The process can cause what is called traction alopecia—hair loss and balding from the pulling and excess weight. The hair loss is believed to be caused by loosening of the hair shaft from the follicle, as well as by chronic inflammation. Extensions can cause hair tangling, matting and loss of shine, itchiness, and yes, pain, like my patient experienced. They can also cause contact dermatitis and, in rare cases, life-threatening allergic reactions from sensitization to glues, rubbers, or other chemicals used for extension application and removal.
Randee Bank, a petite brunette who goes to the hair salon I use, said she had loved the look of extensions so much that she wore them daily, and was willing to tolerate the headaches. It was when she began to notice several bald spots where the extensions had pulled out chunks of her hair that she finally stopped. A dermatologist told her that because of permanent damage to the hair follicles, her hair would never grow back.
“They’re all a disaster,” Bank says, describing the various methods she had tried over the years. “When you take them out, you look like a rat has chewed on your hair, so it becomes addictive and leaves you with little choice but to put them back in to hide the damage they’ve caused.”
Celebrities, too, may be starting to think twice. Photographs of bald spots on singer Britney Spears and model Naomi Campbell have appeared in the tabloids, and Jennifer Aniston has admitted that her hair had become thin from extensions.
Consumer Reports’ advice? This is one beauty trend best avoided.
Read more of Orly Avitzur's columns on dangerous beauty and other topics.