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Your favorite protective hairstyles may not be so protective after all.

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“Dermatologists need to be conscious of the fact that many high- and moderate-risk hairstyles greatly improve hair manageability, and simply telling patients to abandon them won’t work for everyone,” Aguh said. “Instead, physicians can educate themselves to speak with patients about making the best hairstyling choices to minimize preventable hair loss.”

According to the data, about one-third of black women suffer from traction alopecia, making it the most common form of hair loss among that group.

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“High-risk” styles such as weaves, braids, extensions and dreadlocks can be particularly harmful, especially when applied to chemically straightened hair. The added weight on the scalp that often goes hand in hand with many of these styles doesn’t help, either. 

“Hair is a cornerstone of self-esteem and identity for many people,”  said Dr. Crystal Aguh, assistant professor of dermatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “But ironically, some hairstyles meant to improve our self-confidence actually lead to hair and scalp damage.”

Investigators are not looking to reprimand individuals who may enjoy their weaves, tight ponytails and other hairstyles linked to the condition, however. Instead, researchers are providing guidelines for dermatologists and other care providers in order to prevent and manage hair loss from traction alopecia, which can be stopped or even reversed if caught early. 

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“We have to do better as care providers to offer our patients proper guidance to keep them healthy from head to toe,” Aguh said.

The first line of defense is not necessarily to stop patients from wearing their hair how they want but, rather, to instill a sense of caution and to encourage looser forms of the same style. Aguh recommends loosening braids and other high-tension styles, as well as reducing the weight that the styles put on the hair follicle. Braided hairstyles should not be kept in longer than two or three months, while weaves and extensions should be limited to six to eight weeks. 

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Read more at Johns Hopkins Medicine