A new study released by Johns Hopkins Medicine researches the association between hair loss and popular hairstyles in the African American community. It suggests that there is a strong association between certain scalp-pulling hairstyles, that are extremely common in the natural hair community, and the development of traction alopecia. This study is a huge deal, sisters, because Traction Alopecia is responsible for hair loss in one-third of black women.
I’ve been having alot of discussions with other Naturalistas and watching this discussion closely because many of the hairstyles that are identified as damaging are Protective Natural Hairstyles that women with natural hair frequently wear. And what brought me into the conversation was a comment that one of New2Natural’s followers posted in response to my Natural Hairstyles Top 10 List for May 2016 post. She was interested in the flat twist updo hairstyle that was feature, but was concerned that the hairstyle could cause her to have alopoecia.
And I take Natural Hair care SERIOUSLY. Not only do I enjoy wearing my natural hair, but I’m a Natural Hair Ambassador that is constantly taking in new knowledge and sharing knowledge about natural hair to my friends, family, and really, anyone who will listen. So, I started researching hair loss and Alopecia [since she mentioned it specifically] and how the natural hairstyles we wear and love may be causing long-term damage to our hair (and scalp).
What Exactly is Alopecia?
Alopecia is more of a generic term for hair loss, but the kind of Alopecia that’s referenced in this particular hot topic is Traction Alopecia.
This is a small or localized hair loss area caused by repetitive or persistent pulling or traction on hair roots. Tight braids and ponytails can pull hard enough on hairs to make them fall out. If this happens, it’s best to choose hairstyles that put less tension on hair. The sooner this is done the better to avoid permanent damage.
Even if you have never suffered from Traction Alopecia, I know you’ve seen/heard of someone who gets teased for balding edges. Yes. That’s Traction Alopecia, too.
Here’s a Summary of the Johns Hopkins Study’s Findings
In their research review, assistant professor of dermatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Crystal Aguh and her colleagues categorize hair practices into low-, moderate- and high-risk styles based on the degree to which follicles are exposed to tension, weight, heat and hair-altering chemicals, such as straighteners. They review hairstyles applied to natural and the news for naturals is actually not too bad.
Basically, the lowest risk hairstyles are those styles that cause the least tension on hair and those that are used on natural hair. Ha! You don’t believe me? Check out this direct quote from the news release, “Moderate-risk styles, the authors say, include some of the same styles noted to be high risk, but because they are performed on natural, unprocessed hair, they are less likely to result in hair loss. Low-risk styles generally included low-tension styles, such as loose buns, and loose-hanging styles, such as wearing the hair down, as well as practices that decrease the amount of friction on the hair and scalp and avoid chemical relaxers. Aguh and her colleagues say the highest-risk styles include braids, dreadlocks, weaves and extensions, especially when applied to chemically straightened hair.”
Please read the chart closely because it doesn’t match up with the some of the sound bites that have been circulating in the media.
Here’s a link to news release from Johns Hopkins University that details the results of the All Hairstyles are Not Created Equal study. It’s actually a really interesting read. It was interesting enough to get published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
What are Natural Hairstylists Saying
- When the Nappi by Nature salon owner in Memphis, TN, PhuCha was interviewed on the topic of natural hairstyles causing hair damage, she said, “We have to remember we have to do everything in moderation. . Just because you wear braids does not mean you can wear them year-round and not give your hair a break,” she said.”
- Yasmine Young, who owns Diaspora Salon in Charles Village (Baltimore, BD) said, “It’s usually from weaves or braids pulled too tight and someone has a bald spot. Then, they keep going back to the same style.”
Here’s My Best Advice on the Topic
I agree with the overall view of the researchers.
NATURAL IS BEST
That fact just cannot be denied. All of those perm chemicals that we use to put in our hair to straighten it in a worthless attempt to adhere to a European standard of beauty that has never even acknowledged or includes us is bananas! Those harsh chemicals eat our scalp away and cause our beautiful hair to be really vulnerable to natural. And who needs it?
Yaaaay, natural is best, but we still have to make wise decisions when caring for our natural hair. Allow your hair is “rest” as much as possible. You don’t have to wear a simple wash and go every day, but Good Grief!, at least get to the point where you know what your hair looks like when you clean it, moisturize it, oil it and LEAVE IT ALONE. Try to reduce or avoid updos every once in awhile to allow follicles to recover from stress. And when you decide to get all fancy or just mix up your look, remember to alternate styles.
Look, if you feel like pulling your natural hair into an updo, go for it. But don’t pull it so tightly. . and take it down at the end of the day to release the tension on your hair follicles. And at some point, again, just let it lay free.
And lastly. . and I know this is going to hurt a few feelings. . but I’m not even sorry about it because it will put you in a better position to not walk around here bald. . Lose the weave, sisters! Like, seriously! You have a full head of gorgeous hair. . whether it’s short hair, medium hair, long hair. . you shouldn’t care. It’s YOUR hair. And it’s gorgeous.
Check out my blog to find some gorgeous natural hairstyles to rock your natural hair at whatever length it is today.