Avoid Alopecia: Do You Know Your Hair Growth Cycle?

Hair loss is a major issue in the black community world wide.  Do you suffer from it?  Is it minimal or is it extensive?  How do you feel about it?  Have you unsuccessfully tried all sorts of solutions?  Do you see it all around you?  These are some of the questions that arise when women chat about hair loss, thinning hair around the temples and so on.  We live in a world where for the first time in years, the black woman is reclaiming the beauty of her coily crown.  There’s a natural hair movement sweeping across nations and inspiring women to see, love and bring out the beauty in their hair again.  There is an ongoing global conversation and sharing of information that is transforming lives, improving self worth and sparking innovation. Women are saying no to destructive hair practices that have left many bare temples, thinning hair and damaged follicles in their wake.  Although this is a great time for natural hair, there is still the reality of hair loss.  Massive numbers of black women suffer from hair thinning and loss. In this alopecia series,I will discuss one of the most common avoidable causes of this phenomenon and how to steer clear of it.   

What is Alopecia?

Alopecia is a condition where hair stops growing where it normally grows.  It is characterized by balding or areas where the hair has significantly thinned out.  The most common form of alopecia is male pattern baldness or androgenetic alopecia although it has become commonplace to find widespread alopecia amongst black women.  Alopecia in women can be caused by various factors including:  genetics, autoimmune disorders, improper diet, frequent heat treatments, traction and chemically induced alopecia to name a few.  In this article I’ll discuss traction alopecia and tips to prevent it and in a future article I will discuss chemically induced alopecia.  The reason I’ve picked traction and chemically induced alopecia, is because I believe that many black women suffer from hair loss due to these two preventable causes. 

Hair Growth Cycle

Before discussing traction alopecia, let’s quickly review the hair growth cycle.  Hair grows from the follicle (root) underneath the skin (scalp).  Blood vessels at the base of the follicle feed and nourish the hair.  You’d think that hair would keep growing until we cut it off but that’s not the case!  Our body has its own regulation mechanisms and cycles and goes through three distinct stages: 

  • Anagen – hair growth phase which lasts between 3-5 years approximately. As new hair grows out, the old hair is shed. This stage determines how long our hair can grow before we shed it. 
  • Catagen – transitional stage which lasts for about 2 weeks.
  • Telogen – dormant phase during which hair stays in follicle for 3-4 months prior to growing.  

In a normal hair growth cycle, a larger percentage of hair is in the Anagen phase and every hair is at a different stage of the growth cycle.  We normally loose 50-100 strands of hair per day and when we create conditions that cause hair loss, we cannot replace additional lost hair with new hair quickly enough.  We then start noticing thinning and if we continue in this vein and damage our follicles, we start suffering from alopecia. 

 Now that you have some understanding of how your hair grows and sheds, let’s explore traction alopecia.

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