If you search for “smooth bun” on TikTok, you’ll get nearly 600 million results. This isn’t just a favorite celebrity hairstyle. Girls love the look for day or night. But it turns out that the style may not like you back. In fact, it is possible that slicked back hair can cause hair loss, but don’t stress. If you can’t live without pulling your locks into a ponytail or bun, there are a few ways to stay bald. (Sorry.)
Recently, Sofia Richie Grange’s smooth bun tutorial went viral on the app. She calls it a “chic lazy girl bun.” Let’s give you a quick overview. On clean, wet hair, she applies a tone hair mask enriched with proteins. Seriously, she soaks her hair in it. Then she adds some cream and separates her locks by tying one section with a thin rubber band. She finishes by tucking the rest of her hair back tightly and securing the bun with another rubber band. “Because it started out wet, it’s so set on your head,” she says. She finishes with more cream and hair oil for shine.
She looks lovely. No doubt. Bella Hadid, Kim Kardashian and Hailey Bieber do the same when they get their hair slicked back. But there are some serious problems with the way Grange does his version. The first is to tie your hair back at all—especially this tight—while it’s wet.
“Wet hair is more vulnerable because it stretches more and the cuticle isn’t as strong as when it’s dry,” says New York hairstylist and certified trichologist, Shab Kaspara. “Repetitive tension in the hair cuticle can cause micro-tears, with the potential for traction alopecia, which is a type of hair loss caused by prolonged tension in the same area. Baby hair and chemically treated hair are especially at risk. Yes, we’re looking at you white blondes.
Helen Reavey, certified trichologist, hairdresser and founder of Act+Acre agrees. “In addition to potential damage, split ends and breakage, continually putting hair up in tight hairstyles such as slicked back buns can also cause traction alopecia, which occurs when hair follicles are gradually pulled away, resulting in thinning or bald spots, especially around the hairline and temples,” she says. This applies to wet or dry hair.
“Constantly styling your hair in tight hairstyles can put undue stress on the hair, making it more prone to breakage and scalp irritation,” Reevey adds. “Doing this style once a week or once every two weeks is perfectly fine, but if you do it daily, it can actually lead to hygral fatigue. This happens when excessive moisture penetrates the hair, causing repeated swelling and damage to the hair follicles.
Black women have known about traction alopecia forever, as many protective styles, extensions, and wigs can cause hair loss, especially around the temples. As more and more hair types try tight, slicked back hairstyles, it’s becoming even more common on more hair types.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only problem with Grainge’s tutorial. This is the hair mask. Now the one she uses is great for your hair when you follow the directions on the package. But leaving a “restorative” bond-building mask on for too long can do more harm than good. That’s why Reavey recommends using a strictly hydrating mask if you’re going to wear it for a long time. Look for moisturizing ingredients and oils. “If you add a hair mask to your sleek back bun, always make sure you rinse it out at the end of the day,” she adds.
Besides putting too much protein into your hair, which will likely make it more brittle, the mask can irritate your skin if you leave it on all day. “Products that are not meant to be left on the skin or on the scalp can cause damage to the scalp so you can experience skin irritation or clog your hair follicles and enough exposure to this type of product use can cause thinning of hair and hair loss,” Kaspara says. Some ingredients in the products are meant to be rinsed out of the hair only.
So, you love your slicked back bun and won’t take it back. This is good! Small changes can make a big difference. You now know how to style your hair when it’s dry. It’s also helpful to use a gentle hair tie made from silk or satin to reduce split ends, says Kaspara.
If you’ve already started seeing thinning on your temples or any other bald spots, see a dermatologist to rule out any other causes. Then skip the slicked-back bun in favor of a loose, messy bun. Maybe we should bring this look back in style. We’ll love our hair because of it.