What Is Scab Hair?


  by Susan Walker of Earthtones Naturals

Hair texture changes and it’s completely natural, but it still bothers some people. With a better understanding of what scab hair is and what causes it, naturals can have a better relationship with their curls. So, what is scab hair? Here’s a little bit about my own personal experience and journey, as well as more information on scab hair.

After about 3 years of being natural, I’m really beginning to understand and appreciate my hair. I’ve learned a lot along the way and instead of a love-hate relationship with my hair, it’s turning into an all out love fest. There are definitely days where I just don’t feel like putting in the work and effort required to ensure the style is tight but for the most part I’m good. Now it has been mentioned several times by relatives who used to comb my hair that my hair used to be soft as a baby, and very curly. Okay… having “baby soft” hair is to be expected – as a baby! This is not anything new to me. They would go on to mention that I had “good hair” and I would cringe at that statement. Being part of an older generation they don’t really understand that we don’t like to use that phrase anymore to describe our hair, and that the focus shouldn’t be on hair texture, but rather how to take care of our hair and appreciate our hair texture no matter what our hair type is. They would then go on to say that the perm “ruined” my hair and it has never been the same since. I’ve heard so many stories from women who have experienced changes in their hair texture as a result of chemical processing; either relaxing or a curly perm. Hairdressers have reported this happening time and time again. I started wondering if there is something to this. I started chemically processing my hair from the age of 10 or 11 and began with a Jheri curl. Years later I relaxed my hair and I continued this process into my early thirties. So for about 20 years my hair was chemically modified in some way. I started to investigate this and while there is no real scientific literature on this exact phenomenon I stumbled upon some information from Audrey Davis-Sivasothy, author of The Science of Black Hair, that may be close to what occurs with people whose hair texture changes after a relaxer. It’s called scab hair.

What is Scab Hair?

It’s really not a scientific or medical term and it’s used to describe hair that is in the process of being in transition. The term has nothing to do with literal scabs but is a layman’s term. Scab hair has no definitive texture or curl pattern and tends to feel wiry as a result. It is the first few inches of hair that grows after a chemical relaxer has been stopped. As the hair grows out from the chemical treatment your “real” hair and texture will begin to grow in. These hairs differ from your natural hair in terms of curl pattern and texture. The hairdresser who used to texturize my hair made an interesting conclusion from observing her client’s hair throughout the years. She once said to me that she believes that the hair changes every 7 years. She made that statement as though it was fact and I haven’t been able to find any scientific information to support that. However just because there is no research doesn’t mean it doesn’t occur. It may just be a phenomenon that hasn’t been investigated yet, hence the lack of supportive evidence. What we do know is that the hair texture will change naturally as we age due to hormonal fluctuations, nutritional status, medical conditions and medications. You’ll notice a huge change in texture from a baby through to adulthood. The shape of the hair follicle determines if someone’s hair is straight or curly. Oval-shaped follicles produce curly hair and round-shape follicles produce straight hair. What determines the shape of the follicle is hormones and genetics.

Hormones are mostly to blame for the changes to the shape of hair follicles that produce various hair types and textures. Scab hair is considered a non-hormonal texture change and it could be that relaxers temporarily change the hair follicle shape over time from an oval shape to one that’s more circular or any other variation. The hair follicle is constantly producing new hair cells and the changes in its size and shape affect the hair texture and shape that is emerging. The scalp cells and follicles may be changed over time with regular relaxing. Think about it – a relaxer every 8-10 weeks for 10-30 years is a LONG time! It’s entirely possible that even when relaxers or other chemical processes are stopped the follicle cells may return to another orientation that is genetically set.

This theory of scab hair may explain why people are seeing hair texture changes after relaxers. This combined with the hormonal changes that occur from infancy through to adulthood can be why the hair texture we had when we were younger is not what we have now. However, a different perspective on scab hair is given by the Natural Haven. She points out that in order for the follicle to change there needs to be some change or mutations to the DNA which controls the follicle shape. Relaxers haven’t been observed or reported to do this. She brings up some interesting points and offers an alternative explanation for scab hair.

While it’s not definitive and there is definitely more research that needs to be done, it is a plausible explanation for what’s at the heart of hair texture changes after relaxers. Keep in mind that this hair texture change doesn’t happen with everyone. However, it occurs frequently enough where there are many women who talk about how relaxers changed their hair. Would their texture and curl pattern have changed anyway? We don’t really know, but having a deeper understanding of how texture changes over time can be the first step in accepting our natural hair for the better. Many naturals will mistakenly think that the scab hair when they first go natural is their natural texture since some of us are unfamiliar with our true natural texture. Don’t get discouraged! Scab hair is usually temporary and not your true texture. It’s important to make sure you follow your proper care routines to ensure the health of your hair, but it’s also important to recognize that going natural is a process and a journey. Knowing that scab hair is a natural part of the journey can make you feel better about your texture!

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