What Is Bamboo Hair?

Medically Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on July 29, 2023
3 min read

Bamboo hair, which is also called trichorrhexis invaginata, is a hair-shaft abnormality. It causes your hairs to have ridges — like the ridges on a bamboo shoot — at regular intervals along each strand. The hair is also usually dry, brittle, and prone to breakage.‌

People who have bamboo hair usually find that the hair on their scalp is sparse and fragile. Their eyebrows and eyelashes are also affected, although their fingernails are not. The unusual hair structure is due to irregular dispersal of keratin, which is the protein that gives hair its strength.

If you have this rare condition, you may be prone to other skin problems and infections.

Bamboo hair is a characteristic symptom of a genetic skin condition called Netherton Syndrome. This condition affects skin and hair, causing dry, scaly patches along with the distinctive bamboo hair. Netherton syndrome is a life-long condition that is caused by an autosomal recessive genetic trait.‌

Autosomal recessive genetic conditions happen when both parents have the same recessive gene trait. The parents won't show symptoms of the condition, and not all of their children will necessarily develop the condition. It only happens if the child gets the recessive gene from both parents. There is a one in four (25%) chance that any child of parents with the same recessive gene with have the condition in question.‌

Netherton syndrome is rare. Only 150 cases of the condition have been recorded in medical literature, but there may be more that were never reported or misdiagnosed. There are physical symptoms of the condition, which include distinctive hair and skin abnormalities. True diagnosis requires genetic testing.‌

Experts have linked Netherton syndrome to the SPINK5 gene, which controls the production of enzymes that digest protein on your skin. People with Netherton syndrome produce too much of the enzyme. As a result, they have fewer outer layers of skin than most people.

Babies are born already showing symptoms of Netherton syndrome.

The earliest signs of the condition are:

  • Redness
  • Flaky or sly skin
  • Rashes

The symptoms are easily mistaken for other skin disorders such as eczema. Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is when you get red, itchy patches on your skin. Bamboo hair is a defining sign of Netherton syndrome but, since babies often have fine, wispy hair, it might not be clear that your baby's hair is unusual and that they have this condition.

Other early signs of Netherton syndrome include: ‌

The lack of skin thickness from Netherton syndrome can result in health complications. ‌

Complications in infants. Netherton syndrome is linked to premature birth. Babies with the condition are prone to dehydration due to the loss of fluid through their skin. Your baby may also have failure to grow if they can't absorb nutrients well.‌

Skin symptoms. People of all ages have the risk of skin infection due to Netherton syndrome. Many people also report allergies and asthma that persist for their whole lives. Your skin will look red and flaky, with the rashes appearing in round patches on your body.‌‌

Appearance of hair. The characteristic bamboo hair often means people with Netherton syndrome have thin hair. Since your hair shafts break easily, you may have trouble growing long hair. Your eyebrows and eyelashes may also be sparse.

There is no treatment for Netherton syndrome itself. It is a lifelong condition. The main treatment options include managing your symptoms of the disorder. 

Skin discomfort. Your doctor will recommend topical treatments for your dry, delicate skin. Topical treatments are the most common prescriptions. You may need special moisturizers as well as steroid creams to manage inflammation. You may need to take oral or topical antihistamines to reduce the effects of allergies.‌

Malabsorption. If you have difficulty absorbing nutrients, your doctor may prescribe a special diet. Some people need to be on a feeding tube to make sure they get the nutrition they need. This may be more common in infants who are failing to thrive.

Infections. Some people with Netherton syndrome are more likely to get skin diseases such as herpes or human papillomavirus (HPV). Bacterial skin infections are also common for people with Netherton syndrome. Your doctor will prescribe the appropriate medication for any infections you may develop.