I was formally diagnosed with CCCA Alopecia at the end of 2012. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I walked out of my dermatologist office in New York City and group texted 3 of my girlfriends the diagnosis. All 3 women, my support system, were on standby as I went in to get this verdict. They congratulated me on taking the first step to recovery, told me all the warm and fuzzy things that friends do at times like these. I am not usually this dramatic, but I will admit the diagnosis felt catastrophic and hit me in my gut. I was sad and felt ugly. I was a 32-year-old woman, who took pride in wearing my hair in all sorts of beautiful natural styles and I was just officially told that I am going bald.
For seven years, I sported long beautiful locs, usually styled in coils or just wild untwisted down my back. Then one day, I started seeing breakage around the locs at my crown. The hair was so brittle, that it barely stayed in the twisted locs. The brittleness, combined with this constant scalp itch would fuzzy my locs up a few days after I twisted them.
At first, I responded by switching to more natural colors like Herbatint, and refrained from twisting my hair too often. I was tested for hormone imbalance, vitamin deficiencies and even thyroid conditions. All normal. I would often go a few months before re-twisting my entire head. I would wash, moisturize with oil and air dry. After a year of watching the problem get worse, I became determined to get to the root of it. One night, I woke up, just like I make most decisions in my life, grabbed some scissors and just cut the locs off.
I took my best shot at “even-ing” out my lil fro, and put in some comb coils. Underneath where the locs were, there were huge bald spots. The next day at work, (yes I had this crazy moment on a weekday), when everyone asked what happened to my hair, I told them the truth, I was losing my hair and the locs were in the way of me figuring the whole thing out. Then I made my appointment with the dermatologist.
From all the literature that I read and from my own dermatologist, this type of Alopecia is often associated with African-American hair care practices, tight styles such as braids and weaves, or styles requiring heat and chemical treatments. It used to be referred to as “Hot Comb” Alopecia. Although I believe there is truth to these stressors being able to trigger Alopecia, I have also met women who wore their hair natural in twists and braids (no extensions) and still ended up with the condition. It is also considered to have a genetic component, and can sometimes be an outward symptom of an autoimmune condition.
My dermatologist prescribed steroid creams, men’s strength Rogaine for my scalp and antibiotic pills to be taken orally. After 9 months of following the treatments, I felt the small improvements didn’t warrant all the side effects I experienced. I started researching natural ways to treat the inflammation internally and externally. I incorporated anti-inflammatory supplements and foods in my diet, such as turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and garlic. I researched antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory oils for my scalp. I was able to make an oil mix that treated the itchiness as well as reduce the bald spot at my crown. I have the oil recipe on my blog that you can make at home or if you are not into tinkering in the kitchen, I have made the oil available to order.
I realized that although there was a tremendous amount of information on products, blogs, vlogs and YouTube videos to manage, and style natural hair, there was a serious dearth when it came to information for women dealing with hair loss and scalp health. When we look through Instagram pictures, we see Ads for curly creams and puddings, sistas with juicy twists- outs, braid-outs, coils, or beautiful updo’s. This can sometimes make a woman dealing with hair loss feel alone. As a result, I decided to use my experience to reach out to other women and share my story. The response was overwhelmingly supportive; in that process I also learned the extent our community is affected by this type of alopecia.
I spoke to family, friends and coworkers with eerily similar stories: hair thinning at the crown, brittle dry hair and scalp itchiness. Many women who I met also expressed a sense of acceptance and resignation with the condition. Some wear hairpieces and wigs and just accept that they will eventually lose all their hair and be forever bound to these alternatives. I was meeting a disproportionate number of women who sported fabulous weaves and wigs, hiding their Alopecia, yet these women’s plight weren’t represented in the current Social Media styling focused narrative of black hair.
I decided to tell my story, in the hope that by saying it out loud, that it exists and that it is my reality, that others would also get the courage to face their alopecia head on. Through this experience, I know that if caught early, Alopecia can be curbed from spreading and in some cases completely reversed. I was able to awaken as many of my follicles as possible and keep my bald spots from spreading. Please do visit your doctors and dermatologist for a proper diagnosis and course of treatment. Additionally, know that inflammation should be treated both internally and externally, and there can’t be healthy hair without healthy scalp. Just the same way we don’t throw up our hands, sit and wait to get chronic diseases just because a parent has it, we should be just as intentional with every aspect of our health. We make preventative lifestyle changes and visit the doctor when we feel something is up, we should also include our scalp health on that list.
I am a firm believer that symptoms we experience are often precursors to other illnesses brewing. My Alopecia is the messenger who came to warn my Queendom of a war brewing inside. It signaled inflammation, which is in itself the root of many chronic illnesses. Although it was shocking news, I am listening and trying my best to take proactive steps in reducing inflammation in my body as a whole. I also treat my scalp by massaging my anti-inflammatory mix of oils every 2-3 days to stimulate my follicles, and promote growth.
If you are experiencing Alopecia, I am writing this piece to inspire you to do the same, to know that there are tools available to you, and hope, and most of all that you are not alone.
In Love, Health and Presence of Mind.
– Ronnie Deco
Garonne Decossard is the creator of “Ronnie’s Scalp Oil” in her search to treat her own Alopecia and owner of Sankofa Empowerment LLC. You can read more about her on her blog at https://sankofapower.wordpress.com/