Why black women specifically can lose their hair due to this disease

When it comes to health, hair loss issues often take the back burner, leaving sufferers to fend for themselves. It's a problem all too familiar for many woman of African descent. Health Reporter Erin Billups has more.

Finding the right treatment for her pink, itchy, and then-balding scalp was a 15-year battle for Venee Kimpson.

"It was difficult to muster up the strength to go out every day," she said. "People would stare at you. You felt like they knew what was going on under that turban."

Kimpson had psoriasis that was treated incorrectly, and a condition known as Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia (CCCA), found mainly in women of African descent.

Kimpson said the combination of the two diseases was severe and life-altering.

"It did impact my self-esteem, and if I'm honest with myself, I would dare say there was some sadness," Kimpson said. "The only thing that really kept me going was my faith."

She consulted several doctors before finding Dr. Andrew Alexis, the director of Mount Sinai's Skin of Color Center, who was able to treat and reverse both conditions.

He says psoriasis in people with darker skin tones is often misdiagnosed or treated incorrectly.

"When managing scalp psoriasis in African-American women, one has to take into account their hairstyle, their hair-washing frequency, the hair products that they're using, their overall hair care practices, and weave in a regiment — a prescription regiment — that's compatible with their hair care practices," Alexis said.

A 2016 report out of the American Academy of Dermatology found that nearly half of the 5,500 African-American women surveyed were experiencing some form of hair loss.

Dermatologist Dina Strachan said more and more women are coming into her practice with CCCA.

"Relaxers and weaves are relatively new — they've been around for decades — and we've definitely seen an increase," said Strachan, a dermatologist and hair expert at AGlow Dermatology.

"Maybe it's the degree — how aggressive people are in terms of changing up their style," Strachan continued. "We're trying to better understand."

Excessive, repeated heat or chemical damage to the scalp may lead to CCCA. But tension — tight braids or weaves — is a major risk factor.

"Done repeatedly over time, over many years, can trigger ongoing inflammation and permanent damage to the follicles," Alexis said. "The longer one waits to get it diagnosed and treated, the more permanent damage of the follicles."

"I think it's very important to get a diagnosis before you start treating your hair loss. Many people are trying things they see in the store and ordering things on the internet," Strachan said. "Different types of hair loss are going to require different treatment."

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