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Fact or fiction: Can tying up your hair cause a receding hairline?

Traction alopecia is a thing.

Written by
Ronelle Richards
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
April 29, 2024
min read
Fact or fiction: Can tying up your hair cause a receding hairline?
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If you're reading this, a tingle of fear might be shooting through you all the way to the end of your ponytail. Although it might not be widely known, tying up hair tightly can pull on your hairline and in some cases, result in hair loss.

Putting your hair into hairstyles like a slicked-back bun, a basic ponytail, cornrows or braids, even a top knot are all examples of hairstyles that can pull at your hair.

Over time, this tightly pulled back hairstyle can lead to hair loss. In fact, there's even a medical term for it — traction alopecia. And, while you might think this is only an issue that women have to deal with, men who pull their hair back into ponytails or buns are at the same risk.

Traction alopecia doesn't discriminate and it's a very gradual process caused by tension on the hair for extended periods of time. This tension can cause the hair shaft to be extracted from the follicle which causes hair loss.

Hair loss from traction alopecia is more common in Black people with Afro-textured hair. The more texture and tighter curl patterns you have, the more likely you are to experience traction alopecia.

It's also a process that can take years to show, but if you're noticing a receding hairline or extensive hair loss (which might be left on your pillow, in your shower drain or on your hairbrush) read on to get the lowdown on hair ties and hair damage.

Does tying hair up cause damage to it?

It depends. Tying up your hair every now and then is fine.

If you are wearing a tightly pulled bun every day, it could lead you into some hair loss-related trouble down the road. The same goes for tightly braided hair and tightly pulled ponytails, especially when using a rubber or elastic hair tie.

Does tying hair back cause hair loss?

Tying your hair up on its own does not cause hair loss, but repeatedly wearing tightly pulled hairstyles can cause hair loss. John Hopkins Medicine did a review of 19 studies and found a strong association between certain scalp-pulling hairstyles and the development of traction alopecia.

Some of the early symptoms of hair loss from tying up hair could include:

  • Broken hairs around your forehead
  • Pain from tightly pulled hair
  • Folliculitis (red braid bumps)
  • Stinging sensation or crusts on your scalp, dry hair
  • Tenting — where parts of your scalp are being pulled up like an erected tent

Does tying your hair up cause a receding hairline?

When you tie your hair tightly, the hairs on the hairline receive the most force and over time, the hair can pull away from the follicle causing a receding hairline. Sometimes this can look like a widening of your part.

Ever spotted those really short hairs popping up around the crown of your head? By tying up the hair too tight, it will likely break towards the root where it is being pulled or where your hair tie or hair elastic sits.

Can brushing your hair back cause a receding hairline?

Excessive brushing can weaken your hair strands, which can lead to breakage. A small study over four weeks had women counting their hair loss compared to hair brushing frequency and found a link between brushing and hair loss.

The study found that reducing the frequency of hair brushing may reduce the amount of hair shed.

According to the American Hair Loss Association overly aggressive brushing, backcombing or grooming that puts a lot of physical stress on the hair can cause the hair cuticle to flake and strip away.

When washing your hair, using your fingers to detangle any knots can be a gentler approach than pulling on the hair with a comb or brush.

Is there a way to treat a receding hairline and hair loss?

If you catch your hair loss early enough and stop doing tight hairstyles quite so often, your hair can often recover. However, if you have been wearing extremely tight braids, weaves, or tightly pulled back hair for many years, there is a risk of permanent hair loss.

The good news is that hair loss treatments are available. Pilot offers personalised hair loss treatment plans created for you by Australian practitioners.

The Pilot journey starts with an online assessment, which includes questions about your experience with hair loss. This is then reviewed by our local practitioners, who will create a treatment plan to tackle your hair loss.

And, once your treatment is decided upon, it's shipped to your door in discreet packaging.

Following a good haircare routine, especially for those with long hair, can also help protect your hair from any further damage. This can include using products designed to support hair growth while also laying off using heat styling tools.

Pilot's Hair Growth Shampoo & Conditioner is formulated to lay the groundwork for happier, healthier and thicker hair follicles and can easily be slotted into your routine.

What hairstyles should you avoid when experiencing hair loss?

First up, avoid tying up your hair before you go to bed. You tend to move around a lot during sleep, which can cause lots of tugging at your hairline. If you must tie up your locks, be sure to do so super loosely and try to use a satin or silk pillowcase to decrease the friction (and the frizz) on your hair.

Consider also saying goodbye to wet-look hairstyles. While you might be able to achieve a slick bun or ponytail with wet hair, you are also running the risk of stretching the hair by up to a third and risking breakage.

The same goes for sleeping on wet hair, which can also cause tangles and breakage.

Other styles that can be harsh on your hair are tight braids, weaves, buns, dreadlocks, and a high ponytail.

Need hair tips to repair hair loss? Opt for a loose low ponytail to give your hair a rest. Wearing your hair in a natural, loose style that does not put any tension on your hair or scalp is best.

What is the best way to tie up hair without it causing potential hair loss?

The best way of tying up hair can be summed up in one word: loosely! It's also worth looking at the type of hair tie you use on your hair. Where possible, avoid the rubber band style hair tie and look for one that is covered in material and without metal.

Other hair tie options include using plastic bobble ties, using bobby pins to keep your twist in place or even a claw clip to give your hair a break.

One of the big reasons we use tight hairstyles is to try and control frizz to give a neat overall look. If you want to sport a high bun, try to do one that sits loosely on your crown and has no tension on your scalp.

If you're worried about hair loss and are not sure where to start, let our Pilot practitioners help you.

Photo Credit: HBO

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