Traction alopecia is a kind of hair loss in which the mechanical damage to hair follicle is caused by repeated tension or pulling. This form of hair loss is common among people with skin of color.
Ballerinas, gymnasts, military personnel and certain professionals may develop traction alopecia which requires pulling their hair back.
What is the cause of traction alopecia?
Traction alopecia can be caused by having the same hairstyle for long periods of time, especially those that tug on the hair (e.g., braids, weaves, cornrows, tight pony-tails, heavy locks, hair rollers, etc).
If tight hairstyle is applied to relaxed hair then it can lead to further damage. The regular pulling on the hair causes loosening of the hair from the follicles. Sometimes associated symptoms on the scalp can be seen including bumps, redness and tenderness. The prolonged inflammation and repeated hair tension may lead to gradual hair loss and scarring of the hair follicles.
How does someone know if one has traction alopecia?
In the starting days, you may notice tiny flesh colored or white bumps around hair follicles where the hair is pulled most tightly. Shortly thereafter, symmetric hair loss appears.
Generally the hair loss is most noticeable around the hairline. So called baby (vellus) hairs are spared and broken hairs are often present throughout the area of hair loss.
Initially, traction alopecia is temporary, but if hairstyling habits are unchanged, the hair loss may become permanent.
What treatments are available for traction alopecia?
In the early stages, the best treatment for traction alopecia is to limit or eliminate any hairstyles that pull on the hair and to wear hair in loose styles (especially overnight).
Reduce the amount of chemicals and heat used during styling is suggested. If there is a presence of scalp tenderness, bumps or inflammation then it can be treated with topical antibiotics or topical corticosteroids.
For moderate to severe traction alopecia, more aggressive treatments like oral antibiotics, injected corticosteroids or topical minoxidil may be necessary.
Once scarring is present, hair transplantation may be one of the few available options. The best treatment of traction alopecia is prevention.