Reader's Question: Scab hair

The bad news - there is no known research on the phenomenon of 'scab' hair. 'Scab' hair is a term used by naturals and transitioners to describe the initial hair regrowth after stopping the use of relaxers. Some say the hair is of a different curl pattern or is dry and unruly.

Does Scab Hair really exist?
There is no reason to doubt it does because a large minority of people seem to experience this.

What causes it?
Curly hair gets its shape from the hair follicle (International Journal of Dermatology pg 2-3, 2005). This sets the ball in motion

1. In order for hair to change shape, the follicle has to change.
2. In order for the follicle to change shape, the DNA which programs the shape in the follicle has to change

Changing DNA is essentially a mutation. Follicle change has been seen with chemotherapy patients who are given strong medication which DOES change DNA.

Hair relaxers are highly highly corrosive but they are NOT known to be carcinogenic or mutagenic. Therefore changing follicle shape with a relaxer is really unlikely in my opinion.

So does it really exist?
I think there are plausible explanations such as

1. Curl patterns do vary over the head of some naturals, one part can be curlier and drier than another part. (solution: be patient, wait it out)
2. Possibility that not all the relaxed hair was cut off and some underprocessed hair was retained (solution: observe the hair over time and cut off the troubled part)

I personally do not think that scab hair is just a phantom or figment of imagination but I do think that relaxers have been in use for so long now that if they were mutating cells we would surely know. In my opinion, relaxers are probably more likely to burn the follicles right off rather than subtly change the DNA (scalp burns anyone?). 

There is a rather popular article that I have seen people site several times which contrary to my opinion suggests a 'follicle shape change' - Read it here.

I think the article is well written but in my opinion lacks fact. There are a lot of suggestions but nothing to actually substantiate them and nowhere is the key fact mentioned that in order to temporarily change the follicle the DNA actually has to change twice. I do site it here because I think that my opinion is not the only one that deserves to be voiced and as I said before, I like the writing style.

Vote in the poll too - Did you experience scab hair?


  1. I definitely think it's possible. You could call me a transitioning natural (although I'm trying out bangs and did relax those. the rest of my hair has not had a relaxer on it in over 6 months)
    There are parts of my hair that seems to have been stressed out, and just lay as a long straight strand of hair, while the rest of my hair is thick and curly. I also notice these hair strands seem thinner than my other strands.

  2. I don't recall experiencing scab hair. My coils are tiny -- pen spring is the largest -- and I cut my hair very low when I stopped relaxing (half an inch *maybe*). I know my hair is softer now than it was all those years ago, but I attribute that to better hair care practices than anything else. My hair was dry for a long time (years) until I started being more deliberate in my hair care. If there is such a thing as scab hair, I think it's due to follicle damage (as you mentioned) rather than a change in DNA. I would assume that a damaged follicle would produce damaged hair until the follicle had time to repair itself.

  3. Discovered your blog about a month ago and love your style. Really appreciate the time and attention you put into your research and the care with which you write your posts. Thanks for your contribution to the natural hair community!

    About scab hair...I recently bc'd after about six months of transitioning. I think I got most of the relaxed hair and now I see what I think are my true textures. This isn't my first BC. Definitely, I see and feel many more different textures this time around. Normally, I really like the TWA stage but not this time. My hair just doesn't seem as thick and healthy this time around. I'm deep conditioning like crazy and wearing coils at the moment. Hopefully, in six months I'll see some positive changes in the dry and wiry spots.

  4. I wouldnt know, I transitioned in braids and then cut off the ends of my hair (I actually wish I had just BCd) so I cant really comment from my own viewpoint. Thank you for all the information you have given though.

  5. Well, I have scab hair. And it is not straight. It is kinky. But feels different. It is brittle, very coarse, and wont hold moisture at all like the other parts of my hair.

  6. I remember reading on a blog somewhere about scab hair when I first started transitioning. This blog had pictures of what she felt was scab hair. To be honest, I couldn't tell the difference. I didn't experience scab hair at all - although the blog had me expecting to. I really don't believe in it, but I can only base this on my head. I agree with your statement regarding if relaxers changed DNA we would have know by now due to the hundreds of mutated sisters walking around :-)

  7. This is a slightly off topic reply as I have naturally stick straight hair.

    In the last few years as I have gotten some grays I have noticed a change in my hair color, texture and curl. Before a strand goes gray it usually goes black (I have brown hair) first and gets coarser, thicker and wavy or curly. Then it turns gray. Strands growing in completely gray are back to being straigt, not curly like the black hair.

    Are my follicles a freak of nature? Is my DNA mutating before my eyes?

  8. Thanks for all the responses!

    Family Viola essentially yes but no. When we age our DNA essentially becomes lazy and less efficient. This is the reason why hair goes grey and wrinkles appear. Instead of correctly replicating cells as they should be the DNA becomes shorter (this is totally normal - anyone looking for an in depth more scientifically accurate study should look up telomere shortening).

    The colour change is normal and so is the texture change. It is a normal part of aging and is not regarded as a mutation.

    b - interesting theory on follicle damage and continued growth out of a damaged follicle. I will look it up.

  9. Hmmm...I haven't had a relaxer in a long time, but I feel like I got scab hair in the areas where I use to have sew-in tracks. The hair was thin, wiry, didn't respond to any product. And it was only in patches along the area where the weave used to be. I cut most of it off, but it seemed like it grew in like that for a few months. I decided it was scab hair, but now I don't know what it was.

    Damaged follicle seems to make sense. The bad hair is gone now, so whatever the problem was, at least it was temporary!

  10. Thank you for addressing this topic. I had been natural for a couple of years the first time I heard about "scab hair" so I have no idea whether I experienced it or not.

    I tend to be pretty skeptical of Associated Content articles, but I agree with this statement: "I would be remiss if I neglected the fact that what some newly minted naturals call "scab hair" is really their quick introduction to the natural hair they never knew."

    The good/bad hair thing is so hard-wired in some sisters' brains that they spend months waiting out what they think is scab hair but what is really natural hair that's not as loose, soft, and curly as they might have expected. Combine the fact that looser-textured naturals are disproportionately represented in the online community with the fact that a lot of people take what they see and read at face value, and this misperception makes sense.

  11. I think scab hair is just severely damaged hair. I did experience this, and like other posters mentioned, the hair was extremely kinky, hard to the touch, dry and would not retain moisture. After three months to a year, depending on the section, the hair returned to its normal texture. This leads me to believe that calcium hydroxide relaxers affect the hair below the scalp's surface.

  12. I definitely have scab hair. my whole 6 months on transitioning hair is 3C some 4A except the very Top of my crown area where i always applied the relaxer first thats proof right there. its coarse and doesn't curl at all but I'm finally starting to see some roots coming in..... from massaging cant wait

  13. First off, I don't know why anyone would really site that article because as she states in the beginning, there hasn't been any research to back it up. As for the idea presented, it's just that, her idea. As a biologist, I do agree with you that the idea is quite flawed and a change in DNA and thus a change in the shape of the follicle as a result of a relaxer is highly unlikely. As a long term transitioner (18 months now), I know scab hair is very real. I think the problem comes in when some blame scab hair for unrelated issues. I think it's simply a result of over-processing the hair where some of the relaxer actually penetrates the scalp and affects the hair underneath it. Because of this, It's hard for me to believe some experience scab hair growth up to a year after relaxing. If the hair is growing at an average rate, scab hair should be revealed in 2 to 3 months or so.
    There are 3 distinct textures on my head right now, my natural pattern, scab hair, and relaxed hair. It is evident when I flat iron my hair because that hair doesn't get straight no matter how many passed I do. It's evident when I where twists because that area is bushier than my natural hair so the twists are really thick right before the relaxed portion. It's evident when I detangle; the comb always gets tangled in the scab hair. It makes transitioning a bit more difficult but there's a simple remedy, cut it off. When I finally cut the remainder of my relaxed ends off, I will probably just cut an extra 1/2'' to 1" pass my relaxed ends.

  14. I just knew that I had scab hair for months!!! I am 8 years natural so I knew it wasn't left over relaxer. I later learned that the proteins and products I had been using on my relaxed and straightened hair were not working on my natural hair causing the "scab hair " to become stiff, frizzy and unruly. Why this wasn't happening to my whole head, I cannot explain. I now understand that my hair is low porosity and needs to be treated with products that are high in moisture and low in protein. A simple change in products cured my scab hair although it did take a few months.

  15. I am inclined to believe the theory of damaged hair follicles. I can only speak from my own experience so here goes. I am 8 months post relaxer. I believe I have scab hairs in my crown and sides. Why I think I have it? Because in these areas the hair is very brittle, hard, wiry, and rough. When I pull out one hair it curls up onto itself except until about an inch closest to the roots. The inch or so closest to the roots actually curls into either 3c or 4a spirals. When I feel my hair I can feel the roughness, but underneath it all I can feel smooth, soft hair growing in. So I would say mine grew in damaged for about 6 months or so after my last relaxer. Another thing I remember when I was relaxed was that my problem areas never responded to heat from a flat iron. I also remember my stylist putting relaxer on these areas it was left on the longest in those areas and always burned. My guess was that she could feel the coarseness and wanted my hair to be as straight as possible. The result? More damaged hair. I am so thankful that it wasn't temporary.


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