An image depicting supermodel Naomi Campbell's traction alopecia issue. Image credit: Flickr
An image depicting supermodel Naomi Campbell’s traction alopecia issue. Image credit: Flickr

Traction alopecia is a kind of hair loss caused primarily due to external pressure or force exerted on the hair roots over a time period. The type of hair loss is usually prominent near the hairline and at the back of the ear, where the pressure is maximum. Though traction alopecia could affect both genders, women are more likely the victims as they often resort to hairstyling techniques or measures that stress out hair roots.

The resulting hair loss is not immediate and may take months or even years to surface post cause or trigger. The hair doesn’t literally come out when pressure’s exerted, but the repeated stress builds up and weakens hair integrity over time.

Symptoms

Traction alopecia usually starts with minor scalp swelling and irritation in the tension areas. Scabs or tiny bumps on the scalp is a common traction alopecia sign. Any scalp soreness or tenderness may also signify the problem, indicating it’s time to switch up or loosen up the hairstyle, or alter things damaging the hair.

Causes

Cornrow. Image credit: Flickr
Cornrow. Image credit: Flickr

The hairstyles specifically causing the issue are:

  • Ponytail – parietal or frontal hair loss
  • Cornrow – central or marginal alopecia with part line widening
  • Bun – scalp center

The other factors include:

  • Hair rollers that are applied too tight, causing irregularly-shaped alopecia spots
  • Enthusiastic massage sessions or vigorous brushing
  • Hair weaving or wigs fixed with hair clips, tape or glue
  • Specific hair clips or slides
  • Sticking to a specific tightly braided hairstyle for long
  • Continuous headband usage
  • Frequent manual pulling and maneuvering of the hair
  • Regularly wearing tight-fitting headgear, such as helmets, which put pressure on the same hair area

Treatment

Ponytail. Image credit: Flickr
Ponytail. Image credit: Flickr

Quite often, releasing hair tension is enough to prevent or cure the problem. Light hair loss induced by traction alopecia could be medically treated (through minoxidil or steroids). In other words, medical treatment works if the hair follicles still exist or if the condition is detected early. But bald spots or permanently damaged hair follicles require a hair transplant.

Often, the amount of damage determines treatment options. If the alopecia hasn’t left the follicles irreparable, topical medications may work. Otherwise, a hair transplant is the only rescue. The chances of a successful hair transplant go up if there aren’t other underlying hair loss causes – for instance, telogen effluvium, alopecia areata, or anagen effluvium. A scalp examination is usually performed to check for other causal factors.

Moisturizing shampoos, hair conditioners, hot-oil treatments, etc. help with hair health too. Biotin and other hair vitamins could stimulate hair growth as well. Eliminating major stress factors is key too.

Prevention

Bun (hairstyle). Image credit: Flickr
Bun (hairstyle). Image credit: Flickr

To prevent traction alopecia, it’s important to focus on the roots. In other words, refrain from any hair grooming, styling, maintenance techniques that exert undue pressure on hair roots. This includes avoiding hair weaves, twists, braids and also buns (hairstyle) that could contribute to traction. Simply put, any hairdo or maintenance techniques causing excessive scalp stress or pain should be let go immediately.

Hairstyling Changes & Alterations

  • If hair weaves have become part of your life and you simply cannot boot them out, get them done by a professional, so that any possible damage to the hair roots is minimized or completely prevented.
  • Hold the hair back with a fabric-made, wide hair band that’s gentle and doesn’t end up squeezing your head. Also braid the hair loose. Bigger braids should replace a lot of smaller ones.
  • Change ponytail location frequently. Put it high, by side or low. Wear a ponytail only if your hair’s long enough. Don’t clip the ponytails – use flexible bands instead.
  • The rubber bands must always be covered with soft fabric. Bare rubber can cause friction and pull on your hair. Similarly, using satin pillow cases, letting hair loose before sleep also help release hair tension.