Causes

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Hairstyles and products which cause hair loss

Woman straightening hair at hair salon

Did you know that some hairstyles can actually cause hair loss in women? If you pull your hair back in very tight hairstyles, such as having tight braids or a tight ponytail, your hair around your hairline may fall out over time. You can also experience hair loss from heat damage to your hair while styling if you don’t protect it. In this article, we'll answer commonly asked questions about hair loss caused by various forms of styling, heat damage, and hair products.

Hair loss from styling 

Woman with long hair braid extentions

Some hairstyles can actually cause hair loss in women. If you regularly pull your hair back into a very tight hairstyle, such as having tight braids or a tight ponytail, your hair around your hairline may recede over time. Doing styles of this nature every now and again won’t be hugely impactful, but doing it every day will unfortunately damage your hairline and cause fall out in the long-run. The scientific term for this type of hair loss is traction alopecia. It causes damage to your hair follicles and may be accompanied by redness on the scalp, an uneven hairline, and in the worst cases there may be visible scarring. 

What causes traction alopecia?

Traction alopecia is caused by any hairstyle that tightly pulls back the hair. A couple of examples of these hairstyles are as follows: 

  • Ponytail  

  • Braids  

  • Deadlocks  

  • Cornrows  

Traction alopecia can be caused by hair extensions which are tightly glued, weaved, clipped or sewn to the base of your hair, which may cause your hair to tug at the roots. You should also be aware that any form of hair accessories or headwear which tugs or pulls back your hair may result in traction alopecia. 

Traction alopecia is more common in African women, and in the study Hairdressing and the Prevalence of Scalp Disease in African Adults by N P Khumalo et al., approximately 30% of African women experienced traction alopecia with permed or relaxed hair. Other hair styles associated with afro hair, such as tight braids, can be a contributing factor to hair loss.  

What are the symptoms of traction alopecia?

  1. You may begin to notice minor bumps on your scalp. This is a warning sign that you may be experiencing traction alopecia.

  2. If you continue pulling back your hair into tight hairstyles, you may begin to notice broken hairs around your forehead, and patches of hair loss around the areas where your hair is pulled back tightly. At this point, the hair loss may still be temporary and by changing your hairstyle, you may be able to stop permanent hair loss.

  3. If you continue pulling back your hair tightly, you will notice a receding hair line and bald skin in the areas where your hair line used to be. At this point the hair loss may be permanent.

How to prevent traction alopecia?

The solution is to avoid pulling back your hair into very tight hairstyles, and if you really feel the need to, make sure you don’t do it every day. It’s fine to do this every now and then, but you will begin developing traction alopecia if you wear a tight hairstyle every day. For some jobs where you have to wear your hair in a bun, you should make sure you let your hair out after work. This will give your hair time to rest and recover. If you experience stinging or pain around the areas where your hair is pulled back, you should immediately stop pulling your hair back tightly.

How to treat traction alopecia?

Woman with hair loss around the hair line

Treating traction alopecia really depends on what stage you’ve reached.  If you’re at the early stages and only have minor hair damage, your hair may naturally recover if you stop pulling your hair back tightly. There are many things you can do to support your hair while it is recovering, and we have listed the top 7 prescription-free products to boost hair growth in the following article. You should also switch to a gentler shampoo; we have picked out some of the best shampoos for your scalp here

However, if you have experienced traction alopecia for a long period of time, the hair loss may be more permanent. You should consult with your doctor on whether your hair loss is related to traction alopecia, and a suitable plan to treat the hair loss. For example, your doctor may suggest the best course of action is to prescribe the drug minoxidil to help regrow hair, or a hair transplant to move across healthy hair follicles to where you have patches of hair loss, or PRP (platelet-rich plasma) therapy. You can also read our full list of known treatments to many types of hair loss here 

Hair loss from heat damage

Blow dryer

If you style your hair using heat (think hair dryer, straightener and curling tong), you’ve probably noticed heat damage before. Many people like to style their hair using heat because it gives a very sleek finish, and achieves hairstyles that otherwise would not be possible. However, if you apply too higher temperatures to your hair and do not protect it properly then you may be at risk of suffering from hair damage, therefore increase the chances of hair loss.  

What is heat damage and how can it lead to hair loss? 

Heat damage is when too higher levels of heat are applied to the hair, causing the structure of hair to change. Dyson, one of the major manufacturers of hair appliances, says that when using heat over 300F or 149C, alpha-keratin (part of the building blocks to hair) is converted to beta-keratin. This leads to weaker hair structures, reduced elasticity, leaving it more fragile and at risk of further damage or fall out.

Hair is made up of 17% water, as well as other elements, and when hair is dried out from heat, it leaves the strands dehydrated and the structure vulnerable to cracks. In addition, hair shingles, the outer covering of a hair strand, which are usually tightly closed in healthy hair, become more open and prone to tangles and split ends. 

Finally, excessive heat also makes hair strands more porous as a result of damage and reduces elasticity. The application of heat therefore leads to limp and weakness in the strands, which can result in hair to fall or break off. 

What are the symptoms of heat damage?

Heat damage can be identified by hair that has become:

 

  • Dry

  • Rough

  • Brittle

  • Broken

  • Becomes harder to style, and may not hold its shape very well 

  • Split ends

  • Lacks natural shine

  • Appears dull 

  • Limp/lifeless

A more porous set of hair, caused by heat damage, will also tend to be limp. If floated in water, healthy hair would tend to float around mid-way from the top and bottom, whereas more porous hair will sink towards the bottom, indicating damage and limpness.  

How do I prevent heat hair damage?

There are many things you can do to prevent hair damage.

 

  1. Increase distance: You should always use a hair dryer at a distance of 15cm from your head, and ensure that you are continuously moving it around your head. Don’t focus the hair dryer in one place for too long. Avoid too much heat at the roots where the base of the hair follicles can become more prone to fall out as a result of damage. 
     

  2. Continuous motion: According to the academic article Hair Shaft Damage from Heat and Drying Time of Hair Dryer by Yoonhee Lee et al., “using a hair dryer at a distance of 15cm with continuous motion causes less damage than drying hair naturally”.  Continuous motion allows heat to be more distributed. They state that this is because having a long-lasting wet stage in your hair may be just has harmful as drying with high temperatures. However, they do also recognise that further investigation is required into wet hair and hair damage. 
     

  3. Use heat protection: To reduce the risk of damage, try using a heat protection product on your hair before using heated tools. Heat protection spray works by creating a protective barrier on the top of the hair shaft. This stops the hair cuticles from being exposed to high levels of heat. We’ve picked out a couple of highly-rated products below.
     

  4. Temperature control: Always choose an appliance which has heat control settings and always use the cooler settings where possible. You may want to check the appliance is from a reputable brand and is a genuine product. There are many counterfeits and poorly made products which have little or not temperature control, despite having a temperature dial. 
     

  5. Reduce usage: The final way to prevent heat damage is to reduce how often you use heat to style your hair. Giving your hair time away from styling which requires heat will give the much needed break to help your hair to grow back healthy. 

How do I treat heat hair damage?

If you begin to notice heat damage to your hair, there are a number of steps to take to treat it.

 

  • Firstly, you need to stop applying heat. Damage to your hair caused by high heat is repairable up to a point, but continuous exposure to extreme heat can cause permanent hair damage.

  • To help repair your hair, try a deep conditioning treatment to lubricate and add moisture back into the strands. There are a number of brands which you can try and effective results can be seen by those left on for 20-30 minutes (though you should follow the product instructions for the best results). You can also explore hair oils and Oplex’s Hair Perfector range and Bond Building Treatment.  

  • You could also consider getting a haircut to get rid of your split ends caused by heat damage. Removing these will make your hair feel smoother and reduce the visible effects of heat damage. Your stylist may be able to suggest additional ways to reduce the visible appearance of dry hair. 

  • There are other things you can do to treat heat damage, such as taking vitamins known to promote hair growth. We have picked out the key vitamins to support hair regrowth and repair here. You may also consider taking some of the prescription-free products we have discussed in the following article, which help to boost the scalp’s condition and in turn will give the best chance for your hair to grow back stronger. 

Although there is no direct treatment for heat damage, stopping the heat and following some of the recommendations above will give your hair the best chance to recover and regain its volume and shine. 

Hair loss from products 

Hair products on shelves

How do I prevent hair loss from products?

Certain hair products can cause dryness, irritation and even hair to fall out. There are many mainstream shampoos which contain chemicals which can be too harsh for the hair strands including sulfates, parabens, and silicones. These types of chemicals can be found in household detergents, which gives you an idea of their strength. Over time it can leave the scalp irritated, dry or inflamed, and in turn adding damage to the hair.  

  • Silicons create a ‘fake’ glossy or moisturised look to the hair when in fact this is a waxy coat which prevents moisture from entering the hair.  

  • Sulfates creates lather in shampoos, just like in soaps, but can over strip away natural oils leaving the skin sensitive, dry and itchy.  

  • Parabens are preservatives which is used for anti-mold; which again can be harsh on the scalp. 

We've covered a deep dive on product ingredients you should avoid and recommended our top shampoos to try hereWhen it comes to other types of products such as hairsprays and gels, the evidence on hair loss is not clear. Hair products may contain high levels of alcohol, which will cause your hair to dry out. Dry hair is more at risk of breaking from this.  

Some hair products may cause your hair follicles to become weak over time, which again may result in hair breakage. The key thing to remember is that although hair products generally do not directly cause hair loss, they do have an indirect impact on your hair. If you apply hair products daily, you should ensure you take good care of your hair to keep it clean, moisturised, and healthy. We recommend using a good shampoo to remove pollutants and build-up to help promote a healthy scalp, taking vitamins for hair growth if prescribed by your doctor, and keeping your hair clean and moisturised. Take a look at the article for top products to boost hair growth

References

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