Uncombable Hair Syndrome

Uncombable hair syndrome is a rare genetic condition that causes your child’s hair to grow in multiple directions. This makes your hair rough, frizzy and dry and makes combing or brushing your hair difficult to impossible. There’s no treatment available for this condition and it goes away on its own during adolescence.


What is uncombable hair syndrome?

Uncombable hair syndrome is a genetic condition that causes your child’s hair to grow in a way that can’t be flattened down with a comb. This happens because your child’s hair grows in multiple directions instead of down. Hair may be a lighter tone, dry and frizzy. The hair on the rest of your child’s body grows as expected and the condition only affects the hair on your child’s scalp. The condition resolves itself over time.


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Who does uncombable hair syndrome affect?

Uncombable hair syndrome can affect anyone since a genetic mutation causes the condition. Several genes cause this condition and based on which one causes your symptoms, you can inherit it during conception either from both biological parents (autosomal recessive) or from only one parent (autosomal dominant).

How rare is uncombable hair syndrome?

The exact rate of occurrence is unknown because the condition goes away as children grow into adults. There are over 100 cases of uncombable hair syndrome recorded in medical literature but more than 100 cases exist.


How does uncombable hair syndrome affect my body?

Uncombable hair syndrome only affects the hair on your child’s scalp. It causes their hair to grow in all directions instead of down. It can be difficult to comb or brush your child’s hair, which is where the condition gets its name. This condition doesn’t affect any other parts of your child’s body other than the hair on their head.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of uncombable hair syndrome?

Symptoms of uncombable hair syndrome affect the hair on your child’s scalp and include hair that’s:

  • Coarse or has a rough texture.
  • Frizzy and can’t be combed or brushed smooth or flat.
  • Light (hypopigmented) in color or appears silver, white or blonde to light brown.
  • Shiny.
  • Dry.
  • Untamed and grows in all directions instead of only growing downward.

Not all children diagnosed with this condition will experience all symptoms. For example, the tone or color of a person’s hair could be naturally black or brown but still be uncombable.

What age do symptoms of uncombable hair syndrome show up?

Uncombable hair syndrome begins during infancy and symptoms are usually present around age 3. Symptoms vary for each person and can begin as a baby or appear later in childhood by age 12. Symptoms slowly go away during adolescence and early adulthood, when your child’s hair will grow down and lay flat.


What causes uncombable hair syndrome?

A genetic mutation causes uncombable hair syndrome. One of the following genes causes this condition:

  • PADI3.
  • TGM3.
  • TCHH.
  • An additional gene not yet identified.

These genes provide instructions that tell your hair strands to grow in a cylindrical shape, which is the same shape as a tin can. The cylinder shape guides your hair to grow in one direction out of your hair follicle, similar to how a vase holds a flower to help it grow upright.

If you have a genetic mutation on the PADI3, TGM3 or TCHH gene, it affects the shape and structure of your hair shaft. The shape of your hair shaft could be a triangle, octagon or heart instead of a cylinder. The angles or points in your hair shaft change the direction in which the strand will grow.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is uncombable hair syndrome diagnosed?

Your child’s provider will diagnose uncombable hair syndrome after a complete medical history and a physical exam, where your provider will learn more about your child’s symptoms. Symptoms of this condition are unique and usually lead to a diagnosis after a visual examination of the hair on your child’s scalp.

What tests diagnose uncombable hair syndrome?

Your provider may offer tests to confirm an uncombable hair syndrome diagnosis, including:

  • Hair shaft test: Your provider will remove a strand of hair to examine the shaft — the visible part of the hair that sticks out of your child’s skin — under a microscope. Your provider will look for an irregular shape, which will lead to an uncombable hair syndrome diagnosis.
  • Genetic test: Your provider will remove a small sample of your child’s blood to look for any changes to your child’s genetic code. If your provider detects a genetic mutation, it’ll lead to an uncombable hair syndrome diagnosis.

Management and Treatment

How is uncombable hair syndrome treated or managed?

There’s no treatment available for uncombable hair syndrome. It may be challenging to manage hair that grows in every direction and can’t lay flat, but you can take steps to make your child’s hair care routine easier by:

  • Not using hair treatments that involve a lot of harsh chemicals like perms or dyes, since they can be ineffective or worsen symptoms.
  • Not over-brushing or over-combing your child’s hair.
  • Limiting how often you use tools on your child’s hair, like a curling iron or a blow dryer.
  • Regularly cutting or trimming your child’s hair.

What hair products tame uncombable hair?

Each person’s hair reacts differently to hair products and hair treatments. In general, hair products like detanglers, conditioners or hair masks don’t work well on hair affected by uncombable hair syndrome. Stronger chemicals to treat hair, like perms or hair relaxers, have trouble binding to hair strands and rarely offer benefits to your hair if you have uncombable hair syndrome.

How long does uncombable hair syndrome last?

Uncombable hair syndrome starts to resolve itself or go away during adolescence, usually around the onset of puberty. The condition could last into early adulthood. During this time, your child’s hair will start to grow in one direction (downward) instead of in multiple different directions. It could take several years for all of their hair strands to start growing in one direction.


How can I prevent uncombable hair syndrome?

You can’t prevent uncombable hair syndrome since it’s caused by a genetic mutation. To learn more about your risk of having a child with a genetic condition, talk to your provider about genetic testing.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have uncombable hair syndrome?

Uncombable hair syndrome is a short-term condition that goes away as your child grows into an adult. While their hair may be difficult to manage, it can be easier to work with if you stay consistent with haircuts or choose to keep it at a shorter length. Perms, straightening chemicals or hair treatments may not work as expected, so it’s best to avoid products that could further damage your child’s hair. Their hair will grow at a normal rate or a slightly slower rate than expected.

Some children may have low self-esteem since their hair looks different from their peers. Your child may benefit from talking to a mental health professional throughout childhood to improve their self-image.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Visit your healthcare provider if your child has trouble with their self-esteem and mental health as a result of their uncombable hair syndrome diagnosis. Symptoms of the condition don’t affect your child’s overall health and are only cosmetic.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

  • How do I manage my child’s uncombable hair?
  • How often should I take my child to get their hair cut?
  • Do you recommend any hair products to tame uncombable hair?

Additional Common Questions

Did Albert Einstein have uncombable hair syndrome?

Some studies suggest that famous physicist Albert Einstein had a genetic condition like uncombable hair syndrome that made his hair untamed, which was documented in photos of the scientist during his lifetime. There’s no verifiable evidence that Einstein had uncombable hair syndrome.

What is monilethrix?

Monilethrix is a condition similar to uncombable hair syndrome that causes your hair to have a beaded appearance when it grows that’s similar to the appearance of beads on a necklace. If you’re diagnosed with this genetic condition, your hair is thin, dry and brittle and can break off after it reaches a few inches in length. This is an inherited condition.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

While it may not seem like a real medical condition, uncombable hair syndrome is real. This condition doesn’t cause any symptoms that affect your child’s overall health and are only cosmetic, which makes your child unique. If your child has trouble with their self-esteem because of their diagnosis, talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 02/09/2023.

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