What You Really Need to Know About Thinning Edges

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Photo courtesy of @Mateyena

Your edges are the most visible part of your hair. So thinning edges are high stakes. If thinning gets severe and permanent–depending on how you feel about it–your only options for hiding the hair loss may be a hair transplant or wearing a wig for the rest of your life. Yet two out of five Black women in the U.S. say they’ve noticed signs of thinning around their hairline and 72% of Black women say they know at least one person with thinning. Two out of five women with thinning is two out of five too many, but the good news is we can put an end to that

Why are my edges thinning?

Hair loss can have a number of causes from genetics, to pregnancy to aggressive styling. Prevention has a great breakdown on the different causes of hair loss. The cause of thinning that we’re most concerned about is the one that’s 100% preventable—placing too much tension on hair follicles. 

Earlier this year we embarked on a journey to eliminate pain and hair loss caused by too much tension from Black hairstyling, in the process we consulted a number of experts, one of whom was board certified dermatologist Dr. Crystal Aguh. When I interviewed Dr. Aguh she went into detail about the risks of excessive tension on our hair and why hair loss isn’t only about too much tension. Check out the short video below.

As Dr. Aguh mentions, traction alopecia is a “form of non-scarring reversible hair loss that usually affects the frontal hairline.” It’s usually a result of wearing tight braids, extensions, ponytails, wigs applied with adhesive, and even gels and edge control can do damage. Basically too much tension and friction applied to this already fragile part of your hair can result in hair loss.

However, the important (and calming) thing to know about traction alopecia, as Dr. Aguh explains, is that one single instance of too tight braids or too much friction isn’t enough to leave you with permanent hair loss. Repeated tension and friction over time will cause the thinning to progress and the thinning will eventually become scarring and irreversible. 

It’s also important to know that there’s a range of traction alopecia—subtle thinning to moderate traction alopecia is noticeable but can be covered, while scarring traction alopecia, which affects a smaller subset of women, can’t be covered. The subtle to moderate thinning is the type of thinning that you can do something about on your own.

How can I stop my edges from thinning?

If you’re part of the larger portion of women with subtle to moderate thinning edges, you can stop the thinning simply by taking a break from hairstyles that place tension on your scalp. That includes, braids, ponytails weaves, cornrows, or wearing wigs. Also watch out for brushing your edges too much. Sleep with a satin scarf at night and/or pillowcase to reduce friction on your hair. Consider wearing your hair out for a little while. Taking a break should allow your hair to come back. If it doesn’t come back on it’s own, that’s when you should seek medical treatment. 

✮ Sidebar ✮

  • Did you know that the first documentation of Alopecia took place in 1907 in Greenland among Inuit women.
  • Traction alopecia can affect anyone and has been seen among other communities outside of the Black community, like among Sikh men.

But what if I don’t want to wear my hair out?

We know how it is. Most women wear protective styles because they’re convenient. Wearing your hair out is a process and can be time consuming. The good news is Dr. Aguh understands how lifestyle plays a role in how we choose our hairstyles, and has an approach to ease women off of hairstyles that might be damaging. Part of that approach comes from a study she conducted, which looked at how risky the different types of hairstyles we wear are because, as the study is titled, not all hairstyles are created equal.

Hair Style Risk

Different hairstyles carry a different amount of risk when it comes to how likely wearing them will lead to traction alopecia. High risk styles include very tightly done locs, cornrows, microbraids, extensions or braids applied to relaxed hair. Moderate risk hairstyles include braids on natural hair, looser buns, ponytails, looser locs, cornrows, braids; extensions or braids applied to natural hair. Low risk hairstyles are hairstyles worn loosely like loose ponytails and buns where you change the height of the ponytail or bun all the time. 

Hair Resilience

Notice that the difference between the level of risk is tightness/looseness but also the state of your hair. For example, it’s riskier to wear braids on relaxed hair than it is on natural hair. This speaks to what Dr. Aguh calls hair resilience, which is essentially how well  your hair can handle different styles. Just as all hairstyles aren’t created equally, everyone has a different head of hair, and some people can handle “riskier” styles whereas others can’t. We created this nifty quiz to help you determine where your hair might fall on the spectrum. But the best way to understand if your hair might be high or low resilience is to take note of how it reacts to different hairstyles. Like Dr. Aguh says, if you experience breakage no matter what hairstyle you wear, for example, chances are your hair has low resilience. 

It’s riskier to wear braids on relaxed hair than it is on natural hair. Click To Tweet

What’s useful about understanding the varying risks of hairstyles and understanding your hair resilience is that you can then choose your hairstyles accordingly. If your hair is fine and processed, you’re going to want to stay away from high risk hairstyles and perhaps lean more towards styles like braids without added hair. (I recently added twists without added hair to my hair repertoire and they’re a game changer. I get the convenience of a protective style; they’re zero tension and I can wear them in different styles.) If you have a history of being able to wear box braids, weaves, the whole gamut without any hair loss, well, consider yourself lucky and enjoy that privilege! 

So, what should I take away from all this?

  1. If you’re experiencing moderate thinning, stop what you’re doing and give your hair time to grow back. 
  2. If you’re experiencing severe thinning, consult with a board certified dermatologist (that specializes in hair and ideally has Black patients).
  3. If you’d like to continue to wear protective hairstyles, but want to do so without thinning:
    1. Get to know your hair resilience by considering how your hair currently reacts to styles and how it’s reacted in the past; you can also use our quiz.
    2. Add more loose styles to your hairstyle routine, so you’re not always in a protective style.
    3. You can also watch our film, Pretty Shouldn’t Hurt for more context on safe protective styling and follow our New Rules for Protective Styling and our suggestions for communicating with a stylist or braider.

Hope all this helps!

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An entrepreneur at heart, I founded Unruly in 2013 after spending six great years in advertising. I’m über lazy when it comes to doing my hair so I’m always looking for easy and quick ways to care and style my hair.

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