This is the story of my traction alopecia treatment, why I cut my hair into a short pixie cut, and why you need to beware the chronic mom-ponytail. It contains affiliate links.
I’ve had long hair almost my entire life.
The shortest I’ve cut it during adulthood was jaw-length, and that didn’t last long. Shortly afterward, I found out I was pregnant, and since my “flippy” hair took a lot of straightening and blow-drying and maintenance to look decent, I gave it up in favor of a mom-ponytail.
So when I suddenly and unexpectedly cut all of it off, into a short pixie style, I naturally got some reactions.
Friends raise their eyebrows and smile sideways as if they’re asking me about some naughty secret when they ask, “So, what inspired this??”
Other friends have told me, “You are so brave! I wish I were a badass like you.”
It wasn’t some kind of statement about starting a new phase in my life.
It wasn’t a celebration of my own strength or an act of feminism.
It wasn’t me saying “eff your beauty standards” to our society.
I cut my hair because of traction alopecia.
What is traction alopecia? My story:
So that mom-ponytail I traded my chin-length bob for? It wasn’t all day every day, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t my go-to most of the time.
Sometimes I cut my hair in long layers, and made an effort to blow-dry it more often (which is what makes it look best when it’s long). Sometimes I just pulled back the front from my face with little clips. And sometimes I tried to learn pretty hair styles – dutch braids and french twists and whatever else…
But for me, wearing my hair down and loose was rarely an option anymore. Leaning over diaper changes, I didn’t want my hair dangling down. When I wore or nursed my babies through the years, loose hair was an invitation for infant/toddler grabbing and pulling.
I pulled my hair back to cook, and pulled it up when it was too hot on my neck. And, living in windy places, I always had to carry hair elastics with me just in case the breeze turned into 40-60mph gusts. Otherwise it would just be everywhere (in my face) AND tangled.
Pulling my long hair into a ponytail started out of necessity, and became habit. I even slept in a ponytail most nights, because if I left it loose, my husband would catch it while rolling over or propping himself up, and pull it.
And when you’re constantly applying tension to your hair, especially if it’s pulled in the same direction frequently, in tight styles, the follicles just get exhausted and give up. Over time the follicles get inflamed, then atrophy. Which means hair growth slows and then stops where those follicles have been exhausted.
That’s traction alopecia.
Black women notice it when they have too-tight braids and weaves with improper distribution of weight (it’s possible to do these styles without too much tension and stress on the follicles, but a lot of people do it wrong). Hairstyles that should be protective end up being damaging, and if you do a google search for “losing my edges” you’ll notice tons and tons of women suffering from traction alopecia hair loss along the hairline, temples, and nape.
Dreadlocks can also cause traction alopecia, partly because of their weight. Similarly, people who use hair extensions on a regular basis can experience traction alopecia due to the tension on their follicles caused by the weight of the hair pieces. Ballerinas who have their hair tightly pulled into a bun for long periods of most days can also suffer traction alopecia. Traction alopecia can also happen along your part, especially if you part your hair in the exact same place most of the time.
Over the last few years, I’ve noticed my hair thinning, especially at my temples. When pulling my hair into that ever-present mom ponytail, more and more often I had to take a few extra moments to carefully arrange the hair – especially on the right side – to cover some scalp that would peek through.
Trying to do pretty styles like french or dutch braids (“instagram braids” is what I was going for) just made the thin patches even more evident.
I tried to tell myself that the handfuls of hair that came out in the shower as I ran my conditioner through the length with my fingers was normal… I told myself that it’s normal to shed throughout the day, and that since mine was in a ponytail, the shed hairs couldn’t fall away until I took out the elastic and combed or brushed.
Maybe that’s true to a degree, but the quantity of lost hair visible when I showered became more alarming as the months passed.
It was hard for me to enjoy my long hair, down, (see above re: diapers, toddlers yanking, insane wind, heat, etc.) but it was also becoming increasingly difficult for me to feel comfortable with it up.
I don’t even know what I was googling or searching for… but one night, I found the term “traction alopecia.” It was like a lightbulb had been turned on. This is what I was dealing with. Exactly. I, too, was “losing my edges” from my chronic tight mom-ponytail.
Traction alopecia treatment – What I’m doing:
Once I knew what to look for, I scoured the web, searching for “traction alopecia cure,” “traction alopecia regrowth,” “traction alopecia hair loss stories,” “traction alopecia treatment,” and so on…
And there’s isn’t honestly much out there. But a few traction alopecia treatment ideas kept popping up.
As long as your scalp isn’t shiny in the thinning areas, showing that the follicles are dead and the hair loss is permanent, there is hope to wake up the follicles and encourage growth again.
#1 Immediately stop the damaging hair styles.
No pony tails, no tight braids… even those little hair clippies I used when my hair was down can be damaging. Trying to use traction alopecia treatments while still applying traction through hair styles would be as worthless as brushing your teeth while eating Oreos.
For me? I knew this would be basically impossible with long hair. And I knew from experience that cutting it into a bob would only require more and more time styling it and managing it, that it would still get in my face and be yankable by toddlers, AND that as soon as I possibly could, I’d want to pull it back into a ponytail again.
It immediately became apparent that if I wanted to fight my traction alopecia and get any regrowth, I would need to go full pixie. NO temptation to use clippies, ponytails, or braids. And there would be nothing in my face bothering me, not much for toddler-hands to grab, no heavy hair on my neck.
#2 Minoxidil or Steroids for traction alopecia hair loss.
These pharmaceutical solutions work in different ways – Minoxidil is a vasodilator, so it encourages blood flow to the scalp. Steroids reduce inflammation. If you see a doctor to prescribe you a traction alopecia treatment, he or she may prescribe these. I haven’t seen a doctor and am not trying these medications, though I made a friend on Facebook who is dealing with traction alopecia, and she is having a lot of success with regrowth with prescriptions from her doctor.
#3 Jamaican Black Castor Oil for hair regrowth.
(Or regular castor oil.) Castor oil is anti-fungal, antibacterial, and kills germs on your scalp. It contains moisturizing vitamin E, and fatty acids, which increase general scalp health. It also stimulates blood flow, which can help those sleepy follicles to wake up. Regular castor oil is helpful, but Jamaican Black Castor Oil has even more nutrients from the ash that’s in it (from the roasted castor beans) and is said to be even more effective in the fight against traction alopecia.
Click to buy yours here:
Coconut oil has a lot of the same benefits of Jamaican black castor oil for traction alopecia treatment. It’s antibacterial and anti-fungal, contains vitamins E and K among other good stuff, and it’s full of moisturizing fatty acids – including Lauric acid which can bind to hair proteins to protect your hair and make it stronger. It can also increase blood flow, bringing more oxygen to your sleepy follicles.I’m currently using a mixture of 50% virgin organic coconut oil and 50% Jamaican black castor oil on my scalp. A few times a week, I massage the oils into my scalp, focusing on the thinning patches, then put a shower cap over my hair and wear it for a few hours (sometimes overnight) before washing it out.
Click to buy yours here:
It’s just another thing, like castor oil and coconut oil, which can help with blood flow while contributing to the antibacterial, anti-viral, generally healthy scalp situation. I haven’t tried rosemary oil yet as part of my traction alopecia treatment plan, but I do plan to add a few drops into my Jamaican black castor oil / virgin organic coconut oil blend.
Click to buy yours here:
#6 Scalp Massage for hair growth.
Blood flow, blood flow, blood flow! When I apply the oils to my scalp, I massage it in for several minutes, until my fingers get tired. Then, when I’m washing it out, I use a cellulite massage tool, which I bought specifically for my scalp, to get an even deeper massage in the shower.
Click to buy yours here:
#7 Optimal vitamins for nourishing hair follicles.
Obviously, eating a variety of nutritious foods is best, but even if you’re already doing that, supplementing with vitamins can help your body get what it needs. And that includes your scalp and hair follicles. I’m currently taking what I believe is one of the best vitamins on the market right now (and my entire family is taking it too). It has the right forms of each vitamin for best bioavailability, even for people with methylation issues or MTHFR like my family. It’s a powder that mixes with water to make a drink – one in the morning and one in the evening (and I love the flavor of the citrus/tropical ones, so it’s easy to remember to take it regularly).
I’m also taking biotin once a day – which may or may not actually help with hair growth, but a lot of anecdotal evidence says that it does, so I figured it was worth a try.
Click to buy yours here:
Traction alopecia regrowth – How’s it going?
It’s been almost a month since I learned about traction alopecia and nearly-immediately got my pixie cut as the first step in my treatment.
I’m thankful to have my hair out of my face and off of my neck, so that I’m not tempted to whip out an elastic and slick it back. I’m hopeful that the rest this style is giving my follicles is helping them to recover from the years of stress they’ve been under.
I also pretty-immediately bought my Jamaican black castor oil, applicator bottle, shower caps, and cellulite massager for my scalp, and I’ve been using them regularly. I feel like I should be using these traction alopecia treatments more often, but 2-3 times a week is better than nothing.
I’ve taken my vitamins every single day – the fact that my multivitamin is a yummy drink and my biotin is a strawberry-flavored melt keeps me in compliance. If they were less fun or less yummy to take, I might forget them more often.
And I don’t know if it’s my imagination, but I swear I’m seeing more growth in my thinning areas already. I feel like if I look up close, I can see hairs that are shorter than the rest (so, new growth?), and my scalp isn’t as easily visible through the hair… though that could be partly because my hair style is growing out a bit and I’m due for another cut.
When I go back for my second hair cut, I’ll ask my stylist if she notices any change.
Do you want me to update you when I know more about my traction alopecia treatment progress?
I feel like one month is too soon to really know for sure. But I’m in it to win it, and I feel like by 3 months I should be able to really tell for sure how my traction alopecia treatment going… and by 6-9 months, I’m hoping to have reversed my traction alopecia and woken up the follicles completely.
(If you want, I’ll also write more later about my hair cut and why, despite its kind of pitiful origin, I AM rocking it like a total badass, and why it is awesome.)
Leave a comment and let me know!
Do you think you might have traction alopecia too? (I hear so many moms saying the same thing about thinning hair and clumps of hair coming out in the shower!) Had you heard of this before?