MONDAY, April 11 (HealthDay News) -- A new study of middle-aged
black women finds that almost 30 percent suffer from baldness and
scarring in the center of their scalps, possibly because braids and
weaves pull their hair too tight.
The study doesn't prove that black women's choices about hair
grooming play a major role in whether they lose significant amounts
of hair. However, the findings are enough to suggest that black
women need to be cautious, said study lead author Dr. Angela Kyei,
a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
"You have to stop and think about what you're doing with your hair, and you have to look at your children's hair," Kyei said. "African Americans begin putting relaxers and chemicals in their children's hair early. You have to start thinking about what might happen later on."
Baldness in the middle of the scalp is quite common among black
women, Kyei said, but there hasn't been much research into what
In the past, dermatologists thought that hot combs or hair oils
were the cause of the hair loss. Another suspect was the chemicals
that black women use to relax their hair, turning it from curly to
But, dermatologist Dr. Jerry Shapiro, a clinical professor of
dermatology at the University of British Columbia who specializes
in hair problems, said, "There are many women who use relaxers who
don't have this problem."
One thing is clear about the baldness, however: "Once you get
it, it's permanent," Kyei said, and the hair doesn't come back.
"That's why a lot of African Americans wear wigs or put something
on their scalp to hide their hair."
In the new study, Cleveland Clinic researchers examined the hair
of 326 black women who were approached at churches and a health
fair in Cleveland. The women answered questions about their hair
and their health.
Twenty-eight percent of the women showed signs of hair loss in
their central scalps. Of those, almost 60 percent had signs of
severe hair loss. And those women were more likely to have type 2
diabetes, to have bacterial infections in their scalps and to have
had hair styles like braids and weaves.
The culprit appears to be hair styles -- including extensions --
that pull the hair tightly, Kyei said. This causes scarring that
leads to permanent hair loss.
The study doesn't point a finger at hair-relaxing products, but
Shapiro said the jury's still out on their role in baldness.
So what should black women do?
"If you think that you're having hair loss, you need to have it evaluated to see if it's this type of hair loss," Kyei said. "If you're relaxing your hair, if you're having tight braids, I would just put that on hold until you find out what's going on with your hair."
You may wish to ask for a referral to a dermatologist who
specializes in hair, Kyei said. While dermatologists are trained in
treatment of skin, hair and nails, some focus specifically on hair.
"Hair disorders are one of the hardest areas in dermatology, and it
takes a lot of investigation to figure out what's going on," she
The study was published online April 11 in the journal
Archives of Dermatology.
Learn more about
hair loss from the U.S. National Library of
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