Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Made out of fake or human hair, hair extensions are secured to your strands to fill out and lengthen your locks. Sounds pretty great, right? But, like the old adage says: if it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. So, can hair extensions ruin your hair?
Hair extensions can be great and they can definitely give you long, luscious strands of hair. But the truth is, they can also cause some pretty major damage and lead to a condition called traction alopecia.
So, before you put them in, you may want to read this, first. Already have them? Find out what you can do to make them not-so-bad for your hair.
As previously stated, adding extensions to your natural hair can give you longer or thicker hair — or both! But they can also cause a form of hair loss called traction alopecia.
Traction alopecia is caused by any hairstyle that pulls on your roots. Beyond extensions, this includes tight ponytails and dreadlocks.
When a hairstyle pulls on your scalp, the hair shaft can be loosened from the follicle. This can then lead to hair loss.
Also helpful to know: black women most commonly experience traction alopecia. A third of Black women who wear their hair in tight styles experience it at some point in their lives.
Getting hair to grow back once you lose it takes more work than preventing hair loss in the first place. If you have extensions or are considering getting them, there are a few things you can do to prevent traction alopecia.
For example, you should aim to wear extensions for short periods of time to avoid too much pulling. And, if you notice any pain or irritation, remove them immediately.
The type of hair extensions you get can make a difference, too. There are a variety of different methods of hair extensions. Unfortunately, some of these are damaging hair extensions. Ideally, you’ll want to go with a sewn-in weave rather than bonded hair extensions.
When you have extensions sewn in, your natural hair is braided in horizontal rows across your scalp. Then, wefts of hair are sewn into the braid using a needle and thread. The result is long-lasting extensions that are more secure.
Other types of extensions can be bonded directly to small sections of hair. This is either through something called micro bonds (which involves looping the extension over your hair and then using heat to secure the two together) or fusion bonds (where an adhesive is used to affix extensions to small sections of your real hair).
Another option that may help prevent traction alopecia is clip-in extensions. With these, you can clip the extensions into your hair right before you go out and then unclip them when you get home. Because of this, there’s no constant tugging on your scalp.
If you catch traction alopecia early and are able to remove your extensions, you may not have to do anything at all. In time, you may notice your hair return to its healthy state.
Dealing with more severe hair loss? You may need to do a bit more than just wait till it gets better. Options for hair loss treatment are below.
Topical minoxidil is commonly known as the brand name Rogaine®. It can be found in a 2% solution or 5% foam and has been found to encourage hair growth.
Its exact mechanism of action isn’t fully understood. But it is known that topical minoxidil signals blood vessels to open so that more nutrients and oxygen can get to your hair. In addition to this, it stretches out the growth period for your hair. In turn, more follicles are created to replace the hair you have lost.
Biotin, a B vitamin, is known for promoting healthy hair and growth in people experiencing biotin deficiency. One study discovered that taking biotin produces faster hair growth in people experiencing thinning hair.
But you don’t have to take a biotin supplement if you don’t want to. In fact, you can get biotin naturally through a balanced diet. Biotin is found in foods like eggs, milk and bananas.
Everybody is susceptible to hair breakage and loss. Everyone. People who routinely color their, people who constantly use heat tools on their hair, people who use chemicals to treat their hair — all of these things make hair more prone to damage, breakage and loss.
Hair extensions, on the other hand, are processes geared toward making hair look fuller, longer and healthier. And while they don’t cause hair loss in the same ways heat tools or over-coloring do, they can cause a specific type of hair loss called traction alopecia.
To prevent traction alopecia, you should only wear extensions for short periods of time. You should also take them out if you suddenly have a sensitive scalp. The type of extensions you get also matters. The sewn-in variety tends to be better than those that are bonded to your hair.
If you catch your traction alopecia early enough and take out your extensions to prevent further scalp damage, you may not need to do anything else. If you don’t, you may want to encourage hair-growth treatments like minoxidil.
To determine exactly what may help traction alopecia caused by hair extensions, you should contact a healthcare professional.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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