Bamboo hair (trichorrhexis invaginata) is a hair shaft abnormality that causes the hair strands to look similar to bamboo. Normal healthy hair strands appear smooth under a microscope; however, bamboo hair appears to contain nodules or evenly spaced ridges.
This condition is often mentioned in conjunction with a disease called Netherton’s syndrome. According to Children’s Mercy Hospital and Clinics, most cases of trichorrhexis invaginata are caused by Netherton’s syndrome (Children’sMercy). Netherton’s syndrome is an inherited condition that causes red, flaky skin; bamboo hair; and allergy problems.
Bamboo hair can affect hair on the head, eyebrows, and eyelashes.
Bamboo hair is caused by a weakness in the cortex, or the part at the center of the hair strand. In bamboo hair, these weak areas form at certain points along the strand. Nearby harder segments of the cortex press into these weak areas, causing a nodule or ridge to form. This creates a bumpy appearance on the hair strand and usually causes hair to break easily.
A person with Netherton’s syndrome inherits a mutated gene (SPINK5 gene) that causes this abnormal growth process.
The signs of bamboo hair are visible and can include:
- hair that breaks easily
- knotty appearance of the hair strands
- eyelash or eyebrow loss
- sparse hair growth or hair loss pattern
- dry hair
- lusterless hair
- spiky hair
- short hair due to consistent breakage
- hair on the eyebrows may resemble matchsticks
Children born with Netherton’s syndrome may not develop signs of bamboo hair until after 2 years of age.
A physical examination is all that is needed to diagnose bamboo hair. Your doctor may pluck a hair from your scalp to observe it under a microscope.
To diagnose Netherton’s syndrome, your doctor may order a series of DNA tests or a skin biopsy to test for gene mutations. A skin biopsy involves removing a small amount of skin tissue for testing in a lab. DNA tests are often used to test the SPINK 5 gene for abnormalities.
Bamboo hair improves as a person ages, without any treatment. Since the condition is a direct result of a gene mutation, there are no known ways to treat the condition or the mutation causing it.
However, you can minimize hair breakage by ensuring that your hair remains hydrated. You can do this by drinking water regularly and by avoiding the use of alcohol-based hair products. These products cause your hair to become drier, which can worsen the breakage.
Avoid the use of chemicals in your hair such as hair relaxers or perms. Most warn that you shouldn’t use them on damaged hair. Using these products may result in severe hair loss and cicatricial alopecia (scarring alopecia). This form of hair loss scars your hair follicles, making future hair growth less likely.
Hair breakage and hair loss are common complications of bamboo hair.