This week, Naomi Campbell was papped sporting huge bald patches. We've spoken to the experts to find out more about the supermodel's follicular faux pas....
It's thought that Naomi is suffering from what experts refer to as traction alopecia - hair loss caused by pulling of the hair. This can happen when the weight of hair extensions causes the natural hair to break, and usually occurs at the hairline, where hair is weaker. It can take around three months for the hair to grow back, but if there's further wear and tear caused by continued use of extensions, the hair will often stop growing back altogether. It appears this is what's happened in Naomi's case. "Naomi's hair loss seems to be largely due to the use of hair extensions over a very long period of time," points out hair loss expert Dr Raghu Reddy, who's based at Harley Street's Private Clinic (www.theprivateclinic.co.uk). "This has put a lot of traction on Naomi's existing hair. The extensions have also starved Naomi's own hair of vital nutrients, due to the glue which is likely to have been applied to the roots. The overall result of all of this is the gradual thinning of the hair, causing permanent hair loss over time."
Tatiana Karelina, founder of www.tatianahairextensions.co.uk, believes it's all too easy to overestimate the strength of our hair. "For a healthy individual with no hair disease, hair fibre is very incredibly strong and has incredible elastic properties - it can stretch up to 20% of its original length before breaking when dry, and when it's wet it may stretch up to 50% before breaking," admits Tatiana. "However, if you apply sudden force and yank on the hair it will break. The tensile strength of the hair is reduced and the hair has no time to respond and stretch, which distributes the force over the length of the hair fibre, and the hair just snaps. So despite the apparent strength of hair, it will break if you pull too vigorously because of the sudden force that's being applied."
The root cause?
In Naomi's case, the increased stress which her hair is subjected to - and the constant adding and removal of extensions - has made the problem worse. "Naomi's situation is unique in that is was likely exacerbated by her work," points out Tatiana. "As a high profile and in-demand model she's required to be able to achieve different looks instantaneously which in turn require her to change her hair with a much higher frequency, thus subjecting her scalp to more stress and accelerating the damage."
The simple answer is to avoid wearing hair extensions altogether. Overuse of chemical products, such as chemical perms, relaxers and hair dye can also all weaken the hair by draining it of moisture, leaving it weak and prone to breakage. Frequent use of heat styling methods can also lead to traction alopecia, as can constantly plaiting your hair or wearing overly-tight ponytails. In reality, it's simply not possible to avoid all of the above, but we can minimise the risk of hair loss by treating our locks to a little TLC, which becomes especially important if you've got extensions. Try to use an intensive hair mask at least once a week, and spritz on a leave-in conditioner or UV protective spray in hot weather. If you dye your hair, try to leave as much time as possible in between treatments, and opt for a conditioner rich in vitamin-e, which will help to minimise the damage done by the dye.
Put a ring on it
If you're considering hair extensions, shop around and find out which salons your friends recommend. Recently, a procedure known as micro ring technology has been gaining popularity. The main advantage to this method is that it doesn't require glue, which will stick to the hair and damage it. Instead, micro rings or tubes are used to attach the extensions to the natural hair. The rings come in a range of different colours and sizes, allowing smaller rings to be used in thinner hair.
Whatever method you opt for, bear in mind that hair extensions should never be placed too close to the hairline, where the hair is weakest. Extensions should be placed at least half an inch away, and hair should also be "rested" for three months in between sessions. However, Naomi's bald patches are a timely reminder that some celebrities will never learn: just this week Lindsay Lohan was spotted with thinning hair, and TOWIE's extension-loving Jessica Wright has recently taken drastic action to cover her bald patch. How? By getting more extensions....