Like others who have sported braided hair since childhood, I grew up with the understanding that tight styles which captured every errant hair (especially around the hairline) extended the longevity of the look. It allowed my kinky-coily hair to comply with a Westernised notion of ‘neatness’.
Considering this widespread belief, it’s no surprise the British Association of Dermatologists found that black women are predisposed to developing traction alopecia thanks to repeatedly wearing braided, protective styles long term. "Essentially, the scalp becomes hairless, tight and shiny, or pigmented, bumpy and sore," explains Victoria Elliott, consultant trichologist at Trichosynergy.
Ultimately, the journey to reclaiming your edges begins with your approach to hair care. Despite the prevalence of this form of hair loss (often always around the hairline), a thorough web search produces predominantly holistic treatment options, ranging from infused-oil massages to onion juice scalp tonics. While the anecdotal evidence might be convincing enough to compel you to mask your hair in vegetable paste, it might not be that effective.
Rather than the lotions and potions themselves triggering growth, Victoria mentions that the regular scalp massages could be encouraging hair growth around the hairline. Gemma Moodie, resident afro hairstylist at Neville Hair and Beauty, agrees and suggests that the key to encouraging any kind of growth is to gently massage the problem areas with rosemary oil or Jamaican castor oil. "When blood flow to the follicle is stimulated, this then encourages regrowth," she says. Of all the traditional remedies (and there are hundreds), Victoria believes that menthol is perhaps the most effective. "This has been used in trichology successfully for over a century," she adds.
Gemma also advises gently combing or detangling hair while wet to prevent hair loss or breakage. "Also try to avoid tight ponytails and styles. Choose looser protective hairstyles instead." This won’t confine you to year-round twist-outs and braid-outs, though. Free-flowing styles, like loose ponytails or pin-ups that don’t pull on the damaged area are also a good shout, according to Gemma, especially if you have chemically treated hair. "Also, stick to protective styles such as medium to large knotless braids, which don’t cause any tension on the hair follicles," Gemma adds. "I would advise staying well away from small extensions, too."
Victoria echoes this approach and says that hair can often spontaneously regrow once the causative factors are removed. That said, if trying every internet-approved tonic and hair grease isn’t working for you, seek a professional opinion to verify your chances of reviving hairless follicles. Victoria advises speaking to a professional trichologist about light frequency therapies. "They are proven to stimulate hair growth and tensile strength," she says.