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Kenyan Maasai Warriors braiding a client’s hair.
IMG: Reuters

I’ll never forget braving the winding allies.  Filled with multiple balls of unused synthetic hair mixed in with some grass and dirty drain water, Comesa market in Zambia leaves a lot to be desired. I tried not to think about the serious lack of hygiene and focus on the real reason I was there. Every now and then random men would accost me and ask in broken nyanja, “Sister. Mufuna kumanga? kumanga sisi?***” They would be holding a few, long, neatly twisted braids of different sizes as samples. Shaking my head vigorously, I decided I would just keep going until I found a “salon” that didn’t seem too busy.

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Length is not an issue, they will braid anything they can grip.

When I finally got to one of these “salons,” which is not much bigger than a standard bathroom, I was planted on a cushion in between the legs of three maasai men before I could even think about changing my mind. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided my hairline would be fine. They began their artwork: twisting my hair into long, neat braids using extensions by rolling the strands on their thighs stopping only to take a sniff of tobacco, as is their custom.

Every day, women all around Africa sit for 3-4 hours to have their hair braided by these Kenyan tribesmen. Their nimble, meticulous work has become increasingly popular because it is neat and it lasts long. The hairstyle sets one back between R600 and R1200-sometimes more-depending on what size you want but the cost for many is inconsequential when all you want is to look good.

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The finished product

For me, this was a once off experience never to be repeated again, in hindsight. The maasai braid the hair so tight, you have difficulty sleeping, touching your head, taking showers or baths, smiling, doing life, really, during the first week. I often joke and say they are so thorough, they could braid your eyebrows if you let them! I was chuffed at how neat my hair looked. I could literally see every single braid and I kept telling myself it was worth it. Two weeks in, I began to see the warning signs: braids falling off my edges, patches of skin around my head, tiny white specks all along my hairline. Ignoring the amount of money I had spent on the style, I decided to cut my losses and take down the hairstyle: it was killing my hairline and fast.

Although mine is an extreme example that happened a few years ago, not everyone is lucky enough to stop damage to their hairline and I often see women asking what they can do to fix their hairline. Every now and then I am left speechless when people compliment me for having a hairline. Most of the time I stare blankly and think to myself, “Yes, this is a normal occurrence in the human species.” This self inflicted damage to the hairline and also, in severe cases, to the entire scalp, is called Traction Alopecia.

Traction Alopecia and the Hairline

Traction alopecia is a form of alopecia, or gradual hair loss, caused primarily by pulling force being applied to the hair. This commonly results from the sufferer frequently wearing their hair in a particularly tight ponytail, pigtails, or braids. ~ Wikipedia

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Hairline affected by Traction Alopecia

Traction Alopecia occurs after persistent, gentle pulling of the hair for a few hours or days. Because it’s not like plucking hair out, which is extremely painful, it normally goes unnoticed until we start seeing bald spots (eek!). Unlike other forms of alopecia, traction alopecia-which literally means hair loss from pulling-is completely avoidable and repairable. However, if the signs are ignored, it can cause damage to the roots and follicles to the point where they don’t produce hair anymore.

For various reasons, kinky and coily textured women are more prone to traction alopecia. Black hair is tight an curly and the individual strands are thinner in diameter than other races. Having said that, many of the hair practices in the Black community increase the risk of traction alopecia considerably.

The Hairline Killers

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Pigtails

So what are we doing that is ruining our hairlines?

  • Very tight ponytails/pigtails
  • Braids or cornrows with or without extensions
  • Weaves, Clip-ons, and wigs
  • Headbands, headscarves, or bonnets that are worn tight and often
  • Dreadlocks that have been pulled too tight
  • Heavy hairstyles and/or headpieces
  • Parting the hair in the same place every time for a prolonged period

These are just a few examples of the things we do to our own hair that may cause it to fall out or even stop growing altogether.

Fix your Hairline for Good

I need to stress that if your hairline is severely damaged or if you are experiencing alopecia even without using tight styles, you need to seek the help of a professional, certified dermatologist that will be able to give you sound medical advise.
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Traction Alopecia is becoming more common in children

As I said before, traction alopecia can not only be avoided, but, in some instances, can also be corrected. If you have scarring from badly traumatised follicles, then you may need to consider a surgical treatment (again, PLEASE SEE A DERMATOLOGIST).

The first thing one needs to do is to avoid tight, heavy hairstyles. If you have braids installed make sure they don’t pull every single hair and try to have them shorter so that they are not too heavy. Try and leave more hair out if you are going to do a weave. Speak to your hairdresser about taking care of your scalp and practice proper scalp hygiene when you have weaves or braids in (I am often mortified when people tell me they have had their hair in braids for two months but they didn’t wash it because it’s awkward o_O). If you can, avoid extensions altogether.

Avoid the regular use of chemicals on your hair and scalp. Using relaxers, dyes, texlaxers, and bleaches on a regular basis can cause a different type of traction alopecia which causes hair loss and not just damage. Research has shown that chemically treated hair is more prone to traction alopecia.

Scalp massages have been said to help women fix their hairlines and I can attest to that. Although my traction alopecia was mild, I managed to restore my hairline by massaging it with the Rockin Naturals Hot Oil Treatment every other day. Olive oil has plenty of nutrients that our hair needs and parsley stimulates the follicles.

***”Sister, do you want to braid? To braid your hair?”

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