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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 14:14 EDT

African American Hair Loss Linked To Hairstyles

April 12, 2011

New research suggests that very tight braiding or weaving is linked to a permanent type of hair loss that affects many African American Women.

Dr. Angela Kyei, who worked on the study, said that while the findings cannot prove hair grooming is at the root of the problem, women might still want to take them into consideration.

“I won’t tell you not to braid your hair, but I don’t want you to braid it so tightly that you need to take pain medication,” Kyei, of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, said in a statement.

Prolonged pulling at the hair strands may cause inflammation of the hair follicle, which has been shown to lead to scarring.  This scaring leads to a type of balding that dermatologists call central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia.

This type of balding starts at the top of the scalp and then spreads slowly to the rest.  It occurs only in black women and there is no treatment for it. 

Observations in the 1960s hinted that it was related to hot-comb straightening, but little research has looked at other explanations.

The new study is based on health questionnaires and scalp examinations of 326 African American women.

Nearly all of the participants straightened their curls chemically and about one in six had scarring hair loss.  Over half the women with this condition said they had braids, weaves or hair extensions, as compared to only a third of those with less severe hair loss.

“This is just telling us there is a trend and we need to study it further,” Kyei said in a statement.  She said that it does not mean these hairstyles are necessarily tied to balding, which could have other causes.

The researchers also found women with type 2 diabetes were more likely to have scarring hair loss, as were those with bacterial scalp infections.

“If there is any take-home message from this study, it is that hair grooming is not the only thing you should look at in these patients,” Kyei noted. “If you have hair loss — specifically if you have the central type of hair loss, which is permanent — you need to seek medical attention.”

The study was published in the Archives of Dermatology.

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