Alopecia is a general medical term used to call hair loss. It can affect anyone, including black women. Even it is also quite common in African-American women. If you are a black woman, the cause and type of your alopecia will play a key role in determining the treatments that work best to regrow your hair!
In fact, hair shaft of black women is unique
When it comes to specific hair issues, there is some sort of inborn fragility. This can result in hair loss or breakage.
This different structure may contribute to cause some hair loss problems such as dry hair (poor in moisture). As a result, the hair shaft is relatively easier to result in breakage.
According to one study that involved 30 white women and 30 African-American, most of African-American (about 60 percent) had very dry hair. Black women may be about 2-3 times as likely as women of other races to experience hair shaft breakage.
However, some experts suggest that other factors (such as hairstyle factors) may also have an effect. This means that even though the risk of having hair loss and fragility in African-American women may be higher than others, but there are still plenty of options to cope with.
Common causes and types of hair loss in black women
It’s not always easy to determine the underlying cause of the problem. Generally, your dermatologist will rule out other potential causes such as thyroid disorder, the side effect of particular medication (tell to your dermatologist if you are taking certain medication), anemia, genetic factor, and so on.
Unfortunately, many times the exact cause of the problem is not found. You may wish the cause of your hair loss can be identified so thus you can take the most appropriate treatment! But if the cause remains puzzling, this can be very disturbing.
There are many types of alopecia that can affect women. But for black women, they are likely to have traumatic alopecia, central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA), and traction alopecia.
Hair breakage (traumatic alopecia)
Hair breakage is a common hair loss problem in African-American women. It can occur at anywhere on the scalp.
And there are some factors that can contribute to cause this traumatic alopecia. But it is usually associated with injury or trauma of your hair shaft.
Typically it will cause a ‘weak’ spot, re-grown, but is also likely to break again at the same spot. And this can vary, too. Some black women with traumatic alopecia have it infrequently. Even sometimes, once the hair has grown, it will keep growing normally and doesn’t break again.
A broken hair can be of any length, but mostly it is very short. You usually will see short broken hairs on your pillow or sink. But sometimes, you may not notice the breakage when it strikes.
Again, the problem can be attributed by many factors. For African-American women, mostly it is directly associated with the following conditions:
- Too much or consistent use of chemicals such as dyes or/and relaxers.
- Hairstyle practices that cause excessive frictional forces such as excessive combing, brushing, or rubber bands.
- Excessive use of heated tools such as hair dryers, curling irons, and hot rollers.
Central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA)
Depending on the type of hair loss that you have, the treatment can be necessary and should be started as soon as possible. CCCA is in this category in which the early treatment is necessary.
What actually is CCCA? It is an alopecia that starts in the vertex (central) portion of your scalp. It usually begins with a small patch. The thinning hair progresses in centrifugal way (see the picture, credit to DermNet NZ) and the process may take several months or even years.
CCCA can strike at any age, and mostly found in black women. The cause remains unclear. Currently, no one can tell the exact cause of the problem. However some theories have been proposed.
It may be associated with a genetic trait. Some lifestyle and hairstyle factors (especially such as excessive use of chemical hair treatments) may also have contribution. In general, most experts think that it is attributed by multiple factors.
The bad news, it can lead to scarring on the crown and front of the scalp. The scarred of hair follicles can be severe enough which then eventually will not grow back (a permanent hair loss). When you look at them, there are no holes of your hair follicles and the affected scalp can be quite shinny.
If left untreated, the problem can become extensive. And for women, this is more difficult to cope and can be devastating!
It may also cause some of the following discomforts:
- Some women report that they also have a burning ‘funny feeling’ in the affected scalp.
- Soreness or tenderness in the affected area is quite common.
- You may also have a pin & needles sensation or intense itching.
It is usually caused by continuous pulling of the hair. And therefore, it is often directly linked to bad hairstyle practices.
For instances, the following hairstyle practices can lead to excessive pulling of the hair:
- Tight ponytails.
- Braids /plaits, with or without extensions.
- Tight cornrows.
- Weaves, particularly in a way too long.
- Tightly coiled twists.
- Even curlers /hair rollers.
- Or other hairstyle practices that are painful and uncomfortable.
The continuous pulling can affect any area of the scalp, depending on a kind of hairstyle you have. But mostly, traction alopecia occurs at temples, frontal hairline, posterior hairline, and above ears.
There is no special test to diagnose traction alopecia. Physical examination such as looking at your scalp is usually enough to decide how your hair loss occurs and the type of your hair loss.
For example, braiding too tightly is one of common causes of traction alopecia. For such case, hair loss is likely to occur on the temples, front, and the back of your scalp.
It seems that hair loss in black women can be attributed by lots of things. But when it comes to lifestyle and hairstyle factors, the problem is usually associated with taking braids ‘too tight, a weave in way ‘too long’, and the use of harmful chemicals (such as relaxers) in long term.
Female pattern hair loss (androgenetic alopecia) is the most common kind of hair loss in women. It is also quite common in African-American women.
It is a genetic condition. In other words, it is often found in women with a family history of the same condition.
Thinning hair associated with androgenetic alopecia usually develops gradually. The symptoms include:
- Your ponytail is smaller than usual.
- Unlike in men with male pattern hair loss, it is likely to cause thinning hair over the crown. So there is usually no bald spot. Receding hairline is also rare in women with androgenetic alopecia.
- If you directly see your scalp, you still find follicular pores. Therefore, the scalp usually doesn’t look shinny.
How to regrow hair for black women?
The treatment is dependent on the cause of the problem.
Though the cause is not always able to be identified, but your dermatologist can help determine the type of your hair loss and you can take the most appropriate treatment to cope with.