Different from alopecia areata (an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks its own follicles), traction alopecia is a hair-loss condition triggered by certain hairstyles and processes. It occurs when there's damage to the hair follicle and the dermal papilla — that's the small bit of skin at the base — by constant pulling or increased tension over a period of time.
Most common in African-American men and women, the stress caused by super-tight styles at the scalp is the root of this problem. Cornrows can cause hair loss in the skin area adjacent to the rows. Also troublesome are excessively tight ponytails or braids, prompting breakage because the hair shaft is constantly exposed. Overprocessing increases the risk — which means any chemical that disrupts keratin structure (straighteners, bleaches, dyes, etc.) as well as heat damage from hot comb use can both put you in danger.
While traction alopecia is not something that can be predicted, the key is early detection . . . and making a change. If you see noticeably fragile hair and increased shedding, opt for a looser hairstyle, mix it up, or go natural instead. After all, there's no medical treatment to reverse the late-stages (except hair grafts or transplants), so visit a dermatologist and be gentle on that scalp.