When I came across Jasmine Collins’ Instagram page, I nearly cried at the pictures of women with sparse hairlines. The hairstylist is known as the Razor Chic in Atlanta, Georgia, and her feed made me realize that I’ve been practicing a very bad habit for nearly all of my life.
A few weeks ago, Collins shared a video of a woman who suffers from severe hair loss. At first I thought, “This would never be me.” But after watching the entire video, I realized I had something in common with the young lady. I have been wearing my hair in similar hairstyles for years, including box braids and sew-ins. And just like many other women who enjoy having perfectly done up hair, I had never considered the consequences.
“Traction alopecia occurs when you have hair that is pulled too tight,” Jeanine B. Downie, M.D. tells SELF. “You’ll see the effects of traction alopecia after wearing tight ponytails, braids, and extensions repeatedly without giving the hair and scalp a chance to recover.”
It is in many cases irreversible. And personally I find it upsetting because it’s something that is very pervasive among African Americans. But of course, anyone wearing hairstyles that involve jarring tension is susceptible to damage. “Just think of a seven-hundred-pound woman hanging off a cliff by a small tree branch. It’s going to cause traction,” says Downie. And the owner of the Razor Chic salon agrees, “Sew-ins are almost like tweezing the hair from the follicle,” Collins.
So why do so many women consistently wear these styles when balding is a risk? “A lot of people have very busy lifestyles, and they do it for the convenience,” says Collins, who also leads educational classes on haircare. She also sent a much needed reminder, “Beyoncé does not wake up Beyoncé every single day.” Downie agrees, “I think that the problem is caused by the thought that you should have a good hair day every day. The fact is: hair is hair. Some days are great. Some days are not so great.”
Luckily, Downie says that traction alopecia can be detected early. “If you are braiding your hair and you have fine bumps on your hairline, that is a sign that your scalp is reacting to the fact that it is being pulled to tight,” says Downie.
And using bonding gels to apply extensions is just as harmful as the tight, twisting motion of braiding. “Glue is the opposite of what anybody needs in their scalp,” says Downie. “It can lead to serious infections, deep inflammation, and can worsen traction alopecia.”
Although most cases of traction alopecia are irreparable, you can treat early signs with a few options. Downie recommends the brand Viviscal, which specializes in hair thickening products. And if you’re looking for a safe style, don’t completely rule out braids and extensions. Collins is not anti-extensions. She stressed, “The problem occurs when you live in one particular look day by day and year after year.” Remember, give your hair a break from hairstyles. If it hurts, that’s not a good sign.
Here is her transformation: