New research presented at the American Academy of Dermatology’s 74th Annual meeting shed light on the causes of increased hair loss among African-Americans. At the conference, held March 4-8 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the prevalence of hair loss was presented as largely ignored and viewed as an aesthetic problem rather than medical, and one few sufferers consider dermatological.
Dermatologist Yolanda M. Lenzy, a clinical associate from the University of Connecticut, said the number one cause of hair loss in African-American women is a condition called central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA), a disorder in which inflammation and destruction of hair follicles causes scarring and permanent hair loss. According to Lenzy’s data, Black women are also likely to develop hair loss by wearing hairstyles that pull their hair into tight braids or ponytails, called traction alopecia.
Lenzy partnered with the Black Women’s Health Study at Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center to survey African-American women about their experiences with hair loss. Of the 5,594 women participating in the survey, an astounding 81.4 percent indicated they had never seen a physician about hair loss; 47.6 percent reported hair loss on the crown or top of the scalp.
Alva Clark, a Ward 6 resident, said from her childhood, she used a traditional hot comb placed on the stove to straighten her hair. By the time she reached her mid-30s, her hair was severely damaged. “We used things like curling wax to keep the curls in place and styling gel to make sure the edges around the forehead stayed down, and eventually, that is where the hair loss began,” said Clark, who told the AFRO, she was reduced to wearing wigs once the hair loss spread. “The wigs just made it worse because the netting underneath broke my scalp out and so I saw a local dermatologist in the 1980s, Donald Frisby, who told me to wash it, let it air dry, and wear it the way God intended.
The excessive use of heat, especially flat irons and curling wands, along with chemical relaxers, lotions, and others styling products, may only be a portion of the problem according to other dermatologists on hand. “Everyone points fingers at the women with chemical relaxers, but the reality is that Black women and men rarely consume enough water or the types of foods that naturally help to protect the follicles of their hair and produce healthy sheen,” dermatologist Inez Britton, told the AFRO. “Soda and alcohol consumption have a terrible impact on the skin and hair.”
Additionally, styling practices like braiding and weaves also put undue stress on follicles over time and increase the likelihood that hair loss will occur in women. In men, the styling products that include texturizers and hair dyes, have the same impact. “Women who are dealing with hair loss should consider changing their styling practices, and visit a board-certified dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment,” Lenzy said. “Some people may only associate dermatologists with skin issues, but we’re also experts in hair disorders, and we can provide the help you need.”