Keeping a hair band around your wrist is a convenient way to ensure you always have one on hand — literally — when the need strikes, but is the temporary indentation left behind by a tight hair band cause for concern?
It’s possible you’ve seen the news stories or heard rumors that’ve scared you ― some have blamed a too-tight hair tie for exacerbating carpal tunnel syndrome or even for causing a severe infection. Is there such a danger that we should reconsider wearing hair ties on our wrists altogether?
We spoke to four doctors to get their thoughts on this common practice.
What causes a temporary indentation from wearing a tight hair tie for too long?
If you’ve worn a tight hair elastic all day or overnight, or even a tight pair of socks or leggings, you’re probably seen temporary indentations on your skin that are left behind upon taking off the item.
Dermatologist Dhaval Bhanusali, of Hudson Dermatology & Laser Surgery in New York City, told HuffPost that there are a few different things that may cause this to happen. “If your body has excess fluid (edema), something common in those with cardiac conditions, you tend to get swelling at areas where gravity can lead to pooling of fluid (most commonly the feet).”
Bhanusali said that a temporary indent, like the kind you get from a hair band, is typically caused by physical constriction. “Irritation may also occur if you have an allergy to a certain material within the band,” he added.
For most people, the risk of wearing a hair tie is low — but here’s what to look out for.
In general, wearing a hair tie around your wrist is an innocuous practice, but it’s still a good idea to avoid ones that are too tight.
Bhanusali noted that for the vast majority of people, wearing a hair tie around their wrist shouldn’t cause adverse health effects.
“That being said, if the hair band is too tight and blood flow is compromised, there is certainly a chance of more severe injury,” he said. “In general, you never want to reduce blood flow to any areas of the body, particularly for long periods of time.”
If your wrist turns white or cold around the elastic, that’s a sign that it’s too tight. Bhanusali explained that these are indicators that not enough blood is getting to where it should be. You should remove the hair tie from your wrist if you experience either of these symptoms, and any temporary indentation should go away relatively quickly — a few minutes, in most cases.
Neurologist Huma Sheikh of NY Neurology Medicine in New York City said that wearing anything tight around a wrist can make the wrist and hand prone to injury. “There are many arteries and nerves that travel around the wrist area,” she said. “It is possible that depending on how tight a hairband is, it can push or compress on the arteries, tendons and nerves that are in that area.”
“If the arteries are compressed, this can cut off the blood supply to the surrounding muscle and nerve, which can cause nerve damage,” Sheikh said. Some signs that this is happening include tingling or numbness in the area below the nerve, as well as pain. “If the hair band is taken off quickly and blood is restored, there is usually not lasting damage. However, if the wrist is compressed for a long time, there may be permanent damage.”
As for concerns about carpal tunnel syndrome, the risk is low. “Despite concerns about causing carpal tunnel by typing, and other repetitive activities of the like, it is largely a disease determined by genetic predisposition,” said Michael Hausman, chief of upper extremity surgery for the Mount Sinai Health System and vice chair of the department of orthopedics at Mount Sinai. “There are other conditions that increase the incidence of carpal tunnel, such as diabetes and thyroid disease, but the main determinant is one’s genes.”
Hausman agreed that it is highly unlikely that wearing a hair tie around your wrist would cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
“The median nerve, which is the nerve affected in carpal tunnel, lies very deep and it would be hard to transmit pressure from the surface to the nerve without intolerable pain on the surface of the skin from the elastic,” he said, adding that another nerve, called the radial nerve, is closer to the surface of the skin and would likely be more affected before the median nerve.
A constrictive band around the wrist like a hair tie, watch band or bracelet does have the potential to irritate the radial sensory nerve, which runs along the thumb side of the forearm and wrist, Hausman said. Symptoms of this include pain at the site of compression that radiates to the fingers. “Depending upon the degree of irritation or damage, there may be tingling or numbness of the thumb, index and long fingers,” Hausman said. “The radial nerve is a pure sensory nerve at the level of the wrist, meaning that it does not innervate and control any muscles. Thus, the symptoms are purely sensory (pain, numbness, tingling) but it does not affect the muscle function and movement of the hand and fingers.”
Here’s what to consider if the materials of a hair tie are irritating your skin.
Dermatologist Rina Allawh of Schweiger Dermatology Group in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, told HuffPost that some people may experience an allergic contact skin reaction from wearing a hair tie, which can be triggered by nickel, rubber or dyes present in the hair tie. “These allergic reactions would resemble a pink, scaly or flaky rash, and may leave residual hyperpigmentation,” she said.
For skin allergies, a patch test can be done in a dermatology office to help determine the causes of skin irritation. “We’ve seen that fitness trackers, jewelry and even certain materials in clothes can cause reactions,” Bhanusali said.
At his office, patients typically come in on a Monday to have patch panels applied, each of which contain a purified version of an allergen. The patient returns 48 hours later to have the patches removed, and at the 72-hour mark, the results are analyzed. “There is sometimes a delayed response that we look for to see if a true allergy exists,” Bhanusali said.
“When placed too tight, a hair band may even cause a cut in the skin (also known as an abrasion) and this may create an opening for superinfection with skin bacteria,” Allawh said. “Hair bands can harbor bacteria (especially when wet with water, skin moisture or sweat), and when tightly bound to the skin, this may increase the risk for a skin bacterial infection when there are cuts or abrasions in the skin.”
To help prevent this, she recommends wearing looser hair ties, washing them with a gentle cleanser and changing them periodically.
After speaking with experts, we can conclude that it’s pretty safe to wear a hair tie around your wrist, but it’s important to be careful about it. Don’t wear one if you have a cut on your wrist, if it looks or feels like it’s too tight or starts to irritate your skin. If so, take it off and put it in your pocket or purse.