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Hair health: Top tips for preventing traction alopecia

GROWING STRONG: Prevention is better than the cure when it comes to your crowning glory

TRACTION ALOPECIA is one of those terms bandied around often yet, it is rarely taken seriously until it results in permanent hairloss.

In brief, traction is another term for pulling or tension and alopecia is an umbrella term for hair loss. Essentially, traction is the loss of hair due to ongoing tension on the follicle, the opening in the skin that houses the hair shaft. It is the most common cause of hair loss in black women though unlike other types of hair loss that are often a sign of more serious illness, this kind of hair loss is can be readily anticipated and avoided.

With that in mind, trichologist Nicola Smart has prepared a few tips to help Voice readers to identify and prevent persistent tension:

Avoid pulling

Even when you think you’re not, you could be. If your hair exhales when you release that hairband, then it’s too tight. It’s less obvious, but it’s always the time that you think that you hair isn’t tight that are the most worrying. So when styling hair into a gathered style (for instance, ponytails, buns and bunches), tie them as loosely as possible and then give the hair tie another wiggle down the lengths of the hair to loosen tension at the root.

Change it up

Let’s face it, most of us will style our hair in a similar way for daily activity. We are creatures of habit after all. Changing your hairstyle often can prevent or at least redistribute the persistent tension that causes the hair loss.

Big, fat and heavy

Get your minds out of the gutter. I’m referring to those weaves and extensions that we all know and love!

Yes, hair extensions can be a great way to avoid tampering with the hair in times of fatigue. However, when it comes to traction there are some crucial warning signs of tension. Remember that if it’s long, it’s probably heavy which is a double-edged sword. The weight means that whether the hair is up in a ponytail or hanging freely, there is probably going to be some consistent tension on the follicle and hair shaft. Clear tell-tale signs include red bumps, itching, and white/yellow casts at the root of the affected area. In these instances remove or loosen the style immediately.

Let it breathe

If you are a regular wearer of wefts, weaves, braids, ponytails, Bantu knots or clip-ins - take some time out between styling to let your hair just hang loose. I suggest a minimum of two weeks between extensions. The longer that you can elongate this period the better.

Braiding woes

Canerows are having a popular moment particularly among those wearing their hair in its natural texture. While it is true that African hair is more robust in its virgin state, it is still very fragile in comparison to other hair types and must be treated as such. Be wary of tight braids along the hairline and in the crown of the head specifically.

Baby those edges

The hair by the temples is generally fine and more fragile than hair on the rest of the head. As a result, the most common result of tension is a receding hairline. Take the time to remove the hair along the hairline from the bulk of the hair being fed into braids and use an alcohol free styling product to style. Using less hair from the most fragile part of the head can help to minimise the effects of tension on the area.

The permanent hair loss and/or scarring of the scalp is a process that occurs over time during which, you are potentially able to address the problem and avoid further damage. Be aware of how you are handling your hair daily and take the time to manipulate even the most intricate of styles.

Nicola Smart BA (Hons), AIT is a consultant trichologist at Smart Hair Clinic. A graduate of the Institute of Trichologists, Nicola has spent the past few years dedicated to taking a holistic approach to diagnosing, advising and treating various hair and scalp disorders including hair loss and scaling problems.

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