African-American women are prone to hair loss, and new data presented at the American Academy of Dermatology's 74th Annual Meeting in Washington illustrates the scope of this problem, which often goes undiagnosed. Certain styling practices may increase the risk of hair loss in this population; women who are concerned about losing their hair should consider different styling practices and see a dermatologist if they notice any signs of hair loss.
AMERICAN ACADEMY OF DERMATOLOGY EXPERT
Information provided by board-certified dermatologist Yolanda M. Lenzy, MD, FAAD, clinical associate, University of Connecticut, Farmington, Conn.
CAUSES OF HAIR LOSS
According to Dr. Lenzy, the No. 1 cause of hair loss in African-American women is a condition called central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA), a disorder in which inflammation and destruction of hair follicles causes scarring and permanent hair loss. She says this population is also prone to traction alopecia, a type of hair loss caused by styles that pull the hair too tight. In addition to these conditions, she says, African-American women also may be affected by other hair disorders like female pattern baldness.
Dr. Lenzy and other experts believe that genetic predisposition may be a major factor in hair loss among African-American women. Additionally, she says, these women may increase their risk of hair loss by frequently engaging in damaging hair styling practices like braiding, weaves and chemical relaxing. "When hair loss is caused by styling practices, the problem is usually chronic use," she says. "Women who use these styling practices tend to use them repeatedly, and long-term repeated use can result in hair loss."
INVESTIGATING THE ISSUE
Dr. Lenzy partnered with the Black Women's Health Study at Boston University's Slone Epidemiology Center to survey African-American women about their experiences with hair loss. Of the 5,594 women who have completed the survey so far, 47.6 percent reported hair loss on the crown or top of the scalp.
Although hair loss is common among American-American women, Dr. Lenzy says, this problem often goes undiagnosed because patients don't know they should visit a dermatologist for evaluation; the vast majority of survey respondents (81.4 percent) indicated that they had never seen a physician about hair loss. Moreover, while 40.9 percent of respondents reported a level of hair loss consistent with CCCA, only 8.8 percent said a doctor had diagnosed them with this condition.
HAIR LOSS MANAGEMENT
According to Dr. Lenzy, early signs of hair loss can include patches of hair that don't grow back or decreasing hair volume, which may be evident in a wider part or a thinner ponytail. Additionally, she says, the inflammation caused by CCCA can lead to scalp itching and tingling, symptoms that women sometimes dismiss as unimportant.
In addition to monitoring themselves for signs of hair loss, Dr. Lenzy also suggests that women ask their hair stylists to alert them to anything unusual. "A hair stylist is really the front line in detecting changes in your hair," she says. "Someone who looks at your hair and scalp frequently can help you recognize a problem."
Women who believe they are experiencing hair loss should visit a board-certified dermatologist, who has the expertise to diagnose and treat hair disorders. Treatment options for hair loss may include topical corticosteroids or oral antibiotics to reduce inflammation, and minoxidil to promote regrowth.
Dr. Lenzy says women also can manage hair loss or reduce their risk by avoiding tight hair styles that put tension on the follicles, like braids and weaves, and limiting their use of chemical relaxers. Everyone who utilizes these styling practices should do so infrequently and for short periods of time, she says, and this is especially true for women experiencing hair loss.
AMERICAN ACADEMY OF DERMATOLOGY EXPERT ADVICE
"I hope my research demonstrates the prevalence of hair loss among African-American women and creates more awareness of this problem," Dr. Lenzy says. "Women who are dealing with hair loss should consider changing their styling practices, and visit a board-certified dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment. Some people may only associate dermatologists with skin issues, but we're also experts in hair disorders, and we can provide the help you need."
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