Cicatricial marginal alopecia: is it all traction?


  • Conflicts of interest
    None declared.

Lynne J. Goldberg.


Background  In a specialized hair loss clinic, a group of patients was identified with focal or complete hair loss at the scalp periphery, with a normal scalp surface. Biopsy revealed complete loss of individual hair follicles, indicative of scarring alopecia. Not all patients had a history supportive of a diagnosis of traction alopecia.

Objectives  To identify and characterize further patients with scarring alopecia of the scalp margin using a retrospective review.

Methods  All biopsies of scarring alopecia carried out by a single clinician between 1 January 1999 and 29 September 2006 were reviewed. Patients in whom the hair loss was located at the periphery of the scalp were selected for retrospective chart review.

Results  A total of 15 patients met the study criteria, which included histological scarring alopecia and hair loss of the scalp margin. Six of the patients gave a history of relaxing or straightening their hair. Six denied hair care practices sufficient to cause traction alopecia. In three patients, the hair care history was unknown. Occipital hair loss was a common clinical finding, mimicking alopecia areata. The presence of scarring was often subtle histologically.

Conclusions  A group of patients with moderate to severe cicatricial alopecia of the scalp margin is described. The presence of scarring is difficult to diagnose both clinically and histologically. The lack of a history of severe traction or harsh styling practices in half the patients casts doubt on whether or not traction is the only pathogenic factor.