Prospective histologic examinations in patients who practice traumatic hairstyling


  • Funding sources: Funding was provided by Wayne State University Research Department.

  • Conflicts of interest: None.

Elizabeth E. Uhlenhake, md
Department of Dermatology
Wayne State University School of Medicine
18100 Oakwood Boulevard
Suite 300
Michigan 48124


Objectives  Alopecia is the fifth most common dermatologic diagnosis in African-American patients. Central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA) is the most common form of scarring alopecia in this group. This study sought to evaluate clinical and histologic findings in patients without clinical alopecia who use chemical and/or thermal straighteners to determine whether follicular damage is evidenced histologically.

Methods  Eight African-American women with no clinical evidence of alopecia or scalp inflammation were included in the study. All participants had engaged in some form of traumatic hair care within the previous month. Participants submitted to clinical photography and 4-mm punch biopsy. Histologic examination was performed and the characteristics of each case recorded.

Results  There were no clinical signs of alopecia or inflammation in any patient. Histopathology showed peri-infundibular lymphocytic inflammation in all patients and mild superficial perivascular lymphocytic inflammation in three. Concentric infundibular fibrosis was observed in each hair follicle in all specimens. One sample showed additional focal peri-isthmus fibrosis. There was no evidence of complete follicular dropout, follicular epithelial thinning, or premature desquamation of inner root sheaths. The mean number of hair follicles was 4.88 per 4-mm punch. Hair cycling was consistently within normal ranges.

Conclusions  Biopsy findings characteristic of CCCA suggest that a clinical prelude exists histologically. Further follow-up may provide a longitudinal timeframe for the potential progression, halting, or reversal of disease if hairstyling practices are, respectively, continued or discontinued. Central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia is likely to represent a common pathway of inflammation and scarring that can be instigated by traumatic hairstyling practices in genetically predisposed subjects.