Sherry Harris is a blogger at Sherry’s Life (sherryslife.com), a stylish hair blog for women around the world.
There are more than 21 million women, of all ethnicities, who have to deal with hair loss, but it is an especially touchy issue in the African-American community. So, if you have noticed more hair than usual accumulating on your comb, brush and in your shower, at an accelerated rate, or even seeing thinning areas on your head, it is time to act. This is not the time to pretend the problem doesn’t exist.
Why Do Black Women Experience Hair Loss
The biggest reason we experience hair loss is our choice of hairstyles. Many styles that we choose result in our hair being damaged and ultimately lost. I know what you are thinking – what type of styles are causing hair loss?
Cornrows & Hair Braids
Have you ever had your hair braided by someone who insists on braiding your hair so tight you can’t even think? You know the type of braids where you have a headache and are desperately looking for aspirin. Most braiders try to do them as tight as possible because they look neater, but it can wreak havoc on your hairline. If you have ever seen a woman’s hairline appear to recede over the course of knowing her and she wears braids often, now you know the reason why.
Well, all of this tight braiding over the years causes traction alopecia aka baldness. This is a condition where your hair follicles die as a result of constantly being pulled.
Some of the most common areas we see the damage is on the hairline, temples, and behind the ears. I think we have all seen the pictures of supermodel Naomi Campbell. It is a clear case of what not to do. Wearing braids and hair extensions without ever giving your hair a break increases the very real risk of an irreversible baldness known as Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia (CCCA). It starts at the central part of the scalp and spreads out toward the edge of the hairline.
To get a better understanding of CCCA, I spoke with Dr. Jonathan Ballon, MD who is a Hair transplant surgeon in Alpharetta, Georgia and Medical Director of Aesthetics Hair Restoration. Is Dr. Ballon qualified to talk about hair loss?
Well, in addition to his medical education, and neurosurgical background, he has licensure and certifications in the following locations: Georgia, New York, North Carolina, Connecticut, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland. He is also a:
- Diplomate, American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery
- Fellow, International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery
- Past Diplomate, American Board of Neurological Surgery
These certifications should provide you the assurance and an overall warm, fuzzy feeling that Dr. Ballon is more than qualified to provide quality patient care in the specialty of Hair Restoration.
Back to our topic, what is CCCA? According to Dr. Ballon, “CCCA also known as Central Centrifugal (spreading outward from the center) Cicatricial (scarring) Alopecia is a type of “scarring alopecia,” or inflammatory condition of the scalp.”
It occurs almost exclusively in women of African descent. It may occur due to hairstyle choices such as relaxers, which can burn the scalp so severely that the underlying follicles are permanently damaged and no longer capable of growing hairs.
“The scar tissue that destroys the follicles is beneath the surface of the skin; thus, CCCA can result in large areas of complete balding. However, the scarring itself is usually not visible to the eye. CCCA is not hereditary. Women with CCCA have very fragile hair that is susceptible to breakage, and need to take special care to handle their hair gently,” said Ballon.
One thing is for sure a lot of black women love hair weaves, myself included. While there is nothing wrong with wanting longer hair, you should be careful when having weave installed. Hair thinning can be induced if your hair, on too many occasions, is pulled tightly in order to achieve the style you want.
On another note, I will be the first to admit that a good weave can be expensive. However, that is still no excuse to keep the style for an extended period of time. If you wear out your hairstyle by continuously wearing weaves, you will eventually experience hair thinning.
The main reason why your hair will thin out is because the muscle that holds each hair strand in place becomes destroyed or lies dormant. At this point, you will need a professional hair restoration doctor to wake the muscle and hair follicle up.
Most ladies get their hair relaxed because they love the straight look and low maintenance. However, there are some downsides to using relaxers. We have to remember relaxers are chemicals.
And, chemicals can and do at times burn your scalp and weaken your hair shaft, if left on your head too long. If left untreated too long, the appearance of bald spots become glaringly obvious.
Is There A Solution For Traction Alopecia?
You can take a deep breath because there is a solution to this problem. It is called hair transplantation. It is the best option for black men and women or anyone for that matter with traction alopecia. Doctors who specialize in hair transplantation have patients who are experiencing permanent results.
I want to point out that I know some of you may have always felt like this was only a solution for older men (mostly of other racial backgrounds), but that is a myth that we as black women need to move away from. Hair transplantation can help you as well.
What Is Hair Transplantation?
The short answer – it means moving healthy hair follicles to the area of hair loss. For those who like a little more detail, a hair transplant entails taking hair from the back or sides of your head and moving it to a balding or thinning area. This is perfectly true and relevant for male and female genetic hair loss, but not for traction alopecia.
Hair transplantation is appropriate in many cases, but not in others. Only an experienced hair restoration surgeon in collaboration with a dermatologist, if needed, can evaluate whether the procedure would be advisable for you.
If you are coping with with traction alopecia, hair transplantation can be effective at treating your hair loss. One thing is for certain; there are special considerations to keep in mind with the cause and treatment of hair loss in black patients. This is an area in which you want a doctor with expertise and a track record like Dr. Ballon. For you women of color living in and around Georgia, he is the only hair transplant surgeon in Georgia certified by the American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery.
Finally, hair restoration has evolved quite a bit over the past thirty years. Today, a hair transplant performed by an experienced and skilled surgeon should be undetectable to your family, friends, and coworkers.
How To Choose A Good Hair Restoration Doctor
If you were to experience foot pain, would you go to a dentist? No, that would be absurd. You would want to go to a podiatrist because a podiatrist is specialized. And, the podiatrist has devoted significant time to the study and medical treatment of disorders of the foot and ankle.
It is equally important to choose a surgeon whose entire practice is devoted to hair restoration and who performs hair transplants on a regular basis, not one or two every six months.
It may come as a surprise that a doctor is not required to have a surgical background to be a hair transplant surgeon, but prior surgical experience is obviously a plus. The only requirements one must have to perform hair transplants are an M.D. or D.O. degree and a license to practice medicine in that state.
Scary, but true: Some hair transplant surgeons have had no specialized training in hair restoration, ever. That means ladies that you MUST check your surgeon’s credentials before you do anything else.
Below are a few things you can look for:
- Membership in the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) with “Fellow” status (FISHRS)
- Certification by the American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery (ABHRS)
- See if the doctor has contributed to ISHRS-sponsored scientific meetings by presenting papers, teaching courses, or serving on panels
These are a few indications that your surgeon holds himself to a high standard, is committed to associating with his peers, and is involved in continuing medical education.
What Is The Hair Transplant Procedure
A hair transplant is a simple, safe, and outpatient procedure. Your day begins with a good breakfast while still at home. After meeting with the doctor to review your immediate and long-term goals, the plan for the day will be finalized.
You will then be given a customized amount of medication to relax you. You can opt to be wide-awake, mildly sedated, or completely out. The hair on the back of the head is parted and held up out of the way, and a narrow area is shaved. Local anesthesia is then administered to allow absolutely painless removal of the donor follicles that become the “grafts” to be used for the hair transplant. Most people actually sleep through this part of the procedure! Once this has been done, the parted hair is combed back down to completely cover the area the was shaved.
Next, a predetermined number of tiny slits will be made in the area or areas to be transplanted. For all of you who hate pain as much I do, I will reiterate this procedure is 100% painless because your scalp is anesthetized.
Following this, the grafts are then inserted one at a time into the recipient sites by highly skilled assistants. Don’t get nervous about this, as it is a customary practice here in the U.S. and abroad. Depending on a number of circumstances, a hair transplant may take anywhere from 3 to 4 hours to all day.
Why I Recommend Dr. Ballon
Dr. Ballon has worked in several cities over the years with large urban populations. A highly experienced team of predominantly black hair transplant technicians assists him. In addition, he is in consultation with a number of dermatologists specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of hair loss in people of color.
Doctor Ballon says that “Some of my most gratifying cases have involved African American women with “traction alopecia” resulting from braiding and other tight hairstyles.”
You get the feeling when you walk into Aesthetics Hair Restoration that everyone is on their A-game and takes their work seriously, but it is not a rigid environment. You can expect your experience to be pleasant and relaxing.
Something I think should be mentioned is that your procedure will not be performed in an ancillary room at the doctors’ office.
No, quite the opposite will happen. Get ready for this…Dr. Ballon is the only full-time hair transplant surgeon in Georgia who operates in an ambulatory surgery center that is fully accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO).
What does this type of accreditation mean to you as a client? It means you will have your surgery performed in a safe environment with proper monitoring.
Some other niceties you can expect:
- Every effort is made to assure your comfort.
- Most people doze off for the better part of the morning; if you would prefer to be awake, you can watch TV or a movie, listen to music, or chat with their friendly staff.
- A tasty lunch will be provided for you.
- You will be provided opportunities to use the restroom and time to get up, stretch, and walk around.
A ride home is useful but not necessary. The effects of the medication given earlier are gone by the end of the day. Most patients are able to drive themselves home completely alert and with little or no discomfort. In the rare event that a patient is unable to drive home, transportation or lodging is arranged.
We can all agree hair loss can be a traumatic experience. When you have to watch your hair getting thinner or bald in patches due to tight braids, continuous weave installations and relaxers not being applied as instructed, it can be disheartening.
However, you can cheer up in the knowledge that you can do something about your traction alopecia. Call an experienced doctor like Dr. Ballon who can evaluate you and determine if hair transplantation is right for you.
Sherry Harris (sherryslife.com)