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Don't Lose Your Hair

Steps to help sisters save their mane attraction

Hair loss in Black women is epidemic, says dermatologist Susan C. Taylor, M.D. That’s why Taylor, director of The Skin of Color Center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City, dedicated an entire chapter of her new book, Brown Skin: Dr. Susan Taylor’s Prescription for Flawless Skin, Hair and Nails (HarperCollins) to the topic.

Her message: Hair loss can be prevented if we take steps to nurture and protect our tresses at every age.

What types of hair loss do Black women suffer from?
There are two primary categories of hair loss, or alopecia. The first is hair breakage, and the second is actual hair loss. With hair breakage, the hair strands become very short in sections of the scalp. With actual hair loss, there are either bald spots or thinning in some areas. In either case, the underlying scalp can be seen.

What are the main causes of hair loss in Black women?
Our hair-care practices are the major cause of both hair breakage and loss. Abusing hair with multiple processes, such as improperly or too frequently applied hair relaxers, coupled with excessive heat from hair dryers, hot rollers, and curling or flat irons can lead to breakage. Double processes, such as applying hair dyes on top of relaxers, are also damaging. At worst, these practices can cause a hair loss in Black women that’s known as follicular degeneration syndrome or central centrifugal scarring alopecia. Other common causes of hair loss include traction alopecia (pulling from curlers or hairstyles that are too tight) and female-pattern alopecia, a hereditary form of hair loss in which women progressively thin at the top of the head.

How do women know hair loss is serious and not temporary? What are the signs?
If a woman notices thinning and she doesn’t see regrowth (even stubble) within a month, she should see her dermatologist. If she has breakage and it doesn’t stop when she changes her hair-care practices to less harmful procedures, she should also see her doctor.