Investigating alopecia, plus tips on managing hair loss

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Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
  • Alopecia is such a concern for Black women that it has become a focus for hair studies.
  • Gail Mabalane, Jada Pinkett Smith, Viola Davis and Naomi Campbell are just some celebrities who have opened up about their challenges with hair loss.
  • Reconsidering the hairstyles you wear and how long you have them on helps manage hair damage.

Here’s how you can rescue your crowning glory from the leading causes of hair loss

Investigating hair loss

Hair loss among Black women is so prevalent that it has become the focus of many medicinal studies. One of them is by Professor Ncoza Dlova, the dean of clinical medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, who has made a major breakthrough in trying to tackle this hair-raising issue.

It has been discovered that a major cause of permanent hair loss among African women is due to Central Centrifugal Cicatricial alopecia (CCCA). Let’s break it down for you: a normal hair strand has a gene called peptidylarginine deiminase 3 (PAD13), which is essential for the formation and growth of healthy hair.

The study found that the normal development of this gene is disrupted in patients with CCCA. It is triggered by environmental factors and our go-to styling regimes — excessive use of hair chemicals, heat, braids and weaves.

Now that the science bit is out of the way, we can dig deeper into why hair loss is such a big problem for black women. Our tresses play such an important role in our identity, that we invest lots of time and money on products that promise to make it look its best.

We also heat it excessively or change styles frequently. All of this has consequences — breakage, shedding and the absolute worst, a receding hairline. No one is immune to this problem.

READ MORE | 5 expert tips on taking care of 4C hair 

In an Instagram post where actress Gail Mabalane shared a picture of her newly bald head, she opened up about her struggle with alopecia and added that she was currently undergoing treatment.

Gail Mabalane
Gail Mabalane

Media personality Jada Pinkett Smith has also revealed her struggle with hair loss, following questions on why she was always wearing a head scarf when filming her hit Facebook talk show, Red Table Talk.

Jada Pinkett Smith.

Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis has been quoted saying that she is also a victim of alopecia – she lost half of her hair due to stress when she was 28.

(Photo: Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Viola Davis

And, supermodel Naomi Campbell is now the face of hair loss, which is exacerbated by the fact that she’s always wearing weaves, without taking breaks in between.

Naomi tydens ’n vertoning in April 2021. Foto: Gal
Naomi Campbell

Many other women silently carry the shame of hair loss and often go undiagnosed, opting instead, to cover up with a wig or head scarves. We avoid seeking treatment for fear of judgement and are reluctant to learn new healthy hair practices to rejuvenate our hair.

But fret no more because help is finally here.

Other causes of hair loss

Besides CCCA — a disorder in which inflammation and the destruction of hair follicles causes scarring and permanent hair loss — other hair loss causes include damaging hair styling routines like having your braids installed too tightly, wearing weaves frequently and relaxing natural hair with harsh chemicals.

One other factor is keeping the same style for too long. Then there is stress — intense emotional or physical stress pushes large numbers of hair follicles into a resting phase. After a few months, affected hairs might fall out during combing or washing. This phenomenon is known as telogen effluvium. The body will return to its normal state only when the stress is over, and only then will it kickstart your hair’s natural growth cycle.

READ MORE | WATCH | Gail Mabalane documents her hair loss journey in new YouTube channel 

Manage the damage

Early signs of hair loss can include patches of hair that don’t grow back, or decreasing volume, which you may notice in a thinner ponytail or thinning patch of hair.

Inflammation, caused by CCCA can lead to a tingly scalp, which most women dismiss as a minor issue. If any of the above applies to you, seek the help of a dermatologist.

A health professional will diagnose your problem and recommend suitable treatment options. These may include topical or oral antibiotics to reduce inflammation, or minoxidil to promote new growth.

You can also curb excessive hair loss by limiting frequent styling and avoiding tight hairdos. These put hair follicles under immense pressure, which eventually stunts growth.

Use natural products that contain ingredients with healing properties for the scalp, as well as the hair itself. A healthy scalp is critical for healthy hair! If you insist on doing plaits or installing a weave, first do a protein and moisture treatment to strengthen your hair.
Richard Ndaba, Inoar brand ambassador

Protect your crown

These are some products to include in your hair regimen:

Organics Anti Hairfall Hair Shampoo – R54.95 at Dischem

Organics Anti Hairfall Hair Shampoo

Cantu Shea Butter For Natural Hair Sulfate-Free Hydrating Cream Conditioner – R195 at Clicks

Cantu Shea Butter For Natural Hair Sulfate-Free Hy

Jamaican Black Caster Oil Strengthen & Grow Leave-in Conditioner – R290 at Superbalist

Jamaican Black Caster Oil Strengthen & Grow Leave-

Tips on managing hair loss:
  • Ask your hair stylist to install your braids or twist your dreadlocks loosely.
  • Communicate with your stylist to assess your hair type and scalp condition and buy products accordingly.
  • If you wear a weave or hair extensions, remove them after eight weeks.
  • If you have relaxed or dyed hair, make sure these treatments are applied by a professional. Wait the recommended eight weeks before retouching.
  • Minimise heat styling, including hair dryers, flat irons and curling irons. Excessive use can wear out the hair and lead to major hair loss.
  • Give your scalp and hair follicles time to breathe and heal between weaves. They put a strain on your scalp, which is detrimental. 

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