Doctor's Responses Archive

Viewer Question:
What is traumatic alopecia?

Doctor's Response:
Traumatic alopecia is hair loss caused by an injury to the scalp. In the United States, traumatic alopecia is a particularly common form of hair loss in African-American women.

Traumatic alopecia is usually caused by grooming methods that attempt to straighten the natural kinkiness of hair in order to make the hair more managable. It is a result of stress traction injury from tight rollers and braiding as well as overheating the hair shafts. Vigorous combing and chemical bleaches and styling products can additionally irritate the scalp to cause further hair loss.

Traumatic alopecia is commonly on both sides of the scalp and broken-off hairs are frequently visible.

Traumatic alopecia is treated by discontinuing the styling practices causing the hair and scalp injury. Partial or complete regrowth of hair can follow, but permanent loss of hair can occur when the roots of the hairs are severely damaged.

To minimize risk of injury to scalp, if patients decide to continue or resume styling, it is best to use looser and larger wrapping and braids to reduce tension on the scalp and hair.

Chemicals should only be applied to the hair and not the scalp directly. The hair should be unbraided at least every two weeks.


Last Editorial Review: 4/1/2002