The Origin of my Hair Loss
Yes, baldness! But first, hair loss. I was losing my hair at the edges, and I thought I was going to lose my mind as a result of this.
You know that fresh well-defined look after your eyebrows have just been threaded well, and it looks like you just got a mini facelift? Well, I have always been a fan of micro twists, also known as Senegalese twists, because of the instant definition the style gives my face. It’s a flattering hairstyle that complements my eyes and cheekbones. In the winter of 2009, I asked my friend’s wife who was a great braider, to braid my hair into micro (tiny) twists and she agreed. The braiding process, which took place in my parents’ basement, was tedious and lasted for more than 20 hours.
Once the style was completed, I looked and felt like a princess, and nobody could make me believe otherwise. For the next several weeks, I rocked my long twists in high ponytail styles. The generous compliments from both men and women came almost daily.
Since I wanted to preserve the beauty of the twist style, I opted to have my hairline touched up (the process of re-braiding only the front hair section or around the circumference of the head) after eight weeks of wearing the style. After I had worn the twists for almost 3 months, it was time to take them down. As I took the twists out in the front of my bathroom mirror, I noticed several bald spots had appeared on my hairline. Besides, the little hair left there had become thin. I was scared! I, however, brushed away my fears because I believed the hair would grow back thick, as the rest of my hair still was. Several years later, my hairline was still very thin with the bald spots persisting. I was suffering from traction alopecia. I could no longer wear braids or any style which would expose my hairline. Needless to say, I was sad and embarrassed!
Baldness, also known as alopecia, is a problem faced by men and women and may arise from various causes. When it is due to excessive pulling or traction on the hair, it is termed traction alopecia. This excessive pulling has been associated with the influence of cultural, religious and occupational practices on hairstyling in men and women.
People have known about the problem for at least a century and even though it has been described amongst various populations, it appears to predominantly occur amongst black women. Its occurrence is related to the braided hairstyles, such as braids, cornrows, and twists, which they often wear as a celebration of cultural heritage, and because they are low maintenance in comparison to wearing their hair natural. Furthermore, they reduce the requirement for chemical treatment, aka relaxing, of hair. Though more common amongst women, traction alopecia is also seen in female children.
Hairstyles in which traction alopecia commonly occurs include the previously mentioned braided hairstyles, braid extensions, dreadlocks, and weaves, especially when they are worn for prolonged periods. Even though these hairstyles can cause this kind of alopecia on their own, wearing them on relaxed hair increases the risk of developing the problem. Also, wearing braids or cornrows with extensions is more associated with hair loss than wearing them without extensions. Other hair-wearing behaviors that cause traction alopecia include wearing wigs incorrectly, wearing hair in tight ponytails or buns, and the prolonged use of pins to hold headgear onto the hair. Since the main problem is the traction, wearing some of these hairstyles loosely ought to reduce the traction and consequently, the hair loss, particularly when extensions are not used, and the hair is not relaxed.
Traction alopecia typically affects the margins of the scalp (also known as edges), usually occurring more in the front than at the back, but may occur on any part of the scalp, and even the jaw in men, where prolonged traction is applied to the hair. Affected women may be impacted psychologically and may have their quality of life reduced.
People have used techniques that hide hair loss to solve the problem. These camouflaging techniques include mascara and wigs. Treatment options for traction alopecia include topical medication and surgery to transplant hair follicles into the bald areas.
Wigs are a practical solution to traction alopecia, and indeed, other types of alopecia such as alopecia areata, telogen and anagen effluvium, and androgenic alopecia. Wigs are less traumatic, complex and expensive than the available treatment options. While they will not grow back the lost hair, using them correctly helps to prevent further loss (and initial loss for those who haven’t lost their edges hair yet). And for those whose edges are so bare that treatment is required, wigs can be a stopgap measure until they can get the treatment.
Braided wigs will remain a viable alternative to braided hairstyles for women who want to prevent or limit hair loss at their edges, save time from the long hours of braiding and reduce the cost of getting braids. Black women can, therefore, still celebrate their cultural heritage by wearing a braid, cornrow or twist wig without suffering the effects of having their hair braided.
My Road to Recovery
It’s now been over a decade since I experienced the traction alopecia, and I’m grateful to God because though my edges are still not back to being full, they are significantly better than what they were in 2009. I have realized that multiple hair practices contributed to my loss though getting the tiny braids was a major cause.
Interestingly, I still rock micro (tiny) twists frequently, but when I wear them now, the twists are not made on my hair, but rather on a wig. When I wear wigs, I take extra measures to ensure my edges and the rest of my hair is well protected and moisturized. To keep my hairline free from any tension, I wear one of my favorite beauty essentials, the wig grip, underneath all my wigs. I am keeping my edges safe, and I hope you are keeping yours safe as well. I guess you’re wondering what steps I took to grow my edges back. In a subsequent blog article, I will share these with you, so, stay tuned!
Are you experiencing traction alopecia? I would love to hear from you.