A new study from John Hopkins University confirms what we’ve all known. Wearing protective hairstyles for a prolonged period of time can lead to traction alopecia.
The report, which will appear in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology classifies weaves, braids, and dreadlocks, popular styles among Black women, as high-risk based on the amount of tension, weight, heat, and chemicals the hair’s follicles receive. These styles are often characterized by their tightly locking patterns and heavy weight, which causes stress on the follicles leading to heavy breakage and ultimately traction alopecia–the most common cause of hair loss for Black women with an estimate of over 33% women suffering from it.
Women whose hair are chemically altered (permed/relaxed) are more susceptible to damage and traction alopecia when wearing high-risk styles for a prolonged period of time. Their strands which are already weakened from the chemicals are less resistant to damage than unprocessed, natural hair. As such, these high risk styles are classified as mid-risk for natural haired women. Crystal Aguh, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, urges dermatologists to learn about the risks of these hairstyles and advise their patients on alternatives to avoid these risks.
“…some hairstyles meant to improve our self-confidence actually lead to hair and scalp damage. Traction alopecia is entirely preventable, and early intervention can stop or reverse it. We have to do better as care providers to offer our patients proper guidance to keep them healthy from head to toe,” she said.
Aguh recommends that women wearing braided styles only keep them in for three months or less; and weaves 6-8 weeks. It is unlikely that women will give up the styles all together but in understanding the risks they can minimize damage by alternating between styles and giving their strands a rest by avoiding up-dos and other stressful hairstyles.