Alopecia Awareness for Black Women

Alopecia Awareness for Black Women

Did you know September is Alopecia Areata Awareness Month? Alopecia is the “absence or loss of hair in an area where it is expected to be present.”

Alopecia is more common within our community than you think. Nearly half of Black women will have alopecia at some point in their lives. For many, this diagnosis or the experience of losing hair is accompanied by embarrassment and shame. This in turn affects their self-esteem and can lead to anxiety or sadness. Society has taught many women that their worth is equated to their “beauty.” That beauty has to conform to society’s Eurocentric standards. Black hair has been looked down on, mocked, and even made illegal throughout history. Adding to that, there is a conception that Black women cannot grow their hair, but often the narrative is pushed that Black women with short hair are less feminine or unattractive.

Both of these ideas are blatantly false and rooted in racism. But that doesn’t mean that within our own community, we hear this time and time again. Eventually, we begin to internalize this toxic ideology. Hair loss comes with upsetting emotions. We serve clients with alopecia in our salon and they’ve shared their stories and struggles with us. In honor of Alopecia Areate Awareness Month, we’re talking about the common types of alopecia found in the Black community. We think it’s important to note that this month of awareness doesn’t spotlight the types of alopecia that Black people are more likely to develop.

After a discussion with a dermatologist, we learned that she often sees Black patients with the following three types of alopecia.

Central Centrifrugal Cicatricaial Alopecia (CCCA)

This type of alopecia is caused by hair practices that are popular within the Black community. Braids, corn rows, extensions, weaves, and chemical relaxers can cause CCCA if used too frequently. The examples listed can all cause inflammation within the hair follicles. Repeatedly wearing these styles or having chemical treatments done can cause permanent hair damage or hair loss. This form of alopecia is often found in the middle of the scalp. It’s often in a circular pattern toward the top of the head that spreads outwards.

CCCA is a form of scarring alopecia and the hair loss is considered to be permanent. When we spoke to a dermatologist (link to podcast episode) she expressed that this type of alopecia is often overlooked and under-diagnosed among Black women. She mentioned that often, people don’t think it to be alopecia that’s causing their hair loss.

Traction Alopecia

Tight styles are so common, we have created temporary fixes that don’t address the real problem. You can go online and see endless tips or jokes about the discomfort so many of us go through when we get our hair braided. The jokes about being unable to sleep but knowing your hair looks great or wincing whenever you move your hair after it’s freshly done are common. We’ve been taught to accept the pain as a simple payment for beauty. That physical pain, however, has created the emotional pain of hair loss for countless women.

Our recommendation is to take breaks in between wearing extension styles and talking to your stylist. Tell them you don’t want your hair braided too tightly. You’ll also need to be prepared to advocate for yourself if you begin to feel any discomfort during the installation process. Getting your hair done should not be a painful experience. Don’t let anyone tell you that it should be expected!

Androgenetic Alopecia

Androgenetic Alopecia can be caused by hormonal factors from genetics. It’s often referred to as “male pattern baldness” or “female pattern baldness.” This alopecia is still not completely understood. There are hormones called androgens, and some of them are linked to the hair’s growth cycle. Higher levels of certain androgens within the hair follicles can shorten the hair’s growth cycle and thin its strands. The hair has four stages: anagen (growth), catagen (transition), telogen (resting), and exogen (shedding). Higher levels of androgens can also cause the resting phase to lengthen. This results in less hair being replenished after it sheds.

It’s so important to have open conversations with your parents and elders (if possible) about genetic conditions. Family history of strokes, high blood pressure, cancer, and other health complications are discussed—so should alopecia. Androgenic alopecia is often passed along from parents to children. With men, it’s more often discussed and addressed. There’s significantly less stigma when it comes to men losing their hair—in fact, they’re often encouraged to shave the rest of their head or get a temporary hair piece. Women also need to have these conversations with their parents so they know they could potentially develop alopecia during their lifetime.

However, with women, there are great feelings of shame attached to a condition that is outside of their control. Women are peddled different cure-alls from companies that market after insecurities.

Why Alopecia Awareness is a Necessity

If you suspect you’re experiencing hair loss, have an honest conversation with your stylist about the state of your hair. It’s difficult to see the back and crown of your head, so your stylist should be able to help you identify any patches of thinning. Curly hair dries voluminously and those with dense hair may also have a hard time noticing hair loss. A licensed stylist should have the skills to recognize hair loss and professionally inform you.

If you are losing hair, book an appointment with a dermatologist as soon as possible. Depending on your circumstance, you may be able to prevent further loss. We always recommend seeing medical professionals who are well-versed in Black healthcare. Black people are frequently left out of medical research, teachings, and conversations. That means not all professionals have the tools to take care of Black women. We want you to feel safe, supported, and understood during your appointment.

Knowledge is power. If you know better, you can do better. Many Black women and girls are at risk of traction alopecia because they don’t realize the harm in tight styles. There are countless women wearing styles or doing chemical treatments that are causing long-term damage. Some Black women are losing hair and are in distress because they think it’s their fault but it’s their genetic makeup. Women, and especially Black women, need to know that alopecia can impact their lives.

If you’d like to learn more about alopecia, tune into this episode of the Brown Skin Women Podcast.

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