African Americans At Risk For Hair Loss; Explaining Traction Alopecia

According to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, nearly one third of African American women and more than 17 percent of African American girls ages 6-21 will lose their hair due to a condition known as traction alopecia. Yet experts note that by simply changing hair care and styling practices, many of these girls and women will be able to retain and enjoy their hair for years to come.

Traction alopecia is a condition most commonly seen in the African American population and is caused by specific hair styling practices including tight braids, cornrows or weaves as well as the use of chemical hair straighteners, dyes or bleaches. An estimated three fourths of African American females straighten their hair. Ironically, the very hair care and styling practices designed to improve their appearance can actually cause young girls and women to lose their hair.

Traction alopecia occurs more frequently in children, teenagers and young adults then it does in older women and men, however, it can occur in people of any age or gender. If diagnosed early, traction alopecia is reversible. But it may lead to permanent hair loss if it is undetected for a long period of time. We here at Advanced Dermatology, PC, advise that a persons\ should see their dermatologist at the first sign of any of the symptoms of traction alopecia so that the condition can be properly diagnosed and treated.

The symptoms of traction alopecia include: pruritus, or itching, with or without dandruff; perifollicular erythema (redness around the hair follicles); thinning of the hair, with large strands coming out when the hair is combed. Many may feel a tingling sensation or pain in the area where the hair loss has occurred. Additional signs may include hyperkeratosis, a thickening of the skin on the scalp, and the development of pustules and scales. Eventually patients may notice many broken hairs. Soon, the hair follicles will atrophy and no longer produce the typical long and coarse hair. Instead, thinner, fine, short hair is generated. Pitting in fingernails is a sign of severe traction alopecia. Most important and common is that the frontal hairline is moved backward in the area being pulled. Other times, the area of the part is thinned-out as this is area of the pulling. Many women affected by traction alopecia will wear their remaining hair greased down to try to cover the bald area.

The key to stopping traction alopecia is detecting it early. Most patients do not notice this “slow killer” of hair as it happens so gradually over months and years. Once traction alopecia has been diagnosed, patients must immediately discontinue any hairstyling practice that causes traction on the hair and switch to looser, gentler styles. In addition, your doctor may prescribe topical or oral antibiotics or cortisone or even give injections to reduce inflammation and prevent infection. Patients should also make sure they get enough iron and protein in the diet to help promote hair regrowth.

When traction alopecia is not detected early, the hair loss may be permanent and irreversible. There is no medical treatment available today to reverse late-stage traction alopecia. Patients then may have to consider surgical hair transplantation procedures. The scarring which traction alopecia causes makes hair transplantation more difficult.  One should only utilize a skilled ‘expert’ hair transplantation surgeon when attempting to ‘cure’ their hair loss. The results can be quite dramatic however it is always better to prevent the problem than to require a hair transplant.

Losing Your Hair? Let Us Help You!

Regardless of your age, hair loss does not have to be tolerated. If you are experiencing hair loss, contact us today to schedule a consultation and discuss treatment options. At Advanced Dermatology, PC, our board-certified dermatologists are experts at treating all conditions of the skin, hair and nails. Our conveniently located offices welcome patients from Queens (Bayside, Flushing), Long Island – Nassau/Suffolk (Roslyn/Albertson, West Islip, Commack, East Setauket), New York City, Westchester County (Ossining), Bergen County, NJ, Union County, NJ, and all surrounding areas.

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