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How Traction Alopecia Is Affected By The Hair Growth CycleFor those of you who may be wondering, traction alopecia refers to hair thinning or loss due to extreme tension or traction being placed on the hair follicle.  This extreme tension causes damage to the hair follicle and scalp stress which results in hair loss or thinning.

The Cycle of New Hair Growth

Before we get into the discussion of the causes of traction alopecia, I think a little time spent understanding the normal growth cycles of the hair shaft is an important step we need to take to gain a better understanding of how and why hair loss occurs.  The first thing to understand is that some shedding of hair is part of the normal hair growth cycle.

Every hair shaft or strand of hair is basically a lifeless and complex weaving of protein that has been created by the tear drop shaped hair follicle below in the skin.  The hair follicle is made up of living cells that are nourished totally from the blood supply under the skin.   Since the hair strand itself is made up of completely dead cells, it is important to understand that it cannot be “revived” as some cosmetic products tout to bring your hair back to life.

Three Stages of the New Hair Growth Cycle

There are literally hundreds of thousands of hair follicles in the skin all over your body.  Some of these follicles are programmed to produce the thin almost colorless “peach fuzz” that you have on some parts of your body while other follicles are programmed to produce the thicker pigmented hair shafts that are found on other parts of your body.   Every one of the hair follicles is a tiny organ that is programmed to create a single hair shaft during the growth process.  That single hair strand can last anywhere from several months to several years, depending on how the follicle has been programmed.  There are three stages of the hair growth cycle:

  • Anagen Phase – this is the “growing” stage of the hair cycle.  During this phase, the hair follicle begins to grow the hair shaft that will eventually grow to its full length and extend deeper into the skin.  This is a rapid phase of the growth cycle and, depending on how the hair follicle cells have been programmed, it will produce a hair shaft that will extend beyond the skin surface and will be straight or curly, blonde, red, brown or grey.  The scalp hairs generally grow approximately one-half inch per month during this phase of growth.
  • Catagen Phase – During this phase, the hair shaft stops growing and the hair follicle begins to shrink.  The hair follicle needs less nourishment from the blood supply and the base of the follicle disappears.  The now tinier hair follicle loosens its grip on the hair shaft and normal body movements, grooming and bathing will cause “shedding” of the hair shaft.   This is the normal shedding of hair that comes with the normal growth cycle of hair.  It is said that anywhere from fifty to one hundred hair shafts can be lost on a daily basis during this phase.
  • Telogen Phase – This is the resting stage of hair growth.  The hair follicle has stopped shrinking and remains in this resting stage for about three months or so. More shedding may be noted during this period of time.

When the Telogen phase is over, the hair follicle again begins the Anagen phase and the whole cycle is repeated.  The hair follicle is pre-programmed to go though this cycle a specific number of times throughout your lifetime.  When it has completed the pre-programmed number of cycles of hair growth, it will no longer be able to produce new hair growth.

Traction Alopecia

Traction alopecia causes tension on the hair follicle which, over time, causes scalp stress.  Hair styling techniques like cornrow braids, pigtails and other styles that require tightly pulling the hair back and securing it puts extreme stress on the scalp.  If this is continued habitually and for extended periods of time, traction alopecia occurs.  If you keep losing hair prematurely, you will use up those pre-programmed cycles of the hair follicles and then no new hair growth will be possible.  There is no cure for severe Traction Alopecia.  Early diagnosis and treatment are the best steps to prevent hair loss from traction alopecia.

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