Beyond knowing how to lay them, caring for your edges is almost like a first commandment for black women. Whether you swoop them, swirl them, wave them, or simply let them be, if you don’t have them — well, life can be pretty stressful.
“The hair around the hairline is finer and more fragile than the hair strands throughout the rest of the scalp,” explains trichologist (hair and scalp specialist) and hairstylist Kari Williams, who works with Brandy Norwood, Meagan Good, Ava DuVernay, and Willow Smith. “Additionally, the hairs around the hairline are manipulated, brushed, and pulled more than the other hairs, which increases their fragility.”
Unfortunately, many of the styles we know and love (sky-high ponytails, box braids, and weaves) can snatch your edges in the worst way. Spoiler: There is no secret potion that can return them to their glory in 30 days — but with time, patience, and expert input, you can actually restore your hairline. “Hair follicles are fussy,” shares board-certified dermatologist Michelle Henry. “If you hair loss is recent, we can often stimulate regrowth, but with recurrent and repeat damage through aggressive styling, hair follicles can be permanently damaged.”
Keep scrolling to see what a handful of derms, trichologists, and hairstylists had to say about reclaiming your time and edges.
1. Know what type of hair loss you're dealing with
Although traction alopecia (more on that below) is the most common type of hair loss to affect the edges, it is not the only scalp condition to do so. “Before you consider growing back your edges, you need to [find out] what caused the hairline to become damaged in the first place, and what type of hair loss you have,” explains hairstylist and trichologist, Sophia Emmanuel, of Crown Worthy salon in New York City.
“Relaxers can accelerate hair loss for people who have a sensitive scalp, or if they relax their hairline sooner than six to eight weeks," says Emmanuel. "The edges should be the last place the relaxer is applied since it is a fragile area that tends to burn fast.” Another don’t? Using petroleum-based products with hot tools to straighten the edges. “The combination of the two scorches the hair and causes hair loss because of the high amount of heat used close to the scalp,” warns Emmanuel.
2. Leave fads alone
Desperate times don’t call for desperate measures. All of our experts agreed to leave urban edge growing legends behind — including the popular Vicks VapoRub and Monistat 7 trend that swept YouTube and Instagram.
Henry does acknowledge a few subsidiary effects of these so-called ingredient trends, but doesn’t sign off on them. “The menthol and cedar leaf oil (found in Vicks) may be helpful, but the ointment is not cosmetically elegant, so it may be better to use the oils without the rest of the ingredients,” she explains. Similarly, she adds, “the azole antifungals (found in Monistat 7) can have an anti-testosterone effect and may help to stimulate hair growth, particularly in those that also have a component of female pattern hair loss.”
In terms of growth stimulators, the only two FDA-approved ingredients for hair growth are minoxidil and Propecia. “Nioxin does not contain either, but it does contain some ingredients like peppermint oil which may be mildly effective.” She also confirms that aloe vera can moisturize but ultimately can’t help with regrowth, nor can shaving off your edges completely. Sorry, folks.
3. Reconsider your reliance on “protective” styles
In theory, protective styles like braids, weaves, and wigs are designed to give your hair a break from constant styling and manipulation. However, the issues arise when you tug, pull, and strain your delicate hairline too aggressively. “Weaves and braids can certainly do more harm than good,” emphasizes Dellinger. “If the wrong stylist braids your hair too tightly, or glues on your tracks — versus sewing them onto a net — you can experience massive, sometimes permanent hair loss.”
Williams agrees. “To make sure your protective styles are actually protecting your hair, avoid braid styles that cause pain or are too heavy. If you experience excessive discomfort during the installation, inform your stylist so they can adjust the style. If they refuse, you should find a new stylist.” Another warning sign? If you experience pain and discomfort more than a day after installation, that is your body's warning system that something is wrong and you should remove the style immediately. “
Despite being easy to remove, wigs can also weaken delicate follicles. “Hair units that are too small or large can rub against the hairline and cause hair loss,” cautions Emmanuel. “Take breaks when wearing wigs to give your edges a rest from the tension placed on the scalp.”
4. Don’t believe the hype
Contrary to the ads you see, there is no special product or technique needed to keep your edges moisturized. “The conditioners, oils, and moisturizers that are applied to other parts of the hair can be applied to the hairline,” explains Williams. “I think that so much time and effort is put into smoothing/slicking down hairs that are meant to curl, that we are destroying our scalps. The best technique is to be gentle and not pull them, brush them and slick them every so often.”
If you feel like you need a bit of hydration, Emmanuel recommends water-based products for all-over moisture retention.”If you have natural hair, I recommend Design Essentials Almond and Avocado Curling Crème, Miss Jessie's Curly Butter Crème, or Jane Carter Hair Nourishing Cream. For relaxed hair, I recommend Pantene Oil Crème Moisturizer, Affirm StyleRight Light Hair Dress Crème, or the Decca Scalp Therapy.”
According to Emmanuel, apply products if your hair feels dry. “You do not have to use the product every day. Limit the use of flatirons around the edges, and only use heat on clean hair. If you have excess product and buildup on the hair, you should not use heat because this can cause your hair to fry and break off.
5. Know the signs of something more serious than breakage
Despite the memes you may see on the internet, traction alopecia is no joke — at the first sign of hair loss, you should contact a dermatologist or certified trichologist. According to Henry, the process "starts with gradual thinning of the area exposed to tension. With time, the areas may become thin." Be sure you're paying attention to how tight your hairstyles are, and watch the area around your hairline to help prevent traction alopecia. "One might notice small bumps near the follicle during a tight hairstyle — that is called traction folliculitis and a sign of pending traction alopecia." Keep in mind that traction alopecia is different from androgenetic alopecia in that the latter is hair loss caused by genetics, and traction alopecia happens because of over-manipulation, over-styling, and pulling of your hair.
Emmanuel recommends a combo of Minoxidil and low-level laser therapy to help stimulate regrowth, but notes both solutions are FDA-approved for the treatment of androgenetic alopecia. “Minoxidil is used to retain the hair on the edges and encourage hair growth,” she explains. She also points to low-level laser therapy as another option to help stimulate growth.
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