Glance down the list of female celebrities discussing hair loss and you’ll be struck by just how many of them are women of colour. Viola Davis, Jada Pinkett Smith, Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks are just some of the high-profile black women on that list. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s been known for some time that black women suffer from alopecia in disproportionate numbers. A survey of 6,000 black women in 2016 revealed that almost half had experienced hair loss from the crown or top of the scalp.
This article will look at two of the main causes of hair loss in women of colour, as well as the treatments available to tackle them.
Causes: Traction Alopecia
There are different forms of alopecia. There are also many causes of it, not all of which are exclusive either to women generally or black women in particular. These can range from changes in the gut microbiota to experiencing menopause.
The one that appears to affect black women most of all, however, is traction alopecia. This occurs when the hair is stressed by being pulled too tightly by hairstyles that are maintained over years. An article published by doctors of the School of Medicine at the University of Miami showed that one-third of women of African descent experienced traction alopecia because of the hairstyles they chose. The damaging hairstyles include weaves, braids, extensions and ponytails. The use of heat styling tools and chemical relaxers are also big factors in the occurrence of traction alopecia.
Causes: Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia (CCCA)
CCCA, also known as scar alopecia, is another big cause of hair loss in women of colour. CCCA arises when damaged hair follicles turn into scar tissue. CCCA often presents as thinning hair in the crown area. For that reason, it is often misdiagnosed as androgenetic alopecia, or female pattern baldness. However, while female pattern baldness is characterised by hair shrinkage, CCCA can be identified by damaged hair follicles and inflammation.
CCCA scarring can be caused by the same hairstyles and use of chemical relaxers that give rise to traction alopecia. Scientists think there may also be a genetic link to the condition. That hypothesis stems from the fact that many women presenting with CCCA have no history of wearing their hair in the attritional styles associated with traction alopecia. Instead, many report a family history of similar hair problems. This is backed up by a study into the causes of CCCA that found a mutation in a gene vital to the formation of the hair follicle.
Many black women suffering from hair loss never consult a doctor about the issue. That reluctance goes back many years to a time when those tasked with providing the treatment, who were often male and white, had little understanding of the hair issues black women faced. The first rule for getting the appropriate treatment, therefore, is to seek out a clinician who knows what they’re talking about!
With traction alopecia, formal treatment is often unnecessary; a change of hairstyle to a more relaxed do is often enough to halt the hair loss, with new growth appearing in the following weeks and months. This new growth can be helped along with hair treatments or over-the-counter remedies such as minoxidil.
There are signs that more women of colour are choosing natural styles anyway. Research produced in 2018 revealed that 40% of black women preferred to wear their hair natural and without using heat or chemicals as part of their haircare routine. A further 33% stated that they chose to have a natural hairstyle but that they used heat to style it.
There is currently no known cure for CCCA but there are treatments that can mitigate the problem. Getting hold of the condition before it takes hold is crucial, as once scarring occurs the situation cannot be retrieved. That means tackling the inflammation early and effectively. This requires medical help, as the remedies needed, such as anti-inflammatory antibiotics and steroid creams or injections, are not available over the counter. Other treatments like minoxidil and various supplements, can be used to support hair growth once the inflammation has been stopped in its tracks.
One thing highlighted by the various surveys and studies is the need for women to get an early diagnosis of their hair loss problem. With CCCA in particular, this is crucial. The first step is to find a doctor or hair specialist who understands the issues, something that has proven difficult for many black women in the past. Fortunately, there are signs that this is changing.
Vinci Hair Clinic has years of experience dealing with all hair types. Our network of clinics across the globe has contributed to that. If you come to us, therefore, you can be sure that you will be talking to people who understand exactly what you’re facing. We offer a free, no-obligation consultation to all our new clients, so get in touch and book an appointment today!