Some forms of hair loss, like male pattern baldness, also known as androgenic alopecia, are caused by hormones and genetics. Others like alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease, can be unexpectedly brought on by great stress. But there are other kinds of hair loss that are completely preventable.
Knowridge Science Report says that traction alopecia is one of these, and one-third of African American women is estimated to suffer from this preventable form of hair loss. Researchers recently published results of a review of 19 studies on traction alopecia online in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. They urge dermatologists to educate themselves about damaging hairstyles and guide patients with early intervention so that patients can make the best hairstyling choices.
“Hair is a cornerstone of self-esteem and identity for many people,” says Crystal Aguh, assistant professor of dermatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and lead researcher, “but ironically, some hairstyles meant to improve our self-confidence actually lead to hair and scalp damage.”
Some of the most damaging hairstyles include scalp-pulling hairstyles such as braids, dreadlocks, weaves and extensions, which increase friction and add weight that can cause breakage. The risk increases when chemical relaxers have been used on the hair. Extensions glued directly to the scalp can also cause damage. Moderately risky styling included heat-related straightening, such as flat ironing and blow drying, permanent waving and the use of wigs.
Acknowledging that many of these damaging styles are popular because of their low maintenance, the researchers suggested loosening weight and tension on the follicles, for instance wearing looser braids, and wearing them for shorter amounts of time, no longer than two to three months. They recommended weaves and extensions be worn only six to eight weeks before alternating styles. Periodically changing styles allows follicles to recover from the stress of constant pulling on the hair in one direction. Loose buns and loose-hanging styles provide the least tension, decrease friction on the hair and scalp and reduce risk. They also recommended avoiding chemical relaxers to reduce risk.
Another preventable form of permanent hair loss is drug induced. Chemotherapy drug Taxotere, used to treat breast, lung, prostate, stomach, and head and neck cancer, can cause irreversible hair loss. Up until recently patients were not warned of this risk when they were considering their options with their oncologist. Even though patients in other countries were warned as early as 2005, the information was not updated on the drug’s safety label in the United States until 2015.
Drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis is being sued by many breast cancer survivors and other patients. The federal multidistrict litigation in Louisiana against the company created last fall already has more than 700 cases, and that doesn’t take into account the suits filed in state courts across the country.
“Sanofi-Aventis’s own clinical trials in the 1990s found that 9.2 percent of women with breast cancer who completed chemotherapy with Taxotere, Adriamcycin, and Cyclophosphamide (TAC) reported hair loss that persisted during the 10-year follow-up period,” reports the Daily Hornet.
Because of the attention the litigation against the drug has been attracting, many cancer patients are now getting the information that was lacking just a few years ago.
A plaintiff’s attorney explained to News 9, “It’s simply about choice. Why not give these women the opportunity to make their own choice. Tell them there are two drugs. They work the same, one of them you have a 9.2 percent chance of never growing your hair back. The other you have 100 percent chance that your hair is going to grow back. And you ask them and you tell them, you give them that choice and you know which one they’re going to choose? Every time, they’re going to choose the one where their hair is going to grow back.”
“I have no doubt that, had I been told that Taxotere had a chance of permanent baldness, I would have selected Taxol,” wrote a blogger at A Head of Our Time. “I know this because I have notes asking four different doctors the difference between the two. And I was told that the main difference was the inconvenience of getting the Taxol more often. This inconvenience is nothing compared to forty years of wearing a hot, itchy wig.”