Hairstyle is a highly individual choice, and for many of us part of our personal identity. So, finding out that your favorite hairstyle is causing damage can come as a shock and even lead some people to panic. If you suspect your hairstyle may be contributing to a problem, it’s important to first of all have the full facts at your disposal.
So here is everything you need to know about scalp damage, hairstyles, and the relationship between the two.
When a hairstyle requires an excessive amount of pulling, pinning, or any other type of friction against the scalp, it can lead to a condition known as traction alopecia. Essentially, this is scalp damage and hair loss caused by very tight and overly severe hairstyles. Over time, this condition can worsen, leaving the sufferer with few options for hairstyles.
Many of the risk factors for traction alopecia tend to disproportionately affect people of African descent. Due to a combination of coarse hair and cultural hairstyles which tend to favor tight braids or weaves, African-Americans can be at much greater risk of scalp damage.
Other risk factors include chemical processes such as straighteners, relaxers, permanent waves, bleach, or hair color. Some heated styling tools can also weaken the hair shaft, causing splitting and breakage which can begin to affect scalp health after an extended period of time.
People who have naturally dry scalps may also be at greater risk, given that tight hairstyles may irritate or harm the skin more easily. Also, wearing a wig can sometimes cause traction alopecia, especially if the inner surface of the wig rubs against the natural hair too roughly.
High Risk Styles
These include anything that requires your hair to be pulled tightly or severely away from your scalp. So tight braids, dreadlocks, tight buns, or hairstyles which call for several bobby pins to be pressed up against your scalp can all cause excessive pulling, and eventually lead to scalp damage.
Some hair processes such as straighteners, relaxers, or perms may not necessarily damage your scalp on their own, but when they are combined with tight hairstyles, they can significantly increase the risk factor for traction alopecia.
Weaves and extensions can also cause scalp damage, depending on how they are applied. Weaves which are sewn into the hair can pull tightly on hair strands, putting the scalp under stress. While extensions that are attached with glue can also affect scalp health, especially if the glue is applied very close to the scalp’s surface, or if the extensions are overly heavy and cause pulling.
Low Risk Styles
The lowest risk styles will obviously be ones that allow your hair to fall naturally, as there is no pulling whatsoever in this state. However, this might not always be either desirable or practical, and simply telling people to let their hair fall naturally is not taking other considerations and preferences into account.
So, whenever possible, choose looser braids and buns for better for scalp health overall. But if tight braids are needed, try to use them without extra chemical processes, weaves, or wigs. In other words, the fewer stress sources you subject your hair to, the healthier your scalp will be.
Here are some other steps you can take to keep your scalp healthy:
- Do not wear tight braids for longer than six weeks.
- When wearing tight braids or other tight hairstyles, do so with hair that has not been chemically straightened, bleached, or otherwise treated.
- Protect your scalp from the sun, particularly if much of your scalp surface is exposed.
- Preserve moisture by applying an appropriate scalp treatment when necessary.
- Shampoo as needed. A buildup of dead skin cells and sebum can cause irritation. Regular shampooing helps prevent this problem.
- Scalp massage. This promotes natural oil production to hydrate both skin and hair, and can also alleviate pressure points caused by tight hairstyles.
If you have specific concerns about scalp health, speak to a dermatologist. They can offer specific treatments or remedies which may address your situation, and maximize the health of your scalp and hair.