Traction alopecia – How to avoid losing your curly hair unintentionally

Alopecia itself is the name given for the loss of hair anywhere in the body. It can be specific to a body region (e.g scalp) and it can be caused by different factors. You are probably used to the term “balding” and associate it with men losing hair in a certain pattern as years go by, but balding can take other shapes and forms. In my article covering Male Pattern Baldness, I talked about the most commonly known form of balding and it is now that I want to bring you a lesser known form of balding: traction alopecia.

Traction alopecia refers to the losing of hair via pulling them off. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, traction alopecia is a real condition that is common among our curly haired population. Traction alopecia is more frequent among those with longer hair that requires constant tying and, the curlier the hair, the more chances of suffering from this condition as the hair needs to be pulled back tighter. As a matter of fact, traction alopecia is typically found in black females as they have the tightest curls which require strong pulling to tie back.

 

Female patient exhibiting clear signs of traction alopecia at the hairline from excessive pulling to tie her hair tight

 

Traction alopecia is, however, not only limited to females with long Type V curls and men can also suffer from this condition. While it may be true that men don’t tend to grow their hair into the longer lengths and hence don’t have to tie their hair back, most men’s hair follicles are more sensitive and thus weaker (all other factors equal) than those of women due to the effect that the hormone dyhidrotestosterone (DHT) has in debilitating our hair follicles. As you got to learn in my Male Pattern Baldness article, DHT is purported to be the main culprit in slowly chocking and killing our precious hair follicles and this hormone is at follicle-weakening endogenous levels in all males with healthy testosterone levels. Point being? Your manly hair follicles are hyper sensitive to any form of pulling!

In men, traction alopecia can be caused by:

1) Over combing your hair: curly hair is best left without combing and solely using your hands for styling. Use a wide tooth comb and plenty of conditioner/leave-in if you want to comb your hair. Excessively pulling hairstyles, such as gelled back, should be avoided. Check out my articles on the wide tooth comb and leave-in conditioners here and here for more info on how to groom your curls.

 

Avoid gelled hairstyles like this one as they require pulling hard to comb the hair into place


Instead, go for a less gelled look like this

 

2) Applying too much force when unknotting: once your hair reaches medium length, knots are going to start popping out of nowhere and, depending on your curls and curl length, you will have to fight them pretty much every day. Unknotting your curls can be a bothersome task and sometimes you may feel like just pulling as hard as possible to break the knot. DON’T DO THIS!

3) Using hair accesories too tightly: as you know from my previous hair accesories article, the use of these is a feasible styling option for those with medium/longer length curls. Used discreetly and wisely, hair accesories such as hair bands or head bands can make your curls stand out but can also expose them to unnnecesary pulling tension. Make sure you avoid pulling too hard and always release some tension once everything is in place by slightly pulling the hair forward (against direction of tension).

4) Anxiety or depression: these two mental disorders may make the sufferer pull his hair to relieve anxiety or as a form of compulsion. In its more extreme expression, intentional hair pulling is known as trichotillomania and is associated with a serious mental health condition known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Medication and therapy can relieve anxiety and/or depression so you should consult your doctor if you find yourself constantly pulling your hair.

 

Patient suffering from trichotillomania

Source: wikipedia.org

 

It is imperative to highlight that traction alopecia can become irreversible. By pulling your hair you are damaging the hair follicle which is the pocket in which hair is produced and grows. A damaged hair follicle can recover if the damage has been mild but constant hard pulling can¬†irreversibly¬†damage the follicle leading to hair growing defectively or even not being produced (irreversible balding). Since, in us men, our levels of DHT don’t do any favours to the health of our hair follicles, it then becomes highly relevant to avoid any hard pulling of your hair whatsoever and literally pamper those little hair producing pockets. It should also be duly noted that the area of the scalp more prone to traction alopecia and damaged hair follicles is the hairline, which coincidentally is the first place to go when Male Pattern Baldness starts. Thus, make sure you avoid placing excessive tension on the hair located in your hairline; this means no gelling back your curls, especially if you are already suffering from MPB, nor using tightly worn hair accesories.

 

I highly recommend you to avoid braids if wanting to avoid traction alopecia

 

Traction alopecia is easily avoided in us men by following the aforementioned measures. Personally, I put the health of my follicles before any hairstyles or whatever is the latest hair trend pimped by metrosexual-orientated magazines. Treat your curly hair like the piece of your unique identity that it is and start growing your manly mane of curls by taking care of their health!

All the best,

Rogelio

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Rogelio

Rogelio is the go-to guy when it comes to men's hair. Having embraced his natural curly hair for over a decade while living in 5 countries, Rogelio has learnt a thing or two along the way. Rogelio is the author of the two bestselling men's books "The Curly Hair Book" and "The Men's Hair Book", and his motto when it comes to hair is, "Gentlemen, having a good head of hair should not cost us our testosterone".

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13 comments for “Traction alopecia – How to avoid losing your curly hair unintentionally

  1. steff.
    November 19, 2013 at 9:06 am

    hello. I have always had a full head of hair that was a nice length. I recently, two months ago, go a really bad hair cut for ROTC. he ran the clippers along the top of my head so much that it felt uncomfortable. Ever since then, my hair has been extremely thin on the top of my head where he ran the clippers at. the entire top of my hair looks very thin now. What did that hair cut do? Is there any way to reverse the damage? the hair on the sides are growing back fine but the top where he ran the clippers heavily is very thin. Some parts are thicker than others but overall its all thin up there. help please!

  2. Andreas
    June 15, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    I’m a 25-year-old male with medium-short hair. I wanted to hear your opinion on my story, as you said in this article that male follicles are hyper sensitive to plucking.

    About 10 months ago, I thinned out the frontal area along my hairline
    with a kitchen knife. I wanted to get rid of the curls and make my hair
    on top a little thinner. I also wanted to
    broaden my forehead a little. I regret the decision ever since.

    So I used a knife to put pressure, like hair dressers do with a thinning
    knife, and started ‘cutting’ against the direction of growth – near
    the roots. I think it was a combination of cutting and ripping hairs
    out. Especially the fragile hairs in the front, along my widows peak and my edges, got
    ripped out I guess.

    It seems my edges got pushed back, and my hairline lost volume and thickness. When my hair is wet, it’s more fragile than ever. There are no apparent bald spots, and I don’t have MPB
    but when I run my fingers trough it, the hair feels ‘too’ soft. Also, I can’t style it like I usually did, they just fall flat.

    Ever since i plucked my hairline, I think some of the hairs grew back. When I examine the hairline very closely i still
    notice short new hairs appearing in the area where they were plucked. But my hairline never achieved it’s previous thickness and volume.

    Please note I plucked the area just ONCE. What are the chances my plucked hairline will regain its former thickness and volume? How many months or years am I looking at before my hairline is fully recovered?

    Thanks in advance for a quick reply!
    Andreas

    • Rogelio
      June 15, 2013 at 8:48 pm

      Hi Andreas,

      Dude, what were you thinking!! (joking) Don’t worry about it, when you pluck a hair you actually rip it off from the root so it takes a very long time to get the same length back. Your hair will lay flat because there’s not as much hair mass there as there used to be prior to removing the hair; ergo the remaining hair, instead of standing up by having the neighbor hairs around (ones you removed), will go down.

      It’s fine; the hair will grow back unless there was blood involved, which is not your case (i.e. you were ripping apart your scalp with the knife). Do take into account that your removed hair can take up to a year to regrow back and even more, for each hair strand has a life cycle (it’s all genetics, don’t worry about it). The one thing you should be worrying about is that which drove you to do that; my friend, be proud of your hair even if it lays low and shortens your forehead; there is some evidence pointing that low hair lines are exempt from MPB, so you actually won the genetic lottery. If you dislike your hair, then join our club and learn to love those curls (we’re active on Facebook, Twitter and I keep everyone updated weekly about our curly hair stuff); or get some motivation by watching one of my videos lifting heavy stuff while having an eight pack (of muscle) and doing it all like a sir. Oh, and everyone knows curls get the gurlz, so y u no like ur curlz?

      Keep in touch Andreas!

      Best

      • Andreas
        July 3, 2013 at 8:46 am

        Hi Rogelio,

        Thanks very much for your reply. Finally someone who understands! The part you told me about the hairs laying flat because of the lack of surrounding hairs is spot on.

        Well, it’s been 11 months now and I can see some regrowth filling in the area, but very slow. The hairs still lay flat, especially when wet, and they look shorter than the rest of the hair on top of my head. I hate it, because I used to have a perfect hairline. I was very proud of my curls and as a matter of fact I got complimented about it regularly too. I actually don’t have a narrow forehead or low hairline at all, it was perfectly shaped, so I don’t know what I was thinking when I plucked it. Fact is I ripped my hairline from its natural thickness/curlyness, and now I have to deal with the consequences.

        I’m at the 11 month mark now. Everytime after I go for a haircut I hope to see my normal hairline again, but the hairs don’t seem to catch up. Although I do see improvement, it feels like an absolute mountain to climb to get my hair’s former thickness back.

        So how certain are you that it takes a year or longer to grow back? Because I’m at the 11 month mark now. And I read estimates of people saying it could take up to 2 years or longer, because hairs that are in the anagen phase grow for about 2-4 years. I think that is a huge difference.

        Best,
        Andreas

        • Rogelio
          July 3, 2013 at 1:52 pm

          Hi Andreas,

          Assuming you pulled the hair strand with the bulb off the follicle, then, yes, it can take a few years depending on the hair growth stage of the plucked hair. Of course, some hairs will flourish from the scalp sooner than others because each hair strand (of the 100,000 in your scalp) is at its own unique hair-growth cycle. So you may have pulled some hairs that were at the end of their hair-growth cycle while you may have pulled other hair strands that were just starting their hair-growth cycle; with the former, it would be a matter of a couple of months to see them again but, with the latter, it could take a couple of years for them to appear again.

          Don’t sweat it; the important thing is that the hair will grow back slowly-but-surely and that you now know what NOT to do with your hair.

          Keep me updated.

          Best

          • Andreas
            July 3, 2013 at 10:45 pm

            Hi Rogelio,

            Thanks for the information, I’ll keep you updated whenever I can. Damn, a few years is a long time. I’ll try to stay optimistic, but I’m not getting any younger you know. It’s funny, because right after the pulling incident I went to a dermatologist, who assured me the hair would grow back fully within 6-7 months or so. Apparantly she didn’t have a clue.

            Regards,
            Andreas

          • Andreas
            July 24, 2013 at 2:47 pm

            Hi Rogelio,

            Here’s an update. After 11 months I can definitely see regrowth along my pulled hairline, as there are tufs of some 1-3 inch hairs growing in. Is that good news or not? I recently went for a haircut, and when I pull my hair back these hairs stand straight up and/or appear thin, not blending in. Hence the lack of naturally wavy texture on my frontal hairline. How long do you think it will take for these new hairs to grow back to full lenth and bond with the rest of my hair so I can expect my original wavy/curly hairline again? Are there any treatments that might speed up the growth?

            Best
            Andreas

  3. Mike
    October 19, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    Great article Rogelio! I have shoulder length type 3 curls and I don’t want this to happen to me because I always put them in a tight ponytail. From now on, I’ll be wearing my hair loose! Thanks Rogelio!

    • Rogelio
      October 23, 2012 at 1:28 am

      Glad it was of use Mike. Treating your hair with care is the way to go if you want it to stay atop for a long time.

      All the best.

  4. Anna
    October 1, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    I am a female with Type III curls and I have experienced traction alopecia as I’ve had to pull my curls back tight in the workplace in the past so this article really nails it.

  5. Larry
    September 27, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Great article my friend.

  6. Rob
    September 26, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Ditto on what Pierre said. On the other hand, I have medium length curls and this article is quite useful.
    Thanks Rogelio.

  7. Pierre
    September 26, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Rogelio, you are a fountain of knowledge! I have short straight hair so this article doesn’t really apply to me yet I always come here to read your articles, whatever you are writing about.

    Keep it up!

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