There is a hair loss condition that has consistently remained present in society and yet not been addressed. A condition that is utterly preventable and yet incredibly prevalent. It is called Traction Alopecia and now research is finally being done to clearly illustrate the damaging effects of aggressive styles such as weaves, braids, locs and tight ponytails that cause it.
Now, John Hopkins University researchers have published a study in the journal of the american academy of dermatology that identifies significant association of tight hairstyling with hair loss. The study is one of the first to finally illustrate the importance of having a strong knowledge of hair styling techniques applied to the hair, to understand the causative factors of hair loss and therefore how to best manage the condition and provide invaluable advice ongoing.
Here at the Fulham Scalp & Hair Clinic we’ve known that the continuous pulling force put on the follicle can cause it to produce weaker and weaker hairs, before eventually giving up completely leaving scarred follicles behind.
We’ve also known that aggressive styling on chemically processed and heat damaged hair can lead to even faster hair loss and breakage.
All this damage is preventable if patients are willing to change the way they style their hair and seek treatment sooner rather than later.
For years and years we continue to see patients arrive at our clinic, in desperation for their edges and hairline, and the number of traction alopecia diagnoses we reach every week hasn’t diminished, stemming mainly from black women.
Afro hair is more fragile but is by no means less healthy or able to grow than european hair. When both hair types are put under tension from heavy extensions and damaged by heat they both become fragile, however these aggressive styling techniques are currently far more common amongst black women, and as a result this group suffers disproportionately from traction alopecia.
We need to change this and it starts with educating ourselves and being clear about what will and wont cause damage to our hair.
Tight hairstyles day in, day out WILL cause damage to the follicle.
Single braiding the hair, particularly with long/heavy braids WILL cause damage to the follicle.
Weaves and extensions, attached tightly and left in WILL cause damage to the follicle.
Direct heat to the hair from blow driers and straighteners WILL weaken the hair shaft and result in breakage.
Chemical relaxers, perms and permanent colours applied incorrectly and at too high a strength WILL weaken the hair shaft, result in breakage and may also result in chemical burns.
Think about how many of the above you may be guilty of all at the same time. Now ask yourself, does your hair really feel as healthy and strong as it should?
Early intervention in treating traction alopecia can have incredible results and hair can regrow once more, but if left untreated it can scar and hair loss will be permanent. If you are worried about your hair and suspect you may have traction alopecia, please get in touch so that we can offer clear, expert advice.
Let us avoid the avoidable and enjoy strong hairlines and beautiful growth.
Our best wishes,
Teresa and Eleanore
When we scratch our scalps we’re not thinking about the state of our fingernails, the sensitivity or our scalp or the breakage we may be causing to our hair. All we care about is instantly satisfying that itchy, irritating sensation, and therein lies the problem. With such a short term goal of relief in mind it’s hard to weigh up the long term effects of constantly itching one’s scalp.
Dirty fingernails are the worst offenders, but they don’t deserve all the blame. Over the years I have seen combs, keys, pens and pencils, clips, pins, chop sticks, credit cards and even scissors being used to scratch an itch. None of these objects are known to be thoroughly cleaned all the time (although one would hope that the chopsticks are on the top of the list), so the likelihood that they are harbouring harmful bacteria to be transferred to the scalp is also high. Severe scratching can break the skin and transfer harmful bacteria, resulting in a messy, smelly and uncomfortable bacterial infection of the scalp.
My top tips for an itchy scalp
1. Don’t let it fester
Just because your friend says their scalp itches all the time and it’s no big deal doesn’t mean it’s normal. If your scalp is itchy, there will be a reason for it. Get it treated and the itch will go away and you will have reduced you chances of getting a bacterial infection to zero.
2. Get it diagnosed
Itching may feel all the same, but the causes can vary greatly, from sensitivity of the scalp to an oil to head lice infestations. Knowing what is causing your itch means you know the best way to treat it in the fastest time. There are specific products to be used on fungal infections such as ring worm and dandruff, bacterial infections such as folliculitis and infestations such as head lice and mites. Using the right product and treatment plan is paramount to treating the itch fast and preventing any further effects.
3. Know your scalp
If you have suffered from an itchy scalp in the past and have figured out the cause, it’s simple logic to avoid that in the future. If you are prone to a sensitive scalp there are a few things that you should consider avoiding as it can lead it irritation, such as oils or heavy hair dressings and perfumed shampoos and conditioners. If a product doesn’t say hypoallergenic on it, even if it is organic and “natural” it can still cause irritation if you are prone to allergies.
The more your scratch an itch, the more inflamed and irritated the skin becomes and the itchier it remains. The “itch scratch cycle” can exaggerate a relatively simple and treatable condition into a serious infection that, if left untreated, can result in scarring and hair loss. Nobody should lose hair over an itch!
Teresa Angelina Richardson, MIT
The show had a welcoming audience and I got the chance to meet hundreds of fabulous women who wanted to know the truth about the health of their hair. After examining a number of scalps and analysing hair under my microscope, it was clear that there was a trending of bad habits that had been adopted purely out of a lack of information and education. That is no-one’s fault and it is difficult to get clear and truthful tips on how to look after one’s hair in such an advice saturated market, where everyone has a favourite brand they are willing to recommend.
The first bad habit I noticed was: Too Much Product!
Products are being used over excessively on the hair, with very little actually being absorbed into the hair shaft. Others are layered on so thickly that it rubs off on anything that touches the hair. You need to stop and think;
“If a product is leaving residue in my hand every time I touch my hair, is it really managing to penetrate the hair?”
Body Moisturisers do not leave our body greasy and sticky, so why should our hair products?
The second bad habit I noticed was: A Clogged Up Scalp!
I noticed many visitors who came to see me were specifically asking me what products could they moisturise their scalp with?
I have two comments for this; Firstly, if your scalp is healthy your natural sebum production should be plentiful enough to moisturise your scalp. Not only is sebum perfectly pH balanced for our scalp, it is also anti-fungal and keeps the scalp hygienically and moisturised.
Secondly, if your scalp is dry and flaky, how do you know you aren’t actually suffering from a scaling condition that needs medicated treatment and good management?
I meet many patients, who come to me thinking they are silly to ask about their dandruff when in actual fact, following a trichological examination, I can determine that they are actually presenting with seborrhoeic eczema or psoriasis or even contact dermatitis. You should not have to put up with a flaky/dry/itchy scalp and please do not think that applying product directly to the scalp is going to solve your problem. Always seek specialist advice if you notice your scalp is scaling and itchy as treatment can help to eliminate or manage the condition.
The third bad habit I noticed was: Massaging Your Hair Away!
Thinning hair and bald patches are common sight from the aftermath of weaves, extensions and tightly worn hairstyling. Thin hair density and balding can also be genetic , dietary or even autoimmune. But some visitors attempts to regrow this hair and encourage improved circulation through massage (rubbing at the hair and scalp) was actually doing more damage than good. Blissfully unaware and always with the hope to improve their hair growth rather than hinder it, these visitors have unknowingly been rubbing hair away in the exact places they were hoping it will grow back.
Just as the backs of our socks become threadbare after rubbing against our shoes day-in day-out, hair can become weaker and weaker when presented with direct mechanical trauma (scalp rubbing). A follicle can only put up with so much injury before it ceases to produce hair and becomes atrophied. When a follicle gets to this stage there is nothing one can do to regrow the hair apart from transplant surgery. Please, please don’t let it get that far. If you have a weak or receding hair line, a parting that has become exaggerated or bald patches that you hope to fill, seek specialist advice and DO NOT RUB!
Finally, I want to say thank you now to Wunmi Akinlagun for executing an exciting and professional event. I look forward to more.
Teresa Angelina Richardson MIT
Here are my 3 top tips;
1. Condition, Condition, Condition. Hair may have been roughed up by hats, blown silly by the wind or dried out by all the central heating resulting in dull, dry, frizzy hair that is unmanageable. The more unmanageable hair becomes, the more likely you may be to reach for your straighteners, blow dryers and brushes, which can start off the vicious cycle of heat induced hair damage (see our first blog post).
The easiest way to infuse moisture into the hair shaft and keep hair feeling smooth and healthy is to make a real effort when conditioning your hair. Smoothing it over your hair whilst you’re in the shower and then rinsing off is not going to make an impact.
Take the time whilst you’re in a steamed up bathroom to make sure the conditioner has covered the hair from root to tip. Gently comb the hair, using a smooth, wide toothed comb, to tease out tangles and ensure an even distribution of conditioner….then rinse out.
Once a week I would suggest a steam treatment. At our clinic we use our rich conditioning masks and professional hair steamers to nourish and help repair damaged hair, making a difference to the softness and manageability.
3. Stay moisturised!
I cannot emphasise the need to moisturise enough!
Hair, particularly chemically processed hair (dyed, permed, straightened) will have a degree of porosity, meaning water can move into the hair but also out of the hair. If our environment becomes more weathering (strong winds, rain, and high central heating), then our hair will lose more moisture and it is up to us to replace it.
Dry hair means, less elasticity which means easy breakage and split ends, leaving hair looking unhealthy.
Our favourite moisturiser is our best-selling Leave- in Hair Protector. It has a high protein content which nourishes the hair and is hypo-allergenic so wont irritate the skin, keeping it moisturised and strong. For drier European hair, only a little bit is needed after washing to seal the ends of the hair which can become more weathered. For Afro hair, which is more porous and can easily become dry, you can apply it as and when you feel it’s necessary, to soften and moisturise the hair, this could be daily.
Good luck with the weather.
Teresa Angelina Richardson MIT
2. Protective styles.
It is common sense that we wrap up our hands in the cold and we must do the same to the vulnerable extremities of our hair too.
For longer hair, I am a big fan of French plaits when tied loosely. It protects the hair by keeping the majority of it covered under the plait, and when loose, doesn’t pull at the hair line or small sections of the hair causing traction. The trick is to keep the plait large so that surface area of exposed hair is kept to a minimum.
If hair is shorter, a silk scarf can be a blessing to protect hair from the elements whilst limiting the amount of rubbing the scarf does on the hair itself.
For afro hair, try to avoid wool hats as these rub on drier, brittle hair causing friction and breakage. If you can, try to find a silk or satin lined hat to reduce rubbing on the hair.