Health.com (via CNN) reported results this week from a study conducted by Cleveland Clinic’s Dermatology and Plastic Surgery Institute indicating that black women’s reliance and use of braids and tension-bearing weaves are linked to hair loss (central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia, or CCCA). Now, before you take this article as fact, please read on.
Although flawed, the study may have single-handedly tipped the scale and encouraged millions of black women to finally transition to solely wearing natural hairstyles.
At the time of posting this article, more than 4,000 people had shared the story on CNN. SMH.
You know how it is, you don’t have the hair texture, fullness or length that you want, so you add braids or a sew-in to give you that full-bodied look. It’s not a bad system, but the issue – according to researchers – is that black women tend to wear these styles for prolonged periods of time. In the study, more than 300 black women were interviewed and 59% reported signs of alopecia (CCCA), a form of baldness that begins at the crown of the head and leads to scarring. What is interesting is that “neither hot comb treatments nor chemical relaxers, which were used by more than 90 percent of the study participants, were linked with alopecia in the study, but braids, weaves, and other so-called traction hairstyles that tug at the scalp were”. (Side eye: These researchers were at a health fair and on church grounds – how were they able to definitively conclude this?)
Further more, this study presents a catch 22 – women who are already losing their hair are more likely to favor these hairstyles because they help disguise thinning hair. So how can they draw such strong conclusions from simply surveying women? *shrugs* To really make these decisions, they will have to do a real, live sho-nuf research study. Nothing like the Tuskegee experiment (Lawd), but moreso one that follows women over a longer period of time (which takes more money, time, resources, yada yada).
This link is spreading like wildfire through the online black female/black hair/naturalista communities, but before you just believe everything that you read. Let me shed some light on this issue and provide some helpful tips:
Don’t believe everything you read.
The headline and findings in this article are deceiving and have some major flaws. The average age of the women surveyed in this study was 58. (statistically, the condition often presents itself when women are in their 40s, but it’s sometimes seen in women as young as their 20s and 30s). Even the writer of the article has admitted, “It’s not clear from the study that these hairstyles are solely responsible…” In fact, women with the condition tended to have balding maternal grandfathers and they were also more likely to have diabetes, which suggests that dermatologists that are diagnosing black women with alopecia should also inquire into their diabetes risk. This means that alopecia could possibly be purely a genetic condition – tension-bearing weaves and braids only make the condition worse.
The study is preliminary and can only make broad correlations – at best.
I small pet peeve of mine is to see major news outlets report the findings from the “latest” research study without doing the due diligence to check the credibility and strength of the results. There is nothing that creates sheer confusion and rumors more than misrepresentation of science in the media (a great example is the not so glamorous, but celebrity lead autism/immunization debate).
So, here is what the study entailed: researchers asked women from two African-American churches and a health fair (O_0) in Cleveland about their medical history, family history of hair loss, and hair grooming practices. Dermatologists trained in hair loss examined the women’s scalps and graded them on the degree of hair loss and scarring they exhibited. They compared the participant’s self-reported health information and hair grooming practices with the health of their scalps. And, that is where these correlations came from (e.g. braids and tension-bearing weaves may speed hair loss).
What they cannot ascertain is whether the weaves/braids came before or after each participant experienced hair thinning or shedding.
With the average age of participants being 58, this is major issue – particularly since a headline like this is sure to catch the attention of many. I would like to see them assess a broader, equal age range of black women and follow their hair and scalp health for a period of time (e.g. 2-5 years). This way, the conclusions would be much stronger. I have always been taught that braids (if applied correctly) are more of a protective style for black women. It keeps the hair set and limits the use of chemical or heat-styling techniques. I believe that it is common knowledge that tight, bump-causing braids and styles are unhealthy and – if this has occurred over a lifetime – could seriously lead to long-term hair loss. I recommend that this age-old advice remain until future (stronger) evidence supports the link between weaves and alopecia. And, even though it shouldn’t have to be said, please don’t use tight braiding styles on children and, if you do, resist the temptation to catch the edges along the hairline within the braids (don’t scar little KeKe’s edges for life. SMH). I am much more intrigued by the possible correlation between diabetes and hair loss in black women than by the article’s actual deceiving headline.
Ok, I have done my community service for the day. False alarm, people. Carry on.