Fall is officially here! Many naturalistas, including myself, resort to protective styles during the Fall and Winter seasons to give our natural hair a break from everyday styling and protection from the much harsher weather. Since my go to natural hairstyle is a wash and go, I’d rather not step out into cooler temps with a wet head and wind up with a nasty head cold. Now, we all love that sleek, chic, “edges laid to the hair gods” look when rocking a protective style, bun or ponytail. The problem is many of us neglect the most fragile part of our hair, our edges. If we’re not careful, this can lead to traction alopecia and the effects can be devastating.
Traction Alopecia is a form of gradual hair loss that is caused by stress and pulling on the scalp and hair fibers. This gradual hair loss will typically occur in specific areas rather than widespread like traditional alopecia. You may see hair loss around the hairline, the nape area, temple area and just above the ears if you are wearing your style too tight. A very common and early sign of traction alopecia is the formation of tiny bumps on the scalp in the area of tension. These bumps eventually scab over and breakage in the area becomes very apparent. It is at that point where the gradual hair loss can be remedied and reversed. However, if the tension continues over time, scarring of the hair follicles occurs and will lead to permanent hair loss. Traction alopecia is completely reversible if caught in its earliest stages.
Bottom line, if you start to feel any soreness or tenderness in your scalp, this is a clear sign that you may need to ditch your current style and switch to a low tension/low manipulation hairstyle. It may take several months for you to see the damage reverse but there are steps you can take to prevent traction alopecia and protect your edges while protective styling:
Limit Protective Styles 6 Weeks or Less
When you are protective styling you are essentially covering not only your hair but also your scalp. Can you imagine keeping your hair in a ponytail for 2-3 months without taking it out? Your scalp won’t get the oxygen it needs to breathe. When you take it out, your hair will probably have an unpleasant stench.
Dr. Melany Maclin-Carrol, MD Dermatologist, says “Don’t get your hair braided tightly if you have a sew in weave. If too tight, this signals that your nerves are activated whih can possibly cause damage to your hair roots leading to traction alopecia.”
Limit your protective styles to a maximum of 6 weeks. Tip: Whenever I have a sew-in weave or extensions installed I leave it in for 2-3 weeks. I then go to my stylist and she removes the hair, washes my natural hair and reinstalls the hair for another 2 weeks. My hair is getting the attention it needs but still allowing time for my protective style to serve its purpose.
Make Bigger Parts Around Your Edges
When installing any type of braids, twists, crochet or faux locs, be sure to have your stylist make bigger parts around your edges. This will allow for less friction and pulling on your hairline and better support for your style. If you’ve ever worn braids, twists or faux locs you know how heavy these styles can be on your head and scalp. Being that our edges are the most delicate part of our hair you should be giving it the most support by applying the least amount of friction possible. These styles should also be applied loosely initially rather than applied tight and letting them loosen over time.
Refrain From Over Styling
When wearing a protective style try to keep it loose. Updos and twisting braids, twists and faux locs can be very gorgeous and tempting to do but all that twisting and turning in various directions is just adding to the friction that’s already happening to your edges and the rest of your scalp/hair. The best thing you can do is leave them loose or tie low and loose majority of the time.
Keep it simple and easy when protective styling your own hair. Loose free flowing styles are always the best protection against traction alopecia but don’t be afraid to switch it up from time to time.
Dr. Melany Maclin-Carrol, MD Dermatologist, advises “give your scalp and hair at least a monht’s break before getting another protective style. This will allow your hair roots to relax.”
Braid-outs and twist-outs are a great option for a low maintenance style. If you get bored with either style, you can opt for chunky twists around your edges and a low bun or tucked in style in the back. Opting for chunky twists around your edges allows that hair to remain tension free from being pulled back into your bun and minimizes the chances of developing traction alopecia tremendously. Just be sure to twist your chunky twists loose and not tight. Placing your remaining hair in a low bun or tucked in style helps you to reduce friction by not having to constantly brush down your hair. You are also protecting your ends, which is also a plus! Just apply your favorite edge control and you’re all set.
Opt for Wigs vs. Sew In Weaves
Since you want the least amount of tension on your hair and scalp as whole, opt for a lace front wig rather than sew-in. Wigs have stepped up their game tremendously by looking much more believable these days. It’s no wonder celebrities like Beyonce resort to lace fronts regularly. Since there is no stress on your hair and scalp like with a sew-in, your natural growing hair can grow undisturbed and with minimal manipulation. You also have more versatility with lace front wigs. You can experiment with as much color as you want without damaging your natural hair. You can also try different cuts without having to wait for your natural hair to grow out. If you’re an athlete or workout regularly, you can still look amazing when rocking your lace front by pulling the hair back into styles like high ponytails and braids as well!
It’s clear that protective styles can work as a great method for protecting your hair and scalp for various reasons. By paying close attention to your edges and signs of tension you can prevent or minimize the chances of developing traction alopecia. Your hair but more importantly your scalp will thrive leading to healthy hair for years to come.