Why are black women getting bald?

When I turned 13, I couldn’t wait to make a trip to the salon, not for the regular detangling, washing, and weaving of my thick, long, and tough natural 4b hair, but this particular visit in view would be the one where I finally relax my hair – a chemical process that would soften and straighten my naturally kinky hair. My long-awaited experience turned into a horrible one where my 4b hair- with its in-between texture, of feeling relatively coarse in its natural state, yet too soft for a relaxer-underwent the dreadful consequences of relaxing chemical left in my hair from a slap-dash wash, resulting in irreparable damage to my once healthy, tough-textured, natural hair.

Although the consequence of the relaxer was not immediately apparent, as my hair still appeared full, when the strands at the front began to break off and fall, my mother intervened, and with one trip to the salon, my hair was trimmed. It was the November after I turned 13, sitting in that barber’s chair, watching with red, weepy eyes as my long hair was levelled to the new height of my shorter frontal hair. Though it wasn’t as short as a buzz cut, it might as well have been to my 13-year-old self. Going to school with such short hair was daunting— would I look pretty? What would I tell my friends? In a desperate attempt to conceal the damage, my mother resorted to braiding my hair with added extensions, hoping my strands would grow from the protective style of braids. It was a no-brainer, or so we thought.

As it turned out, my hair was braided too tightly, which triggered a cycle of hair damage and loss, exacerbated by the already delicate state of my hair due to the relaxer. This experience would haunt me for years.

A girl with her hands on her bald head, smiling.
Image via Pinterest

Although the relaxer had achieved the desired result, my hair was soft and straight, but at what cost? I was facing eminent baldness and my notion of what was beautiful at 13-years-old did not revolve around being bald.

As I got older, I began to realise that I wasn’t alone in my struggle with baldness or hair loss because many black women around the world grapple with the same fate or consequence of the treacherous beast called traction alopecia.

From tight ponytails to constant wig use to glued installations and tightened braids, the very hairstyles we turn to for a sense of empowerment have, ironically, become the causes of seemingly unexplainable hair loss or breakage.

What exactly is traction alopecia?

Traction alopecia is a form of hair loss caused by persistent pulling or tension on the hair follicles. This condition causes damage and eventual hair loss. Medical professionals and dermatologists widely recognise it, and its effects have been extensively documented in the medical community.

Dr. Susan C. Taylor, a board-certified dermatologist and expert in hair disorders, explains that traction alopecia commonly occurs due to certain hairstyles that strain hair follicles excessively. These hairstyles include taut cornrows or box braids, sleek ponytails or buns secured with rubber bands or hair ties. The constant pulling and tension from these hairstyles can lead to inflammation and damage to the hair follicles, ultimately resulting in hair loss.

Furthermore, Dr Shani Francis, a dermatologist, emphasises the role of adhesive products and heat styling tools in exacerbating traction alopecia. Hair glue used to secure hair installations and frequent use of flat irons or curling wands without proper heat protection can further weaken the hair follicles and contribute to hair loss.

I’m here to remind you that beauty shouldn’t come at the cost of our precious strands. So, let’s loosen the reins on those hairstyles and give our natural hair a chance to flourish.


Unmasking the culprits behind our hair Loss

There is an old French saying: “Il faut souffrir pour être belle”. Which roughly translates to beauty being a pain.  Perhaps the author had in mind black women’s tug-of-war between tight braids and cornrows and the delicate hair follicles in our scalp. Maybe it’s the image of a perfectly sleek high ponytail, drenched with gel, secured with a hair band and often, the resulting headache from the sewing of the hair band to achieve extra secure hold. And let’s not overlook the arsenal of excessive heat styling tools—flat irons, curling wands and blow dryers. These relentless techniques and styles place undue tension on the relatively delicate texture of hair, ultimately leading to breakage and the likelihood of alopecia.


How can undue baldness be averted?

So many women have vowed to remain silent for fear of stigmatization and shame around hair loss. I believe that by sharing our stories and shedding light on the root causes of our struggles, we can empower one another and rise above the struggles that black women encounter with their hair while simultaneously expanding societal standards of beauty and embracing our natural beauty.

In taking back our power, what are the solutions and ways to deal with traction alopecia, overcome stigma, and even help others avoid hair loss?

  • Reevaluate hairstyling practices: Swap damaging techniques like glue for more hair-friendly alternatives, such as gentle hair creams or natural oils.
  • Embrace Protective Styles: To minimise tension on the scalp, opt for hairstyles that prioritise hair health over aesthetics, like loose braids or twists.
  • Natural products for nourishment: Choose natural hair care products rich in moisturising ingredients like shea butter and coconut oil to nourish and strengthen your strands.
  • Prioritise hair health: Instead of sleek styles, embrace your natural texture with wash-and-go styles or twist-outs to promote hair health while still looking fabulous.
  • Invest in quality Tools: Use high-quality, heat-protectant tools to minimise damage and protect your hair from excessive heat exposure.
  • Seek Professional Guidance: Consult hair care professionals for personalised advice and treatment plans tailored to your needs.
  • Celebrate Your Natural Texture: Embrace the beauty of your natural hair texture and experiment with styles that showcase its unique qualities.

a girl wearing a grey hoodie, with her hands on her chin, she has a bald head, smiling

Image via Pinterest

Reflecting on my experience, I recognise the importance of prevention and early detection of hair loss. Understanding how to identify the early signs of hair loss and knowing when to seek medical advice can make a significant difference. Look for signs such as increased shedding, thinning areas on the scalp, or changes in hair texture. If you notice any of these symptoms, don’t hesitate to consult a dermatologist or hair specialist for evaluation and guidance. Early intervention can help prevent further hair loss and even reverse the condition. Your hair health is an essential aspect of your overall well-being. Don’t ignore any changes or concerns you may have about your hair. Trust your instincts and take proactive steps to address any issues promptly.

I’ve discovered the strength in vulnerability and authenticity. Growing up surrounded by incredible women, from my mom to my sisters, I learned the power of embracing imperfections. As an 18-year-old woman, I began self-discovery by cutting my hair and embracing my natural curls. It wasn’t always easy because I would judge myself for the shame and embarrassment over my hair. But I was resilient to grow in my love of self and hair. Now, at 24, my hair is stronger, fuller, and thicker than ever, and I am happy to have learned to love myself through this journey.

I’d be truly proud if this article could offer hope or guidance to even one person. As a black woman, I understand the significance we place on these kinky locs, but hair and beauty mean nothing without self-love, respect, and appreciation. I urge you to embrace their unique beauty and journey with confidence.

You can share your stories in the comments. We would love to hear from you. You can also follow us on our socials, @marieclairenigeria.


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