Uncombable Hair Syndrome

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on January 02, 2024
5 min read

Uncombable hair syndrome is a rare condition that typically causes dry, frizzy hair that you can’t comb flat. It usually happens before age 3 but may show up as late as age 12. The condition usually goes away in childhood.  

Other names for the condition include:

  • Spun glass hair
  • Unmanageable hair syndrome
  • Cheveux incoiffables
  • Pili trianguli et canaliculi

Symptoms of uncombable hair syndrome usually appear between 3 months and 12 years of age in children with blondish silver or straw-colored hair. The hair color may change over time. The amount of hair you have usually isn't affected, but it grows slower. The hair grows in different directions and stands out from the scalp. In some cases, it's impossible to comb flat against the scalp. 

Your hair usually isn't more fragile than hair of people without the condition, but constant brushing or styling may be more likely to cause damage.

Uncombable hair syndrome usually happens on its own, but in some cases it may be linked to other conditions that require medical treatment, including:

  • Ectodermal dysplasias
  • Bork syndrome
  • Angel-shaped phalangoepiphyseal dysplasia

It’s important to find out whether uncombable hair syndrome is linked to these and other conditions in order to help form a treatment plan if you need one.

Other symptoms that may happen in some uncombable hair syndrome cases include:

  • Dry or shiny hair
  • Coarse hair texture
  • Patches of baldness on the scalp
  • Light-colored hair (shades of silver, white, blonde, or light brown)

Uncombable hair syndrome only affects the hair of the scalp, not hair on body parts. If your child has the condition, they may not have all of the symptoms.

Uncombable hair syndrome typically happens on its own because of changes or “mutations” in three genes that give instructions on how to make strands of hair on your scalp. These genes are:

  • PAD13
  • TGM3
  • TCHH

You typically inherit these gene mutations when both your parents carry a copy of the mutation, though your parents may not have the condition. Scientists think that some people may also get the condition when only one parent carries a mutation.

These mutations change the shape of the hair shaft from tubular to more angular like a triangle or heart shape. This changes the texture, makes it harder to brush, and causes the light to reflect in a way that gives the hair a certain color.

In some cases, people get uncombable hair syndrome without mutations in these genes. Scientists continue to study the cause of the condition in these cases.

How rare is uncombable hair syndrome?

How frequently uncombable hair syndrome occurs isn't known, but it appears to be rare. Scientists know of more than 100 recorded cases. But there are likely many more cases that doctors don’t diagnose because the condition often goes away in childhood.

Diagnosis will come with a review of medical history and a physical exam. Your doctor will look for typical symptoms of uncombable hair syndrome like hair color, texture, and wild growth patterns. 


Uncombable hair syndrome tests

Other tests could include:

Hair shaft test. With this test, your doctor will remove a hair and look at the hair shaft (the part of the hair that sticks up from the skin) under a microscope for the telltale triangular or kidney shape with a long groove that runs along its length.

Genetic test. Your doctor will look at a blood sample to check for a gene mutation that leads to the condition.

There is no cure for uncombable hair syndrome, but it usually gets better or goes away completely around the start of puberty. Doctors typically suggest being gentle with your child's hair if they have uncombable hair syndrome. That means:

  • Use soft brushes.
  • Routinely cut or trim your child's hair.
  • Avoid perms, hair relaxers, and other harsh hair treatments that include chemicals; they could make symptoms worse.
  • Avoid over-brushing or over-combing your child's hair.
  • Keep blow dryers, curling irons, and other styling tools to a minimum.

Some people think that biotin supplements can improve the appearance of your hair if you have uncombable hair syndrome. More studies are needed to be sure. Talk to your doctor before you start yourself or your child on any type of medication or supplement.

Uncombable hair syndrome isn't serious on its own, though in rare cases, it may be a symptom of a more serious condition, which is why you should talk to your doctor if you suspect the condition in yourself or your child. Symptoms include hair that's dry, rough, and grows in different directions.

In general, you won’t need treatment of any sort and the condition will go away on its own in the teen years. Using certain hair care techniques can help with symptoms.

  • Do kids outgrow uncombable hair syndrome? Yes. The condition typically begins at age 3 and ends as your child grows into adulthood.
  • Can uncombable hair syndrome be straightened? It's best to avoid straightening treatments, products, and tools. They might not work as expected and could cause more damage to your child's hair.
  • Can uncombable hair syndrome be cured? There is no cure for the condition, but setting up a hair routine with your doctor can help with symptoms. Uncombable hair syndrome usually goes away during childhood.
  • Is uncombable hair syndrome just curly hair? No. Uncombable hair syndrome is hair that can't be combed flat and can be rough, dry, and fragile.
  • Why can’t you comb uncombable hair syndrome? With uncombable hair syndrome, gene mutations change the shape of the hair shaft to like a triangle or heart shape. This changes the texture and makes it harder to comb or brush.