Those affected by traction alopecia do not suffer from hair loss due to physical illness or genetic predisposition, but from hair loss as a result of excessive mechanical stress on the hair. This type of hair loss usually affects women wearing tight hairstyles such as tight buns or tight ponytails. However, traction alopecia is usually reversible, which means that the hair roots recover if you leave your hair loose or wear it in loose hairstyles for long periods of time. Only in very rare, severe cases does scalp scarring occur, which leads to irreversible hair root damage that prevents hair from growing back – in this case, the only treatment option is a hair transplant.
The following article summarises the causes of traction alopecia, how to recognise its typical signs and, finally, what you can do about this form of hair loss.
What is traction alopecia and what causes it?
In contrast to other forms of alopecia, traction alopecia is not characterised by a disease or genetic predisposition, but by excessive mechanical stress on the hair or scalp. If individual hair areas are repeatedly subjected to intense pulling, pressure or friction, this can lead to a curvature of the hair root, which thins the hair and shortens its growth phases. Affected areas are usually the hairline on the forehead and temples (also known as the receding hairline), as this is often where the greatest stress occurs. However, the extent of the hair loss depends on the cause of the traction alopecia.
The most common causes of this form of hair loss include certain hairstyles, such as tight braids, buns or ponytails. Dreadlocks or cornrows (a braided hairstyle common in Eurasia and Africa) can also trigger this.
Many people's favourite hair enhancements – also known as hair extensions – damage the hair root due to the tensile stress they cause and can also lead to hair loss.
Hair loss may also occur if your hair is regularly strained by pulling it hard when combing or carelessly blow-drying it, or by styling it with straightening irons or curlers. Very heavy, long hair might also put a strain on the hair roots due to its weight.
In addition, headgear such as helmets or tight headbands as well as hair jewellery in the form of hoops or clips can also have a negative effect on the scalp.
Apart from these mechanical causes of hair loss, there are also psychological factors responsible for traction alopecia. This is known as trichotillomania, an obsessive-compulsive disorder in which those affected pull out their own scalp or body hair (vellus).
How do you recognise typical signs of traction alopecia?
Most people affected first notice that individual hairs break off at the hairline and then stick out of the hairstyle – this is known as frizz. Apart from broken hair, traction alopecia leads to hair loss, as already described. In addition to these two signs, traction alopecia is also accompanied by symptoms such as scalp pain, stinging or itching, combined with scalp redness. Furthermore, bumps and small pimples or pus blisters may appear until the scalp tries to regenerate itself by starting to peel off and eventually dead skin flakes appear. However, these symptoms do not always have to occur and traction alopecia can progress more or less unconsciously.
All you need to do is act quickly when noticing the first symptoms. This will help to prevent further hair loss. Neglecting to do so can lead to further hair thinning in the affected areas and increased hair breakage. Gradually, bald patches form and the hairline can recede further and further. Unless the problem is addressed, the hair follicles can be damaged to such an extent that the scalp becomes scarred (scarring alopecia) and no new hair will be produced (permanent hair loss).
What can be done against traction alopecia?
To prevent or reverse traction alopecia, it is advisable to minimise any stress to the hair. Avoiding the aforementioned triggers such as severe hairstyles, rough styling or tight headgear can counteract hair loss. Without these mechanical influences, nothing stands in the way of hair regeneration and healthy hair growth. Circular hair loss (alopecia areata) leaves the hair shaft intact while the hair in the center comes loose. Scalp redness is an issue in dermatology, which is why a dermatologist can also help in the early stages.
In addition, heat and chemical stress, such as hair colouring and tinting, ought to be avoided in order to improve general hair health. Of course, neither smoking nor alcohol consumption is conducive to full hair.
Another important factor for healthy hair growth is a balanced diet. Particular attention is required to ensure an adequate intake of iron, zinc, vitamins and proteins. Food supplements can be added to this.
Good scalp and hair care is also essential for this, whereby special emphasis should be placed on high-quality care products. Regular scalp massages with hair-friendly oils are also beneficial for hair growth.
Depending on the type of alopecia, products such as Biotin or Minoxidil can prove helpful. However, medical clarification is recommended before using them.
The ace up your sleeve in the fight against all forms of hair loss is autologous blood treatment. The Swiss market leader in hair transplants and autologous blood treatments HAIR & SKIN explains autologous blood treatment as follows:
Autologous blood treatment
The treatment is based on the body's own blood concentrate, which consists of PRP (platelet-rich plasma) and contains valuable stem cells. This high-quality therapy stimulates cell renewal and regeneration, supplies the hair roots with important nutrients and thus boosts hair regrowth. This has been proven to enhance hair structure and increase hair density.
Autologous blood treatment procedure at HAIR & SKIN
Initially, a small amount of blood is taken, which is then centrifuged. This removes the platelet-rich plasma, which can then be made available for injection. Then, the freshly prepared plasma is injected into the scalp. Six treatments are recommended at four-week intervals for the best results. These breaks are needed for the scalp to regenerate. A six-monthly or annual refresher treatment is recommended to achieve long-lasting results.
After the treatment
As the autologous blood treatment is a very gentle treatment method, you can return to work, travel and socialise immediately afterwards. However, it is important to note that the plasma must be left on the scalp overnight, which can restrict hair styling depending on the treatment time (hairstyling practices).
When all else fails: hair transplantation
If the traction alopecia has already progressed as far as atrophy of the hair follicles and thus permanent bald patches, the only remaining hair loss treatment option is hair transplantation. At HAIR & SKIN, the procedure is as follows:
In a free consultation, a hair analysis is carried out using Hair Scan, which determines hair quality and reveals possible treatment options (hair care practices). The new hairline is determined and drawn in consultation with the patient.
On transplant day, the areas to be treated are anaesthetised using a local anaesthetic. This is completely sufficient as hair transplantation is a minimally invasive procedure.
HAIR & SKIN only uses the modern FUE (Follicular Unit Extraction) method. Individual follicular units are extracted as donor hairs from areas with dense, resistant hair growth. After being temporarily stored and sorted in a saline solution, they are then implanted into the recipient area.
After the transplant
In the first few days after your hair transplant, the scalp must be protected and cared for as instructed. At HAIR & SKIN, check-ups are carried out on the first, tenth and 30th day after the procedure in order to achieve the smoothest recovery possible. The interim result is also checked in the sixth and twelfth month. Ideally, the hair transplant is combined with an autologous blood treatment to maximise the results in as little time as possible.