Ariana Grande is known for her signature high ponytail, but she revealed in a Twitter exchange with Camila Cabello that it actually doesn’t feel so great.
Here’s what happened: Cabello shared with her fans on Sunday that she did a high ponytail “for the first time,” adding that it was “pulling on my BRAIN ITS SO PAINFUL” before asking Grande how she does it all the time. Grande responded by saying that she gets it—she's “in constant pain always and [doesn’t] care at all.” Finally, Cabello revealed that she just couldn’t take it anymore and had to put her hair down.
The singers' exchange left us wondering, how bad is it really to endure the discomfort of a super-tight pony regularly?
As you can probably guess, experts say you should probably avoid a hairstyle that causes you pain.
When you wear a tight, high pony like Cabello and Grande, it puts tension on your hair follicles, Samantha B. Conrad, M.D., clinical practice director at Northwestern Memorial Hospital Group’s department of dermatology, tells SELF. Your follicles are little pockets of your skin that surround the root of a hair. And the nerves and blood vessels in your scalp feed the roots of your hair, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says.
But when you pull your hair back tightly and up high, it puts your hair at a sharp angle which “puts tension on that follicle unit and causes some strangulation of the unit,” Dr. Conrad says. And because there are nerve endings down there, this tension can cause pain—even more so if your hair is long or thick or if you're wearing extensions because that adds extra weight on the ponytail. “That’s going to cause even more traction on the hair follicle,” Dr. Conrad says.
But it’s not just pain you have to worry about—this kind of tension on your hair follicles can cause permanent issues.
“Chronic traction on the hair follicles can cause permanent thinning of the hair,” Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a New York City–based board-certified dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, tells SELF. This type of hair loss is known as traction alopecia, the AAD says.
"When you begin to put tension on the hair shaft and hair follicle, that constant and chronic pressure leads to eventually destruction of that hair shaft and harm to the follicle itself," Ken L. Williams Jr., D.O., FISHRS, a surgeon at St. Joseph Hospital and founder of Orange County Hair Restoration in Irvine, Calif., tells SELF. "And that can lead to traction alopecia."
Luckily, it is possible to stop this kind of hair loss before it becomes permanent. So, if you start to notice some hair loss after wearing your hair a certain way, you'll want to stop ASAP, Temitayo Ogunleye, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, tells SELF. "Initially this hair loss can be temporary, but with time [it] can become permanent," she says.
Plus, you can develop headaches from wearing a tight, high ponytail regularly. “It’s due to the pressure, kind of like wearing a too-tight headband,” Dr. Conrad says. “Your body doesn’t like to have that kind of pressure on it, and your head can start to hurt to let you know it doesn’t like what you’re doing.”
If you love the look of a high ponytail, there are ways to continue wearing it without causing issues.
Wearing a hairstyle like this chronically isn't great for the reasons mentioned above, Dr. Conrad says. But you certainly don't have to give it up altogether.
The issue isn’t so much the ponytail itself—tension alopecia can occur with a high or low ponytail, or even pigtails or braids—but how tightly it’s pulled back, Dr. Zeichner says. “Try to keep the hair pulled back loosely to avoid any potential traction on the follicles,” he says. You can try pulling your hair into a high pony and then loosening up the area in front of the elastic to try to ease the tension you’re creating. However, keep in mind that this can be tricky if you have a lot of long, thick hair or heavy hair extensions.
It’s also a good idea to try to rotate in other styles that are a little more gentle on your follicles, Dr. Ogunleye says. So, maybe wear a high ponytail one day, followed by keeping your hair down the next, and consider taking out your ponytail as soon as you can when you get home to give your follicles a break.
But if you’re regularly having pain while wearing your go-to hairstyle, it’s really a sign that you need to change it up a bit.