarians are usually pulled back very hard. This is not limited for women as some long-haired men nowadays opt to wear a man bun as a trend. When worn regularly, the scalp can appear to be red and itchy with multiple hairs breaking off. This is a result of constant tugging at the roots – all clinical signs of traction alopecia.
An artificial way to make short or medium hair appear longer or thicker. This is achieved through the use of hair extensions that are either woven, glued or taped. These are anchored either to the hair or scalp. Although they may provide a temporary boost to your confidence, they can make you a candidate for permanent alopecia. This is because it strains the hair, damages the scalp, and causes scarring.
Avoid the Common Hair Loss Causes
Hairstyles are worn to be functional and fashionable. But care should be exercised in making sure that they do not cause damage to our hair and scalp.
To avoid temporary or permanent alopecia, hairstyles should:
Be worn loosely and alternately in short periods of time to avoid the damage that constant tension and traction brings.
Allow the hair to be shampooed and washed regularly to avoid sebum build-up and infection. Also, avoid regular use of chemicals or heat that can dry or damage hair.
Text by Anne Sarte
Photo credits: Raíssa Ruschel via Flickr
Rod Waddington via Flickr