The hairline has some of the finest, the shortest, the most fragile, they do not call them baby hairs for nothing-yet. We slick our edges down with gel, braid them back, flatiron them into submission, and brush the hell out of them. All of this heavy-handed styling puts the hairline at risk for traction alopecia.

Traction alopecia is a type of hair loss where the hair thins out after prolonged stress on the hair follicle, and it's the most common around the front hairline. It's estimated that one third of African-American women have traction alopecia, from styles and styling techniques that put a lot of pressure on the hair, like wearing tight braids or extensions, putting significant heat on the hairline, getting chemical relaxers, installing a weave, repeatedly using tight sponge rollers, and brushing already fragile hairs. However, traction alopecia isn't just restricted to black women. Other habits that can cause it include pulling hair back tightly into updos or ponytails, and wearing headbands tightly in the same place every day.

Even if you think you have a healthy styling routine that avoids hot tools or relies on protective styles like wigs, you could still be putting your delicate, infant hairs at risk. Amy McMichael, MD, MD, dermatologist and chairwoman of the dermatology department at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, says that she wears a hair wrap every night. The key here is repetition: Traction alopecia takes hold when you repeat these tight styles and harsh hair habits without giving your hair a rest.

If you tend to do a lot of these styling sins (and, let's be honest, we all have our ponytail weeks), there are some early warning signs for you to look for for, and steps that you can take to help protect your baby before it's too late.

Subtle signs of traction alopecia may appear before you notice any actual hair loss.

Traction alopecia can happen slowly, so it may take some time for you to notice that your hairline has started to recede. If you’re seeing any thinning in the frontal hairline, especially in front of the ears, this could be a red flag. Be wary of any changes to the thickness, strength, and texture of your hair, no matter how slight.

Kamilah, a braid expert and New York state–certified natural hairstylist and cosmetologist, tells SELF that, for her clients, “the warning signs of traction alopecia are something they can feel." She can tell something is off with a client squirms or moves her head away because there is tenderness in the affected areas. Other warning signs that looks for are short or broken hairs right around a balding area and small bumps and blisters on the scalp. McMichael says to look out for small, whitehead-looking pustules that can arise at the areas of significant pulling.

If you start to see the signs of traction alopecia, you can keep it from getting worse.

First and foremost, lay off the styling habits that are causing the damage. "Braids with extensions should not be left in more than five or six weeks," says Kamilah. Once removed, she recommends the proper cleansing of your scalp and minimizing any additional strain from the weighty extensions or friction of inducing accessories-especially at the hairline.

"Once the tight hair-care practices are stopped, treatment with topical minoxidil can help regrow the hair, "says McMichael. Topical minoxidil has been FDA-approved as a treatment for female pattern hair loss, and studies have shown that minoxidil 5 percent can help regrowth in patients with androgenetic alopecia (which is a hereditary hair loss condition but causes similar effects as traction alopecia. Minoxidil is found in treatments like Women's Rogaine, which you can get without a prescription. Another option is for a dermatologist to administer a low-dose steroid injection to take down any inflammation caused by the tight hairstyle. Once the inflammation is gone, the hair can regrow-but McMichael warns that the alopecia can not be controlled because of the severity of the traction alopecia, hair regrowth is not always possible.

The good news is that traction alopecia can be prevented.

If you have to pop a painkiller because of tight braids or do the head tap to soothe itching and tension from a style, you may be on the road to traction alopecia—so it’s time to change course. “If braids feel too tight, it isn't right,” says Kamilah.

However you wear your hair, the key to prevent traction, alopecia is to mix up your styling methods before long term or permanent damage is done to the follicles. If you wear braided extensions, Kamilah recommends asking for knotless braids at the salon. This method weaves hair into the braid in the way that minimizes tugging on fragile follicles.

Even though protective styles like sew-in weaves or braids are great, it's important to give your hair a breather. "There should always be a breakthrough in at least two to four weeks in between installs," Kamilah advises.