Five common hair diseases
As we know, African hair is delicate and requires special care to keep it healthy. With the inherent dryness and fragility in each curl, it is important to understand how to style the hair while creating as little damage as possible. However, there are certain hairstyles and straightening methods that can cause your scalp to become damaged, or even diseased! Not only are these diseases unpleasant, but they may take years to heal, or may even be irreversible. Here are five hair diseases common to African hair to watch out for:
1. Acquired trichorrhexis nodosa (Hair Breakage):
Characterized by extremely fragile hair that can break with slight combing, people who suffer from this may have the misconception that their hair simply “doesn’t grow,” or that they cannot grow long hair. This is typically an acquired condition and can occur after prolonged use of relaxers or hot tools. A dermatologist may perform a “tug” test where they tug strands of hair to assess the amount of breakage to diagnose. Minimizing the use of hair relaxers, hot tools, and excessive hair combing may help to treat this condition.
2. Traction Alopecia
Traction Alopecia causes the thinning and shortening of hairs along the hairline and commonly occurs after prolonged wear of tight hairstyles like ponytails, weaves or braids. It can cause a receding hairline around the forehead, temples or nape, as well as pimples, redness, itching, and ulcers on the scalp. Minimizing relaxers and heat styling, changing hairstyles frequently to place strain on different areas of the scalp, and asking your stylist for looser braids and dreadlocks can soothe this condition.
3. Seborrheic Dermatitis (aka dandruff)
Thick and yellow, or fine and whitish flakes along the scalp and hairline characterize Seborrheic Dermatitis. It can also affect the eyebrows, the area of skin between the eyebrows and the corners of the mouth. Symptoms include scalp itchiness and dryness, hair loss and breakage. Anti-dandruff shampoos are available for treatment; however, they can lead to further dryness and breakage so the product should be applied directly to the scalp and not the hair shaft. There are also topical steroids and anti-fungal creams that can be prescribed for treatment.
4. Central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia
Central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia is a common form of scarring alopecia or hair loss that causes scars. Patients suffer from hair loss that usually begins on the crown and expands outwardly. Itching, burning, and inflammation of the scalp may also occur, or it may even be asymptomatic. There is no exact cause, but some attribute it to tight hairstyles, hot comb usage and excessive heat on the scalp. Early treatment is critical as the scalp can become irreversibly damaged. Anti-inflammatory medications or topical steroids may be prescribed to reduce hair loss and inflammation and minimizing hairstyles that can irritate the scalp may also ease symptoms.
Patients with (scalp) psoriasis suffer from a dry scalp and red or purple scaly patches. Psoriasis is commonly overlooked in the Black community but is just as common as it is among Caucasian hair. It is caused by an abnormality in the immune system where certain white blood cells attack healthy skin cells. Treating psoriasis in African hair is tough. Medicated shampoos and lotions can be prescribed, but can lead to drier, more brittle hair. To calm symptoms, minimize practices that irritate your scalp like the use of relaxers and hot combs and consider swapping any heavy hair oils for lighter ones like jojoba oil that won’t clog the scalp.