The same behaviour that got you here is not the same behaviour that will get you where you want to go…
As many of you may know, my receding hairline was one of the instigators of my decision to go natural. The damage I had done to my hairline was a result of the chemicals I had used over the years to straighten my hair coupled with poor hair care practices and the various hairstyles worn over time.
Many black women believe that hairline issues are a result of genetics as they see the same issues with other women in their family. This is not always the case. We are particularly prone to this issue because of our specific hair care practices, which are different from other women. (Disclaimer time: Some hair loss conditions can be the result of an illness or indeed genetics, so you should probably consult a doctor if you suspect this)
Before we go into what not to do to your hairline, we should probably have a quick look about what causes the hair loss in the first place. The main type of hair loss suffered by black women is called traction alopecia. Traction alopecia is a specific type of hair loss that occurs when tension is applied to hair for a prolonged period of time. It therefore differs from other types of hair loss in that it is behavioural. Traction alopecia can be exacerbated by the individual, with areas of thinning or balding becoming more pronounced as hair is pulled, twisted and excessively styled over time. Because traction alopecia is behavioural in nature, preventing and repairing it requires the individual to make changes in the way they care for their hair.
Here are some tips on how to avoid traction alopecia and how to help your hairline recover once damaged.
1. Stop wearing tight hairstyles. These include tight braids, micro braids, tight ponytails, cornrows and tight weaves. Basically, if you leave the hair salon with a bit of a headache or you can’t move your eyebrows or forehead – then you have a tight hairstyle. Tight hairstyles put tension on your hair strands and pull out your hair strands over time. Did it ever occur to you that the headache you get is your body’s way of telling you that something ain’t right? Even though black hair appears thick, it actually is made up of very thin strands and so is very fragile. I know some people associate how tight their hairstyle is installed with how long the style will last and how good it looks. But you are not doing your hairline a favour.
So when you are at the hair salon or hairdresser and they are pulling your hair to make it look “neat” just tell them no. Big NO, NO, NO. Be firm (but nice). Your hair can’t speak for itself, so you need to speak up on its behalf. You should not feel any pain after a visit to the hairdresser. And if you do, TAKE IT OUT IMMEDIATELY. I know it cost a lot and it took forever, but its your choice. The longer you have it in, the more damage you are doing to your hairline. I know we usually think it will be better if I have a panadol and sleep with a cold towel on my head. No it won’t. The damage is already being done.
So what does one do? One cannot leave without braids – well one does not have to.
- When installing braids, opt for thicker braids over micro braids. When you install thick braids you use a lot more of your hair strands for each braid. This gives your hair strands more support to hold the braid making it less likely for the braid to pull on the strands.
- It’s also important what kind of braids you use. Opt for light braids – not those that break your neck! Try Marley or Kinky braids.
- In addition, you should not have braids on for long periods of time because the hair that you naturally shed everyday will accumulate and assist in tangling your hair when you are removing the braids.
- When removing braids, make sure you do so when you are not tired or in a rush to go somewhere. I find that I pull and tug at my hair during that last stretch which causes my hair to break.
- Once you remove braids you should have a substantial period in between hairstyles to give your hair a break. Make sure you pamper your hair during this period. Having your hair in braids or weave is not an excuse to ignore it – you still need to wash, deep condition and moisturise it.
2. Go natural. Well you could stop using chemicals as they contain harsh ingredients that weaken your hair strands and make it more susceptible to damage and eventually hair loss. If you are not ready to go natural, then at least increase the period of time in between touch ups so you only have two or three a year. And to all those naturals, please stop trying to fight your hairline for that “perfect” sleek look. It’s kinky, it’s not straight. It won’t lie down easily, so we just need to learn to let go of some things!
3. Reduce the amount of heat you use on your hair. Heat is not our hair’s friend. This includes blow-drying and flat ironing. Again our hair is made up of fine strands that are vulnerable. These are damaged when we use heat frequently. If you are using heat to straighten your hair, you should make sure your hair is in good condition before doing so. Deep condition it and have an oil treatment beforehand. Also use a heat protectant. You should also reduce how many times you do this and find heatless alternatives to straighten your hair such as threading, bantu knot outs, twists and braiding.
4. Stimulate your scalp back to health. You can do this by massaging your scalp and hairline with an oil – such as black castor oil. Do this daily but gently for at least three minutes. You have time to do this. You can do this whilst you are watching TV! Regular exercise is another way to stimulate your scalp.
5.Give your hair a break! Your hairline just needs to be left alone for a while. So just give it a break and time to breathe. Get a wig and just spend some time caring and nurturing your hairline back to health underneath the wig. A wig is a good idea for those women who are self conscious about showing off their damaged hairline to the world. If you get a wig, make sure that the elastic in the front does not sit directly on top of your hairline, but over it and on to your forehead. Try not to wear your wig during the weekend or when you get home from work. Just let your hair breathe – but make sure that you still moisturize, wash and deep condition it regularly. The idea of the wig is to have a break from the tight hairstyles and give your hair time to recover.
6. Exercise and Eat Well. You indeed are what you eat. The food choices you make are reflected in the condition of your hair, skin and nails. If you are not eating enough good nutrients, your body sends the few nutrients to your body’s organs that need it the most for your body to function. Whatever is leftover, if any, then goes to your hair, skin and nails. For your hair, eat foods that are rich in protein, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin E, biotin, anti-oxidants, zinc and iron, Examples are salmon, green leafy vegetables (such as kale and spinach), walnuts, tuna, chickpeas, beef, chicken, eggs, natural Greek yoghurt, almonds, lentils, oysters and blueberries.
7. Keep Calm and Be Patient. It took you years for your hairline to reach this state. You did not just wake up one day to find your hairline M.I.A. So it’s not going to take a few weeks for it to recover. For some it will take longer than others. So just be patient, diligent and consistent with what you are doing, even if it feels like you are not making any progress.
When women experience issues with their hairline, their instinct is to hide it underneath the same hairstyles that caused damage to the hairline in the first place. I understand this…I have been guilty of this. That’s the worst thing you could do for your hair at that stage though. When my hairline was at its worst last November, I also felt the need to hide it initially. So I have had cornrows, braids and a weave since then and every time I remove these styles, my hairline has taken a step back from its recovery process.
My hairline is recovering though. One side is doing better than the other and apparently this is common. I am trying now to do all of the above – trying being the keyword. I also make sure I stimulate my scalp with a mix of castor oil, tea tree oil and extra virgin olive oil about 3-4 times a week as well. I am also learning how to style my hair myself so that I am not at the mercy of a hairdresser and feel helpless when they are pulling and tugging!
If you remember nothing from the above post at least remember this, the same behaviour that got your hairline in this state is not the same behavior that will get you out of it. So there needs to be a mental shift in your head and an “un-learning” of the things you thought were good for your hair.
So ladies, have you had hairline issues? How have you helped your hairline recover from this? Please share any other tips below…