What is Traction Alopecia?

Traction alopecia is defined as any hair loss caused by constant tugging and pulling of the hair. It is classified as a traumatic hair loss injury, and can be mild to severe. It can be somewhat hard to detect, as the sufferer may incorrectly attribute the hair loss to other factors such as genetics or stress.

What Causes Traction Alopecia?

Traction alopecia is a gradual process that happens over a lengthy period of time. It is caused by anything that puts a constant strain on the hair such as:

  • Certain hairstyles – ponytails, pigtails, cornrows, braid extensions, and dreadlocks. These styles constantly pull the hair in a backwards direction, impeding growth.
  • Extremely tight wigs or toupees.
  • Wearing headbands daily (plastic or fabric alike).
  • Excessively tight headgear such as motorcycle helmets (must be frequently worn for long periods of travel).
  • Hair curlers (after frequent repeat use).
  • Trichotillomania – a condition where the sufferer constantly pulls on their hair, either as a coping mechanism or for other reasons.

Of course, none of these factors guarantee traction alopecia. At the same time, any combination of these factors will increase the likelihood developing traction alopecia, and may even increase the severity.

What are the Signs of Traction Alopecia?

A person with traction alopecia will usually experience hair thinning around the temporal region and around the ears. In addition, they may see a wider part in their hair than what is normal. These are all signs that their hair is shedding as a result of constant stress. These symptoms come on slowly, so if you experience a sudden loss of hair, traction alopecia is not the cause.

How Many People Have Traction Alopecia?

TA is more prevalent in females than males. In fact, up to 32% of all women can expect to experience some form of TA, according to a 2014 study. This is most likely due to the large number of women who choose to wear a tight hairstyle, headbands, or hair curlers. In some cases, TA has been reported as early as preschool. Males, on the other hand, typically do not have tight hairstyles, although the rising popularity of the “man bun” in North America may soon cause an increase of traction alopecia for males in the near future.

Traction Alopecia and Race

According to a 2007 study, African females suffer TA more than any other group. This is because African hair is curled very tightly, and has a thinner diameter than most other ethnicities. As such, African hair breaks more easily when placed under stress. Furthermore, the hair itself is also tightly coiled into the follicles, which makes it shed more easily.

Is Traction Alopecia Permanent?

No, not always. In many cases, the hair resumes normal growth once the stressor is removed. If the follicle has been extensively damaged, however, the hair loss may be permanent. Whether the damage is caused by a clothing article or by a hairstyle does not determine the extent of the damage. As a general rule, the earlier the TA is detected and treated, the better the chance of resuming a normal rate of hair growth.

Return to the Hair Transplant and Hair Loss Glossary