Women’s Health Week: Dealing With Hair Loss Caused By Stress On Our Heads–And Our Bodies

May 9, 2016  |  



In honor of National Women’s Health Week, we’re taking a closer look at some of the conditions and issues women, particularly women of color, deal with that deserve more attention. By putting them in the spotlight, we’re hoping to help women who may be dealing with these concerns, and keep those who aren’t from facing them. The more you know…


When we do anything that signals that we may be losing more hair than is natural, we are filled with dread. We hope it’s temporary, and we try to ignore the strands clogging our showers, splayed all over our bathroom floor, and sitting on our pillow or in our bonnets after a night’s rest. Large circular patches that itch and possibly overlap could be alopecia areata. It can’t be cured because your immune system is attacking your hair follicles–but there’s treatment to help with it. And hair could grow back down the line. Or it could not. It depends on the case.

But what about the things we could be doing that can cause hair loss? Or the health issues we don’t realize we’re dealing with that could be making us lose our hair? As researchers at John Hopkins University recently made known in a widely shared study, the styles we’re wearing could be causing traction alopecia. And according to experts, underlying health concerns and traumas (temporary and long term) could also play a part in other forms of hair loss we deal with.

There are hundreds of types of hair loss. One we’ve been speaking about more these days is traction-related hair loss. We may not realize that the styles we wear could pull on our heads incessantly, damaging our follicles and leading to hair ceasing from growing in the areas of damage. And according to dermatologists, such issues may begin as early as childhood with the styles we (as well as our mothers) put in our heads years ago.

“The traction likely starts in childhood and can be seen as early as grade school years,” said Amy McMichael, MD, Professor, and Chair of the Department of Dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “Once this form of hair loss starts, it may never be able to go back to a normal hairline, but stopping all traction styles can help slow/stop progression.”

Loosening braids, avoiding putting adhesive glue on the scalp for weaves (especially for processed hair), and easing up on consistent retwisting of locs is a good start.

As trichologist and stylist to the stars, Dr. Kari Williams, told us last year that those braids and protective styles we flock to during cold-weather and summer months do so much damage to our heads because we don’t even properly manage our new growth.

“The hair around the hairline is the most fragile. So when you think about adding an extension, whether it’s a braid or a faux loc, that’s weight on a small section of hair. And the more your hair grows out, the more fragile that hair becomes because instead of it being anchored to your scalp, it’s now hanging on loose hair, which weakens those strands. That’s the common cause of the traction and breakage we see around the hairline.”

But McMichael said some of the more common things we do, with or without braids, should come to a halt as well to save hairlines under constant stress, including how we prepare our hair for bed.

“Don’t wear tight wraps or headbands around the hairline,” she said. “Don’t wrap the hair at night. But one can use satin or silk pillowcases for sleeping.”

Traction hair loss may have a lot to do with your styling choices, but some forms of hair loss can be caused by your health, including something as common as intense stress to something not so common, like an endocrine disorder, and even the use of prophylactics.

“The main form of hair loss that signals something underlying is a form called Telogen Effluvium,” Dr. McMichael said. “In this form of hair loss, hairs come out from the roots diffusely over the scalp in response to an underlying condition. Common causes of this form of hair loss include anemia, thyroid issues, weight loss, high fever, childbirth, going off and on oral contraceptives, surgery, general anesthesia and others.”

Treating the underlying health issue could bring your hair loss to a halt. And if it’s a one-time issue, say, because of surgery or childbirth, Dr. McMichael said, “it is just a matter of waiting until the hair loss stops and begins to regrow in again.” In those cases, patience is key.

However, this form of hair loss is not widespread, so it’s recommended that when you notice you’re losing hair (and you know it’s at a pace that doesn’t fit the “I guess I’m getting older” explanation), seeking out a primary care doctor or dermatologist about what could be the cause of your hair loss is the best way to go.

With more and more women finding themselves dealing with hair loss, including celebrities, and some going to great lengths to help cover up such loss, including tattooing edges in, the health of our hair is a bigger issue than ever, and one we need to take seriously.

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