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AFRICAN AMERICANS AT RISK FOR HAIR LOSS: Dermatologist Joshua Fox Explains Traction Alopecia, Offers Tips for Saving, Improving Hair
Roslyn, New York, May 2010 – 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. Dr. Joshua Fox, leading dermatologist in the New York Area says that by simply changing their 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 and feel that they no longer look as good as they want to,” says Dr. Fox, founder of Advanced Dermatology, PC and founder and president of New Age Research Foundation and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology.
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,” Dr. Fox says, “but it may lead to permanent hair loss if it is undetected for a long period of time.” Dr. Fox advises that people 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.
Dr. Fox says the symptoms of traction alopecia include: pruritus, or itching, with or without dandruff; perifollicular erythema, or inflammation; 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 symptoms 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 commonly, 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.
“The key to stopping traction alopecia is detecting it early,” Dr. Fox says. “Most patients do not notice this “slow killer” of hair as it happens so gradually over months and years – much as people often do not notice themselves putting on weight or aging.” 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. “Doing so early can lead to complete reversal of the hair loss and regrowth within several months to a year or longer,” Dr. Fox says. “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,” says Dr. Gregory Pistone, Hair Restoration Specialist and on staff at Advanced Dermatology, PC., as well as serving as Associate Clinical Professor of Dermatology and Cutaneous Biology, Thomas Jefferson University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, “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.”