You can improve the rate at which your hair grows by pulling it out of your scalp while plaiting or braiding your hair right? WRONG. This is a myth that I believed together with many of my African sisters for many years. I am calling this a myth because it is not a fact. I remember as young girls in primary school and well into secondary school and some of my adult years using yarn or knitting wool to plait my hair in a quest to keep it stretched and albeit to also pull it out of the scalp to help it grow longer. It pained a lot but that did not matter as we thought it was a necessary evil that we had to endure for the sake of longer hair. I remember my younger sister actually taking pain killers during the braiding and afterwards just to get through the pain. This was so common in the community I grew up in that we never questioned this norm (what we called norm). How many still remember the sleepless nights after having your hair plaited? I certainly do. At one time I actually undid the plaits in my hair half way through the night because my head was so painful. I was so ashamed to face my friend who had plaited my hair the next morning but ah, well, I just had to. My head was so painful.
This kind of pulling would sometimes leave small sores along my hair line. Little did I know then that I was actually damaging my hair and scalp with all the tension being applied to my hair.
Here is the fact. Hair will always grow out of the scalp at a set pace as long as the follicle is active. The only exception is when the follicle is in the resting stage (temporary inactivity) or when there is an underlying infection or condition which kills the hair follicle and renders it inactive. When you keep on pulling your hair over a long period of time, production of hair from the follicle will slow down and finally cease leading to a receding hair line medically known as Traction Alopecia
Traction Alopecia is a form of alopecia or gradual hair loss condition caused by damage to the dermal papilla and hair follicle due to excessive amounts of tension on the hair shaft leading to the hair pulling out of the scalp and the follicle damaged.
Traction Alopecia can also occur due to over-processing of the hair. Chemical treatment of hair with dyes, bleaches, or straighteners disrupts the keratin structure in a manner that reduces its tensile strength. The hair can become dry, fragile and when pulled excessively will cause excessive shedding to occur.
Main causes of Traction Alopecia.
- Tight plaiting or braiding of hair
- Tight pony tails
- Heavy hair extensions
- Excessive hair weaving
- Chemical over-processing of the hair using dyes and bleaches
- Use of thermal or chemical hair straightening
- Excessive use of heat
- Any excessive tension hair styles
How you can Prevent or Reverse Traction Alopecia
- The easiest way to prevent or reverse traction alopecia is simply to vary your hair styles between tight and looser, softer ones. Wearing hair in a tight style for a single day is unlikely to cause the condition.
- You can also vary the pressure and direction in which the hair is coaxed. For example, try following a scraped-back hairstyle with a centre part the next day, then a side part, then a French braid, in order to give your roots a rest from being pulled in one direction.
- A headache that occurs after you change the ‘direction’ of your hair style can be an indication that the hairs are under stress from being pulled too tight.
- Avoid braiding or plaiting your hair too tight.
- Avoid sew in weaves for extended periods
- Avoid hair extensions that are too heavy for your hair and tend to pull at your hair
- Be easy on the heat. If you should use heat, try a lower temperature and do protect your hair to minimise heat damage.
- Avoid using hair accessories which pull or pinch your hair too tight causing you to have a headache as this puts unnecessary pressure.
- Opt for styles that distribute the weight of your hair evenly on your head, such as single braids without extensions because they are very easy on your roots, and a good choice for ‘resting’ your hair or protecting your hair ends.
- Avoid over-processing your hair to increase its tensile strength.
- Try stretching your relaxers to more than four months in between touch-ups and making sure you relax the new growth only.
- Be gentle when you handle your hair
Unfortunately, when the areas affected are completely bald and appear shiny, not many treatment options are available to reverse this late-stage traction alopecia. Hair grafts have been identified as the only practical solution. It is advised to always give treatment for Traction Alopecia a try for a minimum of three months to see how the hair responds.
So ladies, fore-warned is forearmed.