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Traction Alopecia – How To Prevent & Treat The Secret Illness Wig Wearers Suffer From

by R D |  | 3 comments

Image | Pexels

We love wigs–especially as a protective style to keep our natural hair away from daily stressors and promote better hair health. Unfortunately, wigs are still tied down by certain stigmas, one of them being the belief that they can cause hair loss; specifically traction alopecia. In this blog post, we go over what traction alopecia is, how you can prevent and treat it and its connection with wigs. 

What Is It?

The term 'alopecia' itself refers to hair loss and traction alopecia refers to hair loss caused by excessive pulling (traction) on hair. In most cases, people don't suffer from complete hair loss leading to baldness. As traction alopecia is often caused by tight hairstyles, the hair loss manifests in bald patches or thinning where the hair has experienced the most tension over a prolonged period. Common areas of the head where this occurs include the nape and the front perimeter of hair, also known as the edges. 

Fortunately, as traction alopecia isn't directly caused by health issues, it can be treated with careful care. 

Who Does It Affect The Most? 

As nobody is genetically predisposed to traction alopecia, it can be experienced by anyone but there are groups of people who are more at risk of traction alopecia than others. These include ballerinas, Sikh boys and men and nurses who are required to wear their hair up and pinned back. 

Research has also found that Black women are at a higher risk of suffering from traction alopecia due to hairstyles most commonly worn by them.

Box braids, cornrows and weaves are well-known styles amongst Black communities and can even be traced back by millennia to their origins in Africa. While these styles are worn as a way to protect their natural hair, when installed incorrectly or not taken care of, they can cause more problems; one of which is traction alopecia. 

Images | kimberlysbt justineskye fansehairchair

Due to their nature, these hairstyles can be tight and cause excessive pulling to natural hair and the prolonged wear of them has meant that one-third of women of African descent have been affected by traction alopecia. 

Black women who have relaxed their hair in the past also increase their risk of traction alopecia because the chemicals within the relaxer leads to weakened hair shafts and weaker hair means higher susceptibility to traction alopecia. 

What Do Wigs Have To Do With It?

When women first start noticing the loss of hair caused by traction alopecia, they might look to wigs as a way to keep their hair protected against environmental stressors and give their hair a 'break' to recuperate. While this sounds great in theory, lack of care when wearing wigs can increase the risk of traction alopecia.

Firstly, wigs require the natural hair to be as flat and neat as possible to allow the wig to lay flat for a seamless, natural look which calls for cornrows or twists as a way to keep the hair neatly tied up. Again, these are high-risks styles that can contribute to traction alopecia if they're not installed gently and regularly maintained. 

Secondly, most wigs come with clips, bands and combs to attach them with. While these might sound like a good idea, over time, they put your hair under more stress and higher risk of traction alopecia. Glues like the infamous Got2Be Glued are especially notorious for leading to hair loss along the hairline

One of our favourite bloggers, Mariam Musa talks about her experience with glues and wigs leading to hair loss in her video: 

 Video | Mariam Musa

How To Prevent It 

As with anything, prevention is better than cure and traction alopecia is no different. Preventing it doesn't mean you have to stop rocking your favourite braids, weaves or braids, but instead, it's all about being mindful of how you treat your hair. 


          Loosen Up

Although it might be tempting to get your hair braided tight so it won't fall out as quickly and you can stretch the style for longer, don't do it. If your hair feels tight when you're first getting it done, speak up and tell your hairdresser to loosen it. While a fresh style will always feel strong, it should never feel too tight. If you can't freely move your head or if you feel a headache starting up, loosen those braids! 

          Don't Use Wigs As An Excuse

Just because you're wearing wigs doesn't mean you're not at risk of developing traction alopecia. Make sure you take care of the braids/twists underneath and stick to the same four-week rule as you would with box braids.

Also, reconsider the way you attach your wigs. Combs, clips and glue are the most common wig attachment methods but they're also very damaging to natural hair especially when wearing wigs. Not only do you have the added stress on your hair from the cornrows or braids used as the foundation of your wig, but these added extras only cause further tension and increase the risk of traction alopecia.

One of our favourite bloggers, Mariam Musa is known for her amazing wigs but years of combs and glue harmed her hairline. Her solution? The Wig Fix.

A silicone gripper released by The Renatural in 2019, The Wig Fix keeps your wigs attached without hurting your edges. In fact, the unique design includes hundreds of small nodes that massage your edges as you wear them to promote blood flow and induce growth. Its founder Aasiyah, also struggled with traction alopecia in the past which is what inspired her to create The Wig Fix and it has since helped her and people like Mariam protect and grow back their edges. 

           Learn To Let Go 

Don't keep your styles in for longer than necessary. We recommend switching up your style every four weeks but no longer than eight, especially for box braids. In an article with Cosmopolitan, Textured Hair Consultant Stacey Ciceron recommended that "Box braids should be kept in no longer than six to eight weeks on average because the hair grows out and causes matting and tangles, which can ultimately lead to damaged hair."

Remember, one cause of traction alopecia is prolonged pulling on the hair so the longer you leave your hair in, the more stress you're putting it under. This then means you're at higher risk of developing traction alopecia so be kind to yourself (and your hair) and take it out when needed.

          Document The Process

If you know you love regularly getting your hair styled in high-risk styles, one way to keep on top of it is by taking pictures of your hair before and after switching styles. This can help you track whether you're losing hair in particular areas which will help you know when to give yourself a break from those styles. 

 

How To Treat It 

Because it usually takes years for hair to deteriorate and lead to thinning or complete loss, it will take time for hair to grow back to how it was before the alopecia settled in. Treating traction alopecia, while not impossible, will take time, dedication and patience. 

If you neglected your hair and put it under unnecessary stress through tight hairstyles, taking a long break from them and instead focusing on taking better of it to promote health, can be enough to help treat traction alopecia. Products like Glammed Naturally's Hair Growth Oil can also help regrow damaged edges over time.

 
Image | Glammed Naturally

 

Another, and in our opinion the best way, to treat traction alopecia is by consulting a professional trichologist–people who are specially trained in the study of the hair and scalp. Everyone's hair and lifestyle is different so by getting professional help tailored to you, it will help you understand the causes for your traction alopecia and the best way to treat and most importantly, learn how to stop it from happening again. 

When looking for a trichologist, make sure they're certified and look into their qualifications, if possible. An easy way to find a trichologist near you is through The Institute of Trichologists who have an easy to use clinic finder available on their site. 

One such trichologist is Ebuni Ajiduah. Ebuni has a real passion for promoting natural hair health and offers a range of services from her trichology services to hair coaching. 

Although she's reopening in August, she's also currently offering online consultations for those outside of London.

 

We also love this video by Dr. Vanita Rattan from The Hyperpigmentation Clinic. Dr. Rattan is an award-winning Pigmentation Specialist for Darker Skin with patients across the world. Although her video is focused on alopecia areata (a form of alopecia where hair falls out in clumps leading to bald patches), her recommendations on different treatment types are a great insight into clinical based information on how to treat alopecia.

Video | Dr. Vanita Rattan The Hyperpigmentation Clinic

We hope this blog post gave you more insight into traction alopecia and how to treat, and most importantly, prevent it so that the only edges that are getting snatched, are theoretical ones and not the ones on your head. Connect with us on social media for all things wig related:

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Comments (3)

  • Patricia Cross Early on September 15, 2020

    Thank you VERY MUCH FOR SHARING!

  • Gloria on September 15, 2020

    I wear a wig daily I have no edges I have tried growth oils what else can I do ?

  • Felicia Williams on September 15, 2020

    I really enjoyed this information I’m in the process of my hair line being treated by my doctor. For the reasons listed in your article this well help me stay patient with this process and continue to enjoy, the rest of my beautiful natural soft curly hair I truly feel so much better knowing that I’m not the only one with this type of hair problem thank you

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