Cebisa Khwebulana | 15 September 2017

Hair is every woman's crown. Women work hard and spend a lot of money to keep their crowns beautiful. However, sometimes this is not enough, especially if the crown is losing its beauty despite all the efforts she puts into it.

Such is the case with many African women, who find themselves with a receding hairline, a condition known as alopecia. To some women this is a temporary state and yet to others it’s a permanent one. This has been so common in black communities that people have a funny for the condition, it is called Njibhabha (njibs). Yet, do people really know the causes of this kind of hair loss, and are they doing enough to avoid it from occurring?

Usually, alopecia is caused by many factors from hairstyles to serious health issues requiring immediate medical attention. However, people do not pay much attention to it because the most common solutions are to cut the hair or put on weaves/wigs to hide the damaged hairline. It must be noted that alopecia does not affect African women only but every single person and there are many other kinds of this condition. It is advisable that one consults a doctor when they have alopecia, as there might be a serious and life-threatening underlying condition causing it.

Serena Mnanjana, suffers from alopecia and it’s been quite some time since she discovered her condition. She says having alopecia lowered her confidence levels and it’s very restrictive. “I thought that cutting my hair will help me, but it was not like that. My hair is not growing back, so I have to choose my hairstyles wisely considering the fact that I have to hide my damaged hairline” said Miss Mnanjana. She applied some ointments to her scalp encouraging her hair to grow back, but to her surprise the hair is not growing back. Miss Mnanjana knows that her hair will never grow back but she does not know the main reason behind her alopecia.

According to professional hairstylist, Miss Nikelwa Ndlovu, alopecia is caused by one of these hairstyles:  braids, weaves, artificial dreadlocks, cornrows, etc. These hairstyles tend to be too tight and they pull on the hair causing traction alopecia. Traction alopecia is very common amongst African women due to the above-mentioned hairstyles. Miss Ndlovu advised this, “To avoid this type of hair loss, make sure that you wash your hair at least twice a month. Make sure that your (above-mentioned) hairstyles are not too tight and let your hair breathe every now and then.

Other common causes of alopecia are chemicals that are too harsh for the African scalp. These chemicals include relaxer creams, dyes, styling gels and bleaches. The most dangerous chemical is found in hair dye. “Hair dyes tend to block pores on the scalp, causing [the growth of weak hair] that breaks easily” said Nikelwa. This kind of alopecia is known as cicatricial central alopecia (CCA) and it leaves the victim with a shiny, damaged and painful scalp. To avoid CCA one must limit the use of hair dye to once or twice a year, to allow the skin follicles to heal.

Dr Mqadi is a general practitioner in Pietermaritzburg who majored in aesthetic, study of beauty.  Dr Mqadi said that telogen effluvium alopecia, increased number of hairs entering resting phase, is common amongst women of all races. This type of alopecia is caused by several factors including but not limited to: physiological stress, nutritional deficiencies, menopause, postpartum and drugs (antimitotic chemotherapeutic agents, anticoagulants, retinoids and oral contraceptives). “It must be noted that treatment for each type of alopecia differs from other [types].” Advised Dr Mqadi.

Sometimes, crowns also need medical care and attention and not expensive pieces that gives a temporary solution to a lifetime problem.