The Scientist: Temitayo Ogunleye, M.D., a dermatologist and assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania
The Answer: Ponytails are convenient and useful, but in general, women should treat their hair gently. You shouldn’t feel like you’re giving yourself a mini-facelift every time you pull your hair back. Tight ponytails yank on the delicate hairs at the front of the scalp. These strands are the most susceptible to damage by traction (pulling) and over time they can fall out. This hair loss is temporary—but only at first. If you’re addicted to ponies (ponytails, that is, not adorable little horses), especially if you like them tight, or always wear them in the same spot on your head, you put yourself at risk of permanent loss around the hairline. As many women experience with cornrows and weaves, constant traction can cause inflammation around the hair follicle, which can eventually damage the follicle itself and rob it of the ability to regrow new hair.
It’s a good idea to vary up the location of your ponytail—high, low, crown, side—to keep from abusing the same hairs in the same way, over and over. Even if you don’t damage the hair at the roots, you can break the shafts where the fastener rests day after day. As far as what kinds of ponytail holders to use, the most important thing is to have a fabric covering over the rubber of your rubber band, to decrease snags. If the elastic becomes exposed, toss it and use a new one. Flat ribbon elastics are popular these days and might benefit your hair by distributing the tension more than traditional hair ties.
Finally, if your ponytail feels too tight, it probably is. They say beauty is pain, but too much tugging on your scalp irritates nerves and can cause headaches. That’s not pretty, no matter how good your top knot looks.