How Braids and Weaves Are Causing Black Women to Lose Their Hair

April 19, 2011  |  

By Alexis Garrett Stodghill

For many black women, maintaining the perfect hairstyle is a central goal. Using weaves or braids to achieve a look without thinking of the consequences is common, but the damaging results are far from pretty.

Recently, a shocking study reported on by CNN revealed that weaves and braids may contribute to a type of permanent hair loss known as central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia, or CCCA, a form of baldness that begins at the crown of the head and leads to scarring. A staggering 59 percent of black women who participated in the study had hair loss on the top of their scalp.

Dr. Monte O. Harris, a renowned African-American doctor and hair care expert who addresses balding in black women, noted that “black hair has a morphology that makes it more susceptible to damage, because there are many breaks along the shaft of the hair,” he said. “It’s amazing that our hair is probably the most susceptible to trauma and we do the most damaging things to it. It’s like a double hit.”

Our extra susceptibility to CCCA was explicitly linked to traction hairstyles, such as weaves and braids. There was no correlation found for relaxers or hot comb usage. While Harris is pleased with the findings, he is concerned that “people are receiving mixed messages from this study.” He is particularly excited that the study “highlighted the increased incidences of hair issues in black women linked to traumatic grooming practices,” which might help black women rethink adopting potentially abusive styles. At the same time, however, the misconception that weaves and braids are uniformly injurious could cause more harm than good.

“I’m concerned about it because it’s making it seem like relaxers are good and weaves are bad,” said Harris. “Things need to be put into a context, particularly with weaves [since they] are done in a variety of ways.”

Anu Prestonia, president and owner of Khamit Kinks natural hair salon in Brooklyn, has over twenty years of experience observing the many variables that affect the impact of traction styles. She was hesitant about the results of the study.

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  • With all due respect to these doctor’s, I disagree with the findings of this study. Just because relaxers and hot combs may not appear to cause CCCA does NOT make them good for your hair in the least! Heat damages hair by producing dead ends, that have to be cut off. My sister went to a stylist who told her that she would have to have a major hair-cut due to all the dead ends from repeated straightening. It therefore makes scientific sense that continual usage of heat will weaken the hair. This is because the biological structure of hair strands is protein based (keratin) and excessive heat denatures them.

    I have seen the effects of continuous straightening first hand with women of all colours. Having said that, damage can be avoided through turning the heat down and allowing the hair to rest in between high-maintenance treatment.

    I feel as though I have to defend braids. I can understand why tiny, tight braids in particular would represent a fast road to traction alopecia and the like, but actually braids when applied correctly can be beneficial for the hair. The problem is wearing them for too long, application that pulls on the scalp and not taking care of the real hair underneath. Braids add length to the natural hair, and are easier to take care of. Plaits are good for the hair, and can help growth.

    The same goes for weaves. I am not really a fan, because the style is too high-maintenance for me- but a good weave that doesn’t pull on the scalp and does not involve glue will not necessarily lead to hair loss. The key is moderation. Sew in weaves are the best, and you can also get the tracks sewn into a net, which further protects your real hair.

    The main issue is how tight, and whether you are protecting the real hair underneath the extensions.

  • Barbara

    I have seen this happen to a few women, but I think it is usually a result of hair being too tight. Interestingly, I also saw it happen to a white friend of mine. I have been friends with her since we were in middle school, and for as long as I’ve known her she has struggled with her hair (not the same as black hair, obviously, but hers is naturally very, very thick and a mix of curly and wavy, and I’ve seen it get very frizzy at the slightest hint of moisture). Anyway, because of this, she wore her hair up in a tight bun almost every day for years. When I look back at old photos, I see that her hairline has definitely receded, especially on the sides above her ears. She’s been talking about just cutting it short and turning to wigs, so maybe that’ll give it time to grow back? Anyway, the point is that this type of hair loss definitely isn’t limited to black women– it seems to be afflicting all people who wear their hair too tight for too long.

    • ANN

      NOT A FEW- I MANAGE A CONSUTLATION COMPANY FOR HAIR LOSS- I HAVE CONSULTED OVER 400 WOMEN- 90 PERCENT OF HAIR LOSS DUE TO BRAIDS AND WEAVE

      • ANN

        MANY PICTURES AND ALBUMS TO SHOW

    • It is definitely not limited to just black women. And I wear my hair in a bun, so I am slightly alarmed, LOL.

  • Enice20003

    then all these girls must be wearing bad weaves, because they all have hair loss

    • Masterpieced

      All weaves are bad and bad looking and bad for your esteem. Bad all around.

  • My tortilla press came in the mail today! So I tried making corn tortillas again it took some trial & error, and then they started coming real easily! They turned out much better than last time. My mom had planned on making taco salad tonight, so instead of proccessed corn chips, I ate corn tortillas. We still used non-local ground beef and processed American cheese, but one thing at a time!

  • I agree with Ms. Harris. My mother and sisters and I have been wearing braids and weaves for many years (which we do ourselves). None of us have any hair loss issues…in fact, my hair is extra thick. I’ve gone back and forth with having relaxers and not having them. Relaxers burn and damage your scalp and eventually damage your hair over time. For me, relaxers are way more harmful than braids…and I don’t plan on going that route again!

  • MONI G

    I AGREE WITH YOU 100% I noticed when you do all kinds of things to your hair and you dont take care of it this is when your hair falls out my hair was natural and long and everybody loved it , it did not have to be soft in order for people to like it because it was natural and healthy when i started to perm and dye this is when it became a problem and just like you said about the men alot of african women think if they make their hair softer and look longer men will like them more but I say if a man is black too he doesnt have the right to tell a woman he doesnt like her hair and if he does then he doesnt like himself and even if you do all those things if he likes white women he will still like them especially because most men want women with real hair whether its short or long . Men like that are not worth it in my book and if you feed into society of what good hair is then you will be left with no hair, like you said its a self esteem issue!

  • MONI G

    I really agree with you some african people have a misconception and they think that in order to be accepted they must have hair like that white girl on tv or the magazine and thats not true because most men prefer women that have natural healty hair they dont expect you to look like a caucasian they just want you to be yourself and if there is a man out there that tells you he needs the caucasian asian type hair then he is not worth it because he doesnt want you for you and thats the way you were born also just because black men look at white women or date them doesnt mean they like them more or their hair more so african women should chill out because men will be attracted to women outside their race doesnt mean its the hair .

  • gohanna

    Well, I'vebeen wearing weave hair for five years and have not experienced any radical breakage (other than natural shedding), actually it has grown quite a bit. I am however going to give it a break and wear a shorter length "permed" style. (I know I am breaking all the rules), Frankly, I am tired of shelling out all of money it takes to maintain the weave and the hours I give to the salon. If I decide to re-weave down the road, I will consider the clip-in for special occasions.

    No breakage, five years later…

  • Aftrican American hair needs more moisturizing. I've found that taking the Skin, Hair and Nails vitamins very good, now my ends are stronger, I've also been using African Prides Spray for Braids it has extra moisturizers._Dr. Miracles Grow Oil is great.

  • Natural Hair Guest

    LOVIN' IT! Learn proper hair care!

  • Weaves look good & should be done right to prevent this.

    Also for beautiful 100% silk scarves, silk pillowcases, hair wraps & more. To keep hairstyles fresh while you sleep or to just look fabulous.

    Google ESSENCE OF SILK they have the best prices & largest selection!!!

  • Andi

    With the exception of Alopecia and chemotherapy, I think weaves and braids should be banned and outlawed. Everyone knows it's not yours. Come on. A good wig is nice. But all that tugging and pulling and gluing is not healthy for your scalp or your hair. If you are going to relax it, follow the instructions and condition and trim your hair as recommended. We need to stop the madness. It's quite insane. Really.

  • pangeleta

    all hair grows at the same rate our hair is just coily but does NOT grow at a slower speed. thank Jah for the abundant information now available to help us CARE for and MAINTAIN our natural hair and length….. we have been ignored by mainstream society for far too long…..

  • EZRawlins

    Why not simply be natural? Why go to such great lengths to affect a straight-hair steez? I don't get it.

    Someone commented that Black men desire 'long and silky hair' and thus Black women try to affect it any way they can. Do you really think Black men would stop dating Black women if all of y'all decided to go natural? Rather than catering to some brothas' low-level insanity, why not embrace your God-given beauty and demand that brothas come up to YOUR level? Don't accommodate madness; educate oneself (and one's people) AWAY from it.

    The WORST thing I see are women with hair loss who nonetheless allow/subject their daughters to the same destructive practices. Good grief; is it really necessary to CONTINUE the madness? At what point do we assume responsibility for our outcomes and decide, 'Enough is enough?' The definition of insanity…

  • MISSDIVA

    THIS ARTICLE IS BS WHEN UR WEAVE IS DONE CORRECTLY YOUR HAIR GROWS!! I LOVE TO THROW A WEAVE IN MY HAIR EVERY NOW AND AGAIN BUT MY REAL HAIR IS PAST MY SHOULDERS SO WEAVE IS NOT A NECESSITY IT'S AN ACCESSORY!!!

  • Likewater4choc

    I know know that I have to stay away from mineral oil and anything that has petroleum in it because these aid in drying out the hair shaft and my hair needs all the moisture it can get. (So, we do not need ANYONE on her advocating the use of petroleum jelly on there as as this product has no nutritional value for black hair and is only iseful as a shine aid and is designed to lock moisture out.)Some use braids, weaves, wigs as protective styling in order to protect their own fragile natural hair. I wear braids maybe once every couple of years during the winter and ensure that the stylist does not braid too tightly. I do not wear weaves, but may wear a wig, because my hair underneath is fragile and has been responding well to my gentle handling and the right products. Natural hair is a labor of love and is no easier than dealing with relaxed hair.

  • Likewater4choc

    As someone else to add constructive feedback on this issue (rather that criticisms and putdown meant to demean my sisters or chide them as if they were children), the truth is that we are all different and we need to learn our hair. I am 32 years old and have been natural for about 4 years now. And I am still learning what works and what doesn't for my hair. Learning about hair texture, density and porosity is a great start in learning about your hair. I have friends who can perm and dye their hair all day long and it is down their backs. I am not one of those people and have come to accept that my hair cannot abide chemical process and is fragile to to too much manipulation and daily styling.

  • Patricia

    I have worn my hair in dreadlocks for the past 13 years. I love my notty hair, it is long, and beautiful. If Black women only knew the damage perms and relaxers cause, not only to your hair, but there might be a distant correlation between dementia/Alzheimer's disease. Where do you think those chemicals go? They seep into your brain and who knows all the damage these chemicals cause. I have always thought it was so stupid for Black women to glue fake hair on their heads. Do you envy White women's hair so much that you hide your own beautiful hair? If God had wanted Blacks to have straight hair, he would have given us straight hair.
    You really can't fault Asians who sell fake hair to Blacks. Black women come running in droves to buy fake hair, in fact, the Asians can hardly keep up with the demand. I know they sit back and LAUGH at Black women. I have to laugh myself. We are the only race of women who don't seem to like ourselves.

  • Ms. Kay

    I agree, glue is a no no. It's not an art project. That crap will rip your folicles right out…

  • truthbtold

    People are always so quick to defend foolishness. What in the heck do you think black women were doing all the way up until 90's when this fake hair syndrome took over? Long before all of these nutrients and hair growth supplies were even invented? For decades black women had petroleum jelly to put in their hair, and no complaints from anyone about how their hair looked. And most black women had hair – very rarely were short hair styles even seen! This notion of the short cut and short do's started in the 80's. Bllack women with afros wore big afro hair styles which would equate to having long hair today. A lot of women today just don't won't to spend time taking care of their hair. They'd rather spend time on a cell phone (accomplishing nothing). It's just laziness. It's too easy to throw on a pair of pants, wear tattoos, smoke black 'n milds, and kick it like a man.

    • Likewater4choc

      Are you white? I have been reading your posts and it is written like and uninformed white person professing to have knowledge of black women. Short cuts did not just come into style in the 80's. Black women wore their hair short prior to this, because ALL black women did not have long hair. I have pics of women in my family from generations ago and some had short afros, large afros, shoulder length straightened and have you ever heard of wigs. These have been in existence since the time of Cleopatra.

      …and petroleum jelly (the answer from the white establishment to make black hair shine). Uggh

      Sisters, we will never be healthy on a a steady diet of misinformation.

      • truthbtold

        I am Black and you must be young. short hair styles did come in to fruition in the 80"s. What was considered short afros in the 70's would be considered long hair today. Misinformation is what you are spewing. What do you think women were doing before they started gluing and sewing hair into their heads? Wigs were worn occasionally, not as a permanent part of an individual's appearance! Take a look around, shoulder length hair is considered long hair today. Don't make excuses for a lazy work ethic when it comes to grooming. If you start taking count of all the black males wearing dreads, locks, and braids- you'll probably discover there are more males with longer healthier hair than women due to the abundance of laziness. If you didn't live it, then you have no clue. A straightening comb was a part of every black household and females had hair on their heads to straighten. Royal Crown was the basic hair care product in most black households and it was pure petroleum jelly.

  • truthbtold

    So why not wear your own hair? If your hair has it going own like that – why are you hiding it under fake hair?

    • Ms. Kay

      one reason is to try new styles without sacraficing the cutting of your own hair in case you dont like it. My hair grows with weave, braids and wearing it natural. It's all about alternating, keeping the hair clean and protecting it. I think it's fun to be able to change styles.

    • Natural hair guest

      Changing the style is what it's about. and not ALL braids/weaves are bad. If they are too tight or constantly done in the same way, that's what leads to the alopecia. I'm natural and I wear braids off and on. I like the style and it gives my hair a break from over manipulating. I've retained so much more length than I have in the past.

  • Scoops

    @ Nicole & WeavesDontDoThat

    You get the point i was trying to make. With weaves there are numerous reasons why people have hair loss. Mostly due to lack of maintenance or just being down right nasty with your hair like Nicole stated.

    @Real Issh
    I wear my hair the way I want to wear it! It has nothing to do with what people think…you will NEVER please everybody so the best thing to do is please yourself, bottom line.

  • lalalala

    I agree with a couple of posters here….The underlying issue is that American society (including Black America) doesn't fully accept natural black hair and doesn't think its beautiful unless its loose curls. All women want to be considered beautiful. Also, yeah some black women can grow long hair if they were to go natural and take better care of it, however, there are some (if not many) whose hair won't grow long regardless (ie me). And we know our society values long hair, and black men also like long hair. As a matter of opinion, most black men that say they like natural hair usually like natural long hair (or when its stretched its long) or natural curly hair.
    Lastly, just because you go natural doesn't mean your hair will be any healthier. I

  • WeavesDontDoThat

    If you don't know how to take it out properly, this aids in hair loss…Stop blaming the products people!!!

  • mistyjean

    Get an afro like me

  • Beeeee

    Wadd does Bey have to do with this ? #sitdatassdown .

  • sapphire

    Beyonce has a weave too!!

  • HAPPY BEING NAPPY

    I TOTALLY AGREE WITH YOU!! 100%.

    THEY ALSO DIDN'T MENTION THAT PERMING YOUR HAIR THEN BRAIDING IT WILL MAKE IT FALL OUT. USING GEL AND BRAIDING YOUR HAIR WILL MAKE IT FALL OUT. USING BAD HAIR CARE PRODUCTS THAT DRY YOUR HAIR OUT THEN BRAIDING IT WILL MAKE YOUR HAIR FALL OUT. GETTING PERMS TOO CLOSE TOGETHER WILL OVER PROCESS YOUR HAIR AND MAKE IT COME OUT.

  • Nicole

    there are numerous of ways to wear extensions today, RELAXERS umm who wears them anymore? I rock pieces from Bella dream hair and I am too freaking happy, stay away from asian hair companies, stay away from relaxers, give your hair proper nutrition and most importantly WASH YOUR HAIR!! I know plenty of sisters that are beyond gross. They don't wash their hair for months under those braids and weaves..maybe that's the reason they are losing their hair NOT the extensions smh…there are so many variables on why Black women are losing hair how about addressing that?

  • Real Issh

    U wanna address thee issue but don’t wanna solve thee problem . Black women wouldn’t have to wear weave , it they weren’t criticised for their natural hair . Real issh .

    • MISSDANIBABY

      SOOO TRUE! IT'S THE "CRITICIZING" AND "DEMONIZING" OF BLACK HAIR THAT HAS CAUSED THIS AFRICAN MENTAL PATHOLOGY IN THE FIRST PLACE!

    • MONI G

      NOBODY criticizes black hair I have never heard on the news or in magazines that black people have bad hair hairstylist of other races try to come up with other products to take care of african ethnic hair so that it can be easier to do their hair they also have alot of products for natural african hair if you choose to have your own hair but I think the real issue is with the black women that dont like theirself and they want the hair they see on tv and the hair they see beyonce and other black celebrities with because they think people will like them more.

  • BlackGIRLSRock

    hell I dont see nodody talkn about why white men in there early thirties are goinG BALD at the top thats why there the ones rockin the TOUPEES and buying "just for men products" LMAO..and lets not start with white women in there fusion weaves and all there HIGHLY CHEMICALIZE hair dyes and products to help thicken there hair and what not…so plz dont just TARGET one race because black people to me have the best hair in the world…and thats why the world will try and c0me out with the most obsurd assumptions and accustaions about our beauituful eclectic race of people. NUFF SAID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • queenB

      OK FIRST OF ALL I dont think they are trying to talk down to black women they are saying that some hair styles make your hair fall out especially if you dont do it properly and if black people hair is so great why dont you leave your hair the way it is and wear it the way it is and quit trying to look like the white girls with soft silky hair ?

  • BlackGIRLSRock

    Ummmmm First of all Braids GROW YOUR HAIR AND SO DOES WEAVES…thats not the factor in which is causing "black women" hair to fall out…its called negligence and poor matienance…and also people who dont know what there doing when it comes to those certain hairstyles aka HAIRSTYLIST.

    First of all BLACK WOMEN AND MEN have the strongest most stylable hair then any other race, if you notice as we get older our hair only improves…say for instance with WHITE PEOPLE there hair gets thinner, and falls out waaaaay faster then Blacks do. This artice to me is pure ignorance and comedy and just another JAB at black people for because because because…just another day in the BLACK PEOPLE WORLD where somebdy from out of no where that dont have nothing else to do but talk about US POPULAR BLACK PEOPLE…BYE HATERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • MONI G

      OK FIRST OF ALL I dont think they are trying to talk down on african people they are letting people know that some of these things are making your hair fall out so if anything they are trying to help you and second Im pretty sure a black person posted this up here for people to read so its not like its a white person trying to talk bad about blacks hair ! and if africans have the best hair then why dont they like it and stop trying to look like they have white people's hair ?!!

  • my weave is healthy

    That's why I use clip in hair from clippedtracks.com . We as black women need to try this alternative. I'm not the type to spend all day in the salon. Plus my hair breaks if you look at it too hard. Clipped tracks allowed me to purchase the best quality hair for blending with my own (because I can use it over and over) , and the glamorous look of a long weave with out the pulling and drying. My own hair is actually growing and thriving!

  • Scoops

    I believe the point of this article is educating black or ethnic women on how to properly care for their own hair. There is definitely a way to do that while wearing weaves. But don't get it twisted…just because you rock weave does not mean you don't have hair. It is more convenient. I have medium length hair and I quarterly rock a Crochete. If you use Sulfur 8 Light Moisturizer in an applicator bottle and oil the braids underneath regularly your hair will grow! Use Olive oil perm (if you have one) and products and you should be straight. My friend that does my hair does not pull out my scalp with my braids. IT IS NOT NECESSARY TO PULL A PERSON'S SCALP OUT TO BRAID THEIR HAIR WELL!!! A total misconception in my opinion. Wear what you want, weave, perm, or natural…the key is taking care of your OWN HAIR FIRST!!!

  • so what?

    Same old recycled articles for the purpose of deamening the black woman and causing arguments with the trolls. Nothing wrong with weave and braids providing its done loosely with breaks in between.

  • prettyS

    It's not the WEAVES or BRAIDS is the application and education of the stylists. I've worn braids and weaves for years when the right person did my hair, my hair grew to my shoulders. When I got with the wrong stylists my hair broke off and became damaged. The hair game is so messed up right now, stylists use to KNOW what they were (they were educated and took continuing education classes, like with a nurse or Dr.) Now you don't know who you're getting up in your head. Esp. in Atlanta

  • zumbagirl

    Afrogirl: You speak the truth. I have had to deal with hair "issues" from as long as I can remember — going back to childhood. I've worn braids for the last 8 years and it has brought me not hair loss but freedom. Free to not spend hours in a beauty salon every other week; free to not have my hair burned out by relaxers (my hair just can't take a perm); free to work out 5-6 days a week without fear of my hair "going back" and free to swim for the same reason. I go to a skilled braider who knows what she is doing and I routinely receive compliments on my braids from total strangers — black and white. If I'm being "lazy" because I choose to wear an attractive hairstyle that does not harm my hair and allows me to live my life without obsessing about my "bad" hair, so be it.

  • Monique1974

    @Christie – Thank you! I couldn't have said it better myself. African-American women have been wearing braids for many, many years. So, how come all of a sudden it's damaging to our hair? You can braid, weave, perm and color your hair, just so long as you know what you're doing. As you've said, it's only a problem for our hair when any of these procedures are done improperly. African-American women hair can and do grow. It's a myth. And, it's this very same "myth" that makes so many of them feel as if they "HAVE" to be dependent on weaves, braids, perms and coloring to feel accepted and good about themselves. Our hair will grow if we eat properly, take vitamins, wash it, condition it regularly, moisturize it, get trims every 4-6 weeks and try not to put too much heat on it. If you do this, believe me, you will see strength and grow in your hair. It will grow as long as you want it too. Trust me.

  • M. Zenzele

    Here's a tip: Stop wearing weaves! *smh*

  • afrogirl757

    The Asians didn't pull a coup they are simply good business people. Demand informs supply. We women demanded more hair and Asians happily provided the supply. It wasn't until I was in my 30's did I learn that I could have my own beautiful hair with good nutrition and nutritional supplements. Eventually even hair stylist were asking me what I was doing to my hair because it was so healthy and thick for the first time in my life. My hair wasn't shedding when I used relaxers. And then in my 40's I finally had had enough after I gave my self a second degree burn on my forehead from a curling iron and frying my hair with a relaxer retouch. I pledged NO more relaxers and No more curling irons. Since then I've worn natural styles received a zillion compliments from complete strangers and have that inner confidence in her own beauty every woman wants.
    Lots of ladies have asked me to help them get their hair healthy and I tell them but I know they won't let go the addiction to hair torture because first one must deal with breaking with the "good hair" "bad hair" lie and accept our God given unique African beauty.

    • MISSDANIBABY

      OMG. PREACH! I LET GO OF RELAXERS 2 YEARS AGO AND CAN'T BELIEVE HOW MUCH I NOW LOVE MY "NATURAL" HAIR!

    • shana

      amen!!!

  • truthbtold

    Wow! Did it take this long for someone to figure this out? We live in a nation full of women wearing fake hair from the time that they are children. Sooner or later your hair will conclude that it's services are no longer needed. The same thing goes for our black men that have been voluntarily shaving their heads. Kids used to get clowned in school for being baldheaded. It was so rare that to see a young person with a baldhead was an indication that they were undergoing Chemo, or they had some type of medical procedure to warrant cutting off all of their hair. Now we have males volunteering to be bald for the last 15 years, even to the point of having white guys shaving their heads.

    So no, it is no big surprise that our women's hair is falling out and breaking off from years of faking it. It requires too much effort and patience to rock your on hair. People are Lazy and they'd rather pretend to have something and get props they don't deserve. Selling fake hair black women was one of the biggest coups ever pulled off by the Asians. They know we are shallow, lazy, and will pay top dollar to pretend!

    • geemoenettie

      Don't forget our follicular insecurity. Add that to the list.