My hair was inexplicably lush when I was a child. Each individual strand was imposing in its thickness, and they were all so densely packed together that my hot-combed afro was nothing if not newsworthy. Unfortunately, that's not the case today. While it's still a total jungle at the crown, my nape looks like it's been weed-whacked and my temples are in even worse shape. It's taken me a while to piece together what has changed in my life to transform my hair so drastically. I didn't pick up any bad habits in adolescence or adulthood, so I can't point to the usual lifestyle red flags as potential indications. So if it wasn't binge drinking or harsh narcotics that messed up my mane, what was the problem?
In a previous post I discovered that one of my fatal mistakes was over-manipulating my hair. Towards the end of the year 2013, I ignorantly and daily combed my hair without respecting the laws of moisture retention. Although this hair loss was relatively recent, it shed some light on what might've been at least a couple of ongoing issues. Fortunately the hair faithfully grew back just in time for my partner's brother's wedding and I was able to have gorgeous Marley twists installed for the big event.
I was super pumped to check out how much my hair had grown after taking down the twists a few weeks later, but to my horror it seemed to have stayed the exact same length! #BreakageAlert. I had been moisturizing it religiously and obviously there was zero manipulation going on, but alas, something more sinister was afoot.
In despair, I thought back to how I had cared for my hair while it was in extensions over the past decade (which was pretty much 99% of the time) and made the following realizations:
- Extension Hair Weighs Down Your Hair - Even the smallest sections of hair add weight, and over time this constant pulling on your roots can have a damaging effect on your follicles. I almost never put my hair up when it's in extensions, and now I'm realizing that a loose bun on top of my head would've given my roots a much-needed break. This is especially critical when the extensions are wet, which leads to the next point.
- Extension Hair Can Impede Moisturization - If you've ever suffered from incessant itching while sporting any style that involves cornrows, it's probably because your scalp was thirsty. Even if you sprayed it as often as Drake lint-rolls his pants there will always be patches that are inaccessible without the right tools. I've been using an eye dropper as of late, but applicator bottles seem more efficient (they don't have to be refilled as often).
- Extension Hair Must Be Removed Gently - Even though this is a no-brainer, we've all been guilty of exerting unnecessary roughness on our tresses. A few factors contribute to this including fatigue, boredom, and frustration during takedown. To ensure I'm kind to my hair throughout this process, I first make sure I'm well rested, have plenty of free time, and coat my fingers in oil to provide slip.
- Extensions Shouldn't Be Installed Too Tightly - There's a gross myth out there that tight = right, but the only thing tightly installed extensions get you is discomfort, itchiness, and in extreme cases, traction alopecia (hair loss due to stress on the follicle). When I was young I was reluctant to tell my hair dressers that my braids were too tight, so if you have a little one who goes to the salon please advocate for her/him!
With all this in mind, the answer to my hair loss woes was suddenly apparent. My hair was at its healthiest during my childhood because that was the only time I absolutely never wore extensions! Without all these potential issues to worry about, it was able to flourish with relatively little care. It hadn't had a break like that since the days when I collected Pokemon cards. Don't get me wrong; I still think protective styling with synthetic hair extensions is perfectly fine. In fact, I've heard many people say their hair grows best when it's in extensions. But to be honest my hair is thriving now, and so instead of relying on extensions (as I have for the majority of my life) I'm going to start celebrating and nurturing my natural hair.
Have hair extensions been more helpful or harmful in your experience? Share your thoughts in a comment below!