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
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,