Seven-year-old with severe traction alopecia

Yesterday, I was at a Sonic drive up restaurant and noticed the cutest little family. Looked like the grandparents were on a little outing with all of their grandchildren ranging in age from maybe 3 -10. One of the little girls with them had quite a severe case of what looked to be traction alopecia. Her hair was pulled into a puff sitting on top of her hair and appeared to be “floating” cause her hairline, for about 1.5 inches in, was practically nonexistent.

I wrestled with my conscious. “Should I say something, or should I mind my own business?” Ok, so my conscious won. Plus grandma looked friendly and approachable. So I got out of my car and in my friendliest voice I say to grandma, “Hi, if you tell me to mind my own business, I will and I’ll certainly understand. But her hair is soooo pretty and then I noticed her hair line. It looks like traction alopecia.”

So the grandma says, “Oh yeah.” Thankfully, I was right, she was just as friendly as can be. “We we took her to the doctor for that.”

Me: “Oh, ok… so you know it’s caused from putting too much stress on her hair line, from pulling her hair too tight.” Now I’m thinking, if they know that, why do they still have this baby’s hair pulled up into a tight puff sitting on top of her head. I look closely, and I can see some really whispy, thin fine hairs all around her head. Tons of those little bumps still visible from having her hair pulled too tightly. Inside I’m just shaking my head.

Grandma: “Yeah we got some medicine. And the muskeetoes be bittin’ her all in her head too and that makes her hair come out too.”

Me: “Ah,” I say. I really don’t know what else to say cause they seem to think they got it all under control, and so now I’m just trying to figure out a way for my busy-body self to graciously exit this conversation, get back in my car and head home. “Oh and so is that her new growth coming in…the medicine is working.”

Grandma: “Oh yes. It is. Yeah we took her to the doctor and everything.” Again, I’m thinking, “Didn’t the doctor tell y’all to stop pulling her hair too tightly cause this puff looks like y’all didn’t get that memo?”

Me: “Oh ok…her hair sure is pretty,” I say as I touch her puff, which turns out to be hard and dry. But All the kids’ hair looked kinda jacked up, and it dawned on me they probably had all just come from the Miller Park pool that’s just up the street.

Grandma: “Yeah and it’s really thick up under there too,” she says rather proudly. But I’m thinking, “It ain’t gonna be thick for much longer cause y’all killing this child’s hair!!!

Me: “Yeah, I’ll bet. My hair is natural also so I know what you mean. Well, ok thanks for letting me talk to ya.” Then I realize it would probably be a good idea to acknowledge how pretty all the kids were (perms and all), which I do, and they all grin ear-to-ear. Then I get in my car and leave.

I was soo sad for that little girl cause I could tell that her hair line and probably her natural hair doesn’t even have a snowballs chance in hell to recover because whomever cares for it is just simply clueless. And, I’ll betcha, sooner or later someone is gonna slap a perm in that child’s hair , which will probably damage her follicles even more, to the point of causing permanent baldness.


Would any of you have had the nerve or audacity to say something, or would you have just minded your own business. I don’t normally do stuff like that, but this time I felt really compelled. Just glad they were friendly people.

Info on Traction Alopecia
Excerpt below is from an article from Skin & Aging web site entitled:

Ethnic Skin and Hair:
Causes and Treatment of Traction Alopecia

By Heather Woolery-Lloyd, M.D. 
Learning more about this easily preventable condition.

Treating this Condition

When diagnosed early, treatment of traction alopecia involves modification of hairstyling techniques. In young African-American girls with traction alopecia, the parents must be educated on the cause of the alopecia. Frequently, patients believe that this condition is genetic since many of the female family members share this pattern of hair loss. Although there may be a genetic predisposition to traction alopecia, this phenomenon is primarily due to the hair-styling practices that are passed along from generation to generation. (Click here to read the entire article)

19 Responses to “Seven-year-old with severe traction alopecia”
  1. Kay says:

    Hello NappyMe

    This is my first posting a s new member. I’ve been reading the postings on this recently discovered site for the past 3 days…non-stop! Like water for a thirsting soul.
    I’ve been natural for the past 2 yrs. and like so many others, I had to make a decision. I made the decision to loc my hair and started the process only yesterday….Something happened. I will call it ‘liberation’ for the time being. It isn’t something that you can clearlyexplain…those who experienced it will know.
    Your website postings and your own research have been invaluable and it is no coincidence that I found this site at precisely the time when I was made the decision to coil and loc.
    Incidentally, this article on Traction Alopecia is quite timely since I have noticed for some time that my own hairline has thinned to the point where it is quite short and just curls along the forehead. I understand the causes and I’m hoping that ‘the change’ will bring some renewed growth. I also understand that it can be linked to some medications for hypertension.
    I will continue to monitor and report any progress.
    What I love about this is the journey of discovery…trials and triumphs… and all of it is so okay. And it’s certainly about so much more than the hair!

  2. Wendy says:

    I don’t know if I’d be brave enough to say something. I was with my mom once when we saw a little mixed race girl with her white mom. The child had the driest, dullest hair that was clearly broken off in a lot of places probably from someone yanking a comb through when dry. I said nothing but my mom went straight up and recommended a trip to a black hairdresser’s and gave the lady the address of a local black beauty store. The advice was well received, so maybe it’s better to risk the telling off and do some good. I feel for the child you saw, if the person who does her hair is clueless it probably is only a matter of time before they crack open the relaxer and dissolve the little that’s left. Sad.

  3. nappyme says:

    Hi Kay!
    Awe welcome to NPP101. I’m glad you’re enjoying my site. Good luck on your loc journey. If you’re so inclined you might consider starting a blog yourself so that you can document this new leg of your journey in pics and words and sharing it with others. Ya never know who might read it, see the pics and become inspired by your natural journey as well.

    Take care and continue to come back often!

  4. nappyme says:

    Hi Wendy,
    Thanks for responding. I kinda second guessed myself on this one. I just wished I could have been more helpful. Ya know?

  5. Wendy says:

    Hi Nappyme,

    Maybe my post was just too long. I think the problem is that basic black hair care knowledge is being lost from the black community. At 17 (and against advice from my side of the family) my niece has already been through too tight extensions (from 4 years old) which lead to badly broken hairline and is now recovering from her THIRD bout of major hairloss (down to about 1 inch all round) following a relaxer.

    The 5 plait style my Jamaican mom did my hair in was boring but it kept the hair on my head. Also was only allowed a press for very special occasions – maye once or twice a year – from the age of 10. I went to a very strict church also, so had to learn how to do my natural hair. I think a lot of moms maybe didn’t grow up with the knowledge and pass on a fear of the hair to their daughters.


  6. nappyme says:

    Hi Wendy,
    I’m not sure what kind of message you get when you post a response, but they don’t show up right away because I have my blog controls set so I have to approve all comments before they display.

    I think you’re right, in many instances, the basic hair care practices are simply lost to these last few generations of black women, many of whom have never seen or learned how to care for their own natural hair and so have no clue on how to care for the hair of their own children.

    So as soon as they’re able, the slap extensions in their hair or a box kit perm or simply pull the child’s own hair so tight that the poor follicles just give out. Then, the resulting hair loss is seen as enevitable or heritary, and never gets attributed to styling methods or the chemicals.

    Now that I’m tuned to it, traction alopecia just seems so prevalent in the black community; it’s heart breaking because it’s soooo preventable.

  7. Kay says:

    Hey Nappyme/Wendy

    Recently I was going through some childhood photos in Trinidad and came across the ‘5 plait’ style and the 3 plait style too all nicely decorated with red ribbons!
    The truth is that nappy hair has been considered ‘bad hair’ for so long. Even now when we shoud have evolved into affirming our naturalness, people still stare and comment negatively. While I was washing my natural at a salon a couple months ago, I overheard a woman say …”can’t stand those rough, untidy edges…” . She wanted to know when I was going to perm again.
    Where I live in the Turks and Caicos, only the courageous few wear nappy hair. It’s still a novelty. Sadly though, while women and girls go for the relaxers, weaves, the cover-ups, the results… scanty permed hairlines, are just as devastating.
    Tightly pulled back hair is the quick and easy choice. When we learn to love the kinks and curls and move beyond the ‘fear of the hair’ as you mentioned, the possibilities are endless.
    As with most things it takes education, individual and collective…and of course, time.
    Continue to spread the word!
    BTW my micro coils are holding up nicely and already look full and bouncy! Will post some pics soon.

  8. Angela says:

    Hey, it’s good to see you back! 🙂 I wouldn’t have said anything, most likely, as I’m a white mama raising my adopted black children. I doubt it would be taken well coming from me. I wanted to say that I love your blog! Our 17 month old Ethiopian born daughter finally has enough hair again (they shaved her head at the care center) to start using snaps. I promise to steer clear of relaxers & perms!

    Angela 🙂

  9. nappyme says:

    Hi Angela!
    I hear ya. It’s a touchy subject…period.

    Glad your baby’s hair is growing back. It’s soooo much fun doing a baby girl’s hair and seeing them in barrettes and bows. I have to laugh cause this brings back a visual of my niece when she was that age. Her hair wasn’t very long at all and the texture was really strange. When she was born she had this really, soft curly/ultra thick, thick hair but the ends were bone straight. Her hair wouldn’t hold anything cause it was just too soft and the baby bows and barrettes would just slip right off. You couldn’t style it either. The best you could do is just kind of brush it and let it do it’s own thing.

    When her hair started changing to a more nappy texture and was getting a little longer my sister was incredibly style challenged. About the only thing my sister could do was plait it up in tiny braids all over her head. Her husband HATED that. Then my sister would put like a gajillion barrettes in her hair. We have this picture of her when she was about 15 months old with sooo many white barrettes in her hair you couldn’t even see the baby’s head.

    Both our mom and her husband would secretly talk about my sister’s lack of ability to style her daughter’s hair but no one would dare say anything to her. I kinda thought that was funny.

    She was just having such a good time keeping her daugter’s hair accessorized that I’m like if she’s happy, I’m happy.

    You’ll have to send me some pics of your baby in her snap barrettes. I just bet she’s soooo adorable.

  10. nappyme says:

    Hi Kay,

    Ok, now you know you bringing back some memories of those plaits. Those were my mom’s staples for our hair. Plus ponytail twists when our hair was pressed.
    Always parted the same. Either two ponytails with our hair parted down the middle. Or one on top and two in the back. Or two on the sides and one in the back. Sometimes she’d do for braids or ponytails twists but NEVER more than five. She considered that to look to picunninish. She also wasn’t real big on using a lot of barrettes. In fact, I don’t remember her ever using barrettes in our hair. Maybe a ribbon or two and that was it.
    Ahhh…the memories…

  11. Wendy says:

    Hi Nappyme and Kay,

    It wasn’t just me then. You better believe I was working those plaits in ou little corner of England! Even got to roll out the ribbons (outfit co-ordinated of course) for church. Come the day I get to have kids they’ll at least have the options of canerows and twists!

    Seriously though, I’ve been relaxer free for about 18 months now, and today was the 1st time I released the ‘fro and went out with a puff instead of hiding it away in a bun. I guess it took me a while to be confident around the stares from other black women. Felt good though!

  12. Angela says:

    My email address is Shoot me an email w/ your address (I’m not seeing it on here) & I’d be glad to show off my daughter. 🙂

    Angela 🙂

  13. nappyme says:

    Hi Angela,
    I’m being too lazy to open an email session…my email is Can’t wait to see the pics!

  14. NattyFemme07 says:

    If I knew something about hair and the person seemed approachable, sure, I’d mention something to them. Seems to me, though, that you’d have to become a full time hairline consultant before long. There didn’t used to be this epidemic; I’m 27 and I remember when Brandy kept braids in her hair, everyone thought something was wrong with her.

    Now everybody does it and you see the results everywhere. I call it “The Sherman Helmsley” hairline – chicks with a hairline that begins back by their ears. The question I’ve never had answered for me is this: WHY DO THEY KEEP DOING IT??? Do they NOT see how bad their hairline looks?

  15. samantha says:

    I alway thought had okay hair. I am mixed race and have tight curls with a slight afro frizz. I have always put it back into a pony tail and then developed traction alopecia. When i realised i went to a hair dresser to have a perm so that i could wear my hair down and stop the pulling. The baldness seems to have got worse. I’ve stopped going to the hairdresser now and have started putting my hair back again but the bald patches really show. They are at the sides above my ears. I am getting sooo depressed. Everywhere i read there is nothing anyone can do. Has anyone had this problem and over come it, please let me know.

  16. nappyme says:

    Hi Samantha,
    Welcome to Nappturology 101!

    I’m sorry to hear that you’re really struggling with traction allopecia. Other than the little bit of information that I have on my website, I really honestly don’t have much to tell you either. However, I can direct you to black haircare message board that has a forum devoted to women who are suffering with and recovering from traction alopecia. If you’re not already a member, please join today. I’m certain you’ll find tons of support in addition to good information that can help you deal with what you’re going through right now.

    So sis, please, you don’t have to go through this alone. Make sure you go over to NP and take a look at the Alopecia Forum so you can get the support you need.

  17. Lisa says:

    It breaks my heart every time I see a child with traction alopecia. I’ve seen little girls as young as three years old with this condition. If you ask me this problem at an epidemic level.

    There are even more teenagers with the no edges. Hiding it and covering it with hair weaves.

    Alot of young mother’s want the childs edges to appear to be and straight and smooth. This straight edge hair-line image continues to perpetuate the self hate and insecurites most afro-americans have about their natural fuzzy/ nappy hair.

    Other mother put Kiddy perms in their child’s hair with water and grease to make it appear to be straight and straight. Eventually it takes a toll on the child’s hair.

    I’m glad I grew up in a time (60′) when my mother taught me to have a happy and healthy outlook about my natural nappy hair.

    I still have a full hair line now. Even when I permed my hair, for over 30 years; I never felt the need to pull my hair back.

    Now I wear locs, I love my natural hair and my hair line still exist. Because, I’d rather have nappy edges than no edges at all.

  18. Nicole says:

    I have a had traction alopecia since I was a child. I am now 41. It is such a horrible thing to deal with. My aunt who would comb my hair, would put my hair in tight pony tails and I guess that is what brought my hair out. The kids were very mean to me calling me all kinds of names. I have had to live with this all my life and its not easy. I can’t wear updo’s or anything that shows the side of my hair, yes both sides. I am finally going to try the natural approach, but with so many years in damaging my hair I don’t know how that is going to work either. I have three daughters who have all went natural and they love it. I made sure when they were young I didn’t damage their hair like mine is. I don’t like wearing weaves, or getting relaxers on my hair either, but I don’t know what other options that I have…

    • nappyme says:

      Hi Nicole,
      I’m sorry to know that you’re suffering fromt this. I’ll say that I’m definitely NOT an expert on Traction Alopecia. So I recommend that you join and go to the Alopecia forum where you can get tons of information and loads of support from women who are and have dealt with this condition.

      In the meantime, good take care and good luck,

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