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.