What is scab hair? Where does scab hair come from? Is scab hair real? These questions about “scab hair” come up often among transitioners, or those who are newly making the shift from chemically relaxed hair to natural hair. “Scab hair” is not a medical or scientific term– it is a lay, hair board term used to describe hair that is oddly “neither here nor there” texture and/or curl pattern wise. Scab hair is quite a misnomer as there are no scabs, skin, or crusts involved whatsoever– but the term continues to be used since there are currently no other popular alternatives.
Scab hair has evaded scientific explanation for years. No one has really been able to say what scab hair is, and there are many who are not convinced that such a thing even exists. This article will investigate “scab hair:” a common post relaxer texture change, and attempt to understand the origins of its occurrence.
To date, there is no literature or scientific evidence for or against the hair texture change phenomenon known as scab hair. This being the case, the hair state is not even recognized in modern cosmetology. This should not be surprising though, given that the science of textured hair in general, relaxed or natural, is light-years behind the science of European and Asian hair. Therefore, I submit to you that the absence of a scientific basis for scab hair is not, in and of itself, a mandate against its existence. However, 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. Chances are, if you’re several years out from your last relaxer– your texture and pattern are likely settled.
What is Scab Hair?
Scab hair is typically defined as hybrid hair, or hair that is at the crossroads of transition. Scab hair is typically understood to be the first few inches of hair that grow out after chemical relaxing has been stopped. The hair fiber hasn’t been directly chemically treated and is, for all intents and purposes, “natural.” The main issue with scab hair is that it has no shape, no curl pattern, tends to feel super wiry, and is basically unpredictable. Some have even described it as straight, fine, or wispy in areas. As the hair grows out without chemical treatment, the person’s “real” hair texture begins to come in. Everyone does not experience scab hair episodes, but for those who feel they do, scab hair is real and it’s a real nuisance. Most end up cutting off scab hair and will even resort to a secondary BC (big chop) to rid themselves of it.
Where does Scab Hair Come From?
Scab hair differs from an individuals regular natural hair mainly in its texture and curl pattern. In order to understand where scab hair might come from, we need to understand how hair grows and how its shape is ultimately determined.
Hair growth process
Hair emerges up through the follicles located within the scalp. These follicles are self-renewing, and are the only live parts of the hair shaft. The shape of the hair follicle determines the straightness or curliness of the hair. Oval-shaped follicles produce curly hair and round-shaped follicles produce straight hair. The shape of a person’s follicles is determined by hormonal shifts and genetics (passed down through your family).
Non-scab hair texture changes
Hair texture changes happen naturally as we age with hormonal fluctuations throughout the years. Significant texture changing events include going from fine, soft newborn hair to older toddler hair, then up through teenage years to adulthood hair. Adult hair changes can be triggered by pregnancy, menopause, and finally old age-but hormones are to blame here for follicular shape changes that produce various hair types, textures, and outcomes. What about non-hormonal hair texture changes like scab hair?
We know that hormones control hair follicle changes internally. But could follicle shape be determined by something in the outside environment? Because science tells us nothing about scab hair, we can only derive from what’s already known about hair and hair growth.
Hair Follicle Shape Change Theory
Could it be possible that relaxers are able to temporarily change hair follicle shape over time from an ovular to circular shape-or even variations of this so that the hair that emerges is slightly unpredictable in a curl pattern sense? Could simple, temporary follicle shape and size changes be the cause of scab hair?
Why I like this Scab Hair Theory
The hair follicle is constantly generating new hair cells, and changes in its size and shape can affect the way hair is presented or grown out. When the follicle changes shape and size, the hair that pushes through it will change shape and texture. Waxing is a prime example of what follicle shape changing can do. Waxing and tweezing thins out hair over time because it stresses the hair follicle and causes the hair follicle to miniaturize, or shrink. This change in follicle size causes thinner, finer hair to grow up from the follicle. Traction alopecia from wearing styles too tightly also gradually causes thinner and thinner hair to be produced from the follicle due to miniaturization– until nothing emerges.
This, however, is not a one for one comparison. Follicle miniaturization is largely irreversible. Once a follicle shrinks, it is usually out for the count! However, I posit that in the case of relaxing, any follicular shape change effects are temporary and easily corrected if the scalp has not been outright damaged. This is evidenced by the fact that natural hair recovers and reestablishes itself after the “scab hair” phases have passed. Follicle shape change theory also puts to rest ideas that relaxer chemicals are actively processing hair deep within the scalp well before it actually emerges. The shape change theory accepts the amazing permeability of skin layers as fact, but avoids the pitfalls of the “relaxer seeping into the scalp and lingering to affect hair” theory. In the shape change theory, scab hair is a direct result of temporary trauma or aggravation to the follicle structures situated within the scalp skin, not a systemic issue of relaxer chemicals affecting hair directly long after the last application months or even years prior. From here, it would logically follow that those who have been chemically burned most egregiously over the years would be the best candidates for scab hair as new naturals.
It makes sense that the scalp cells and follicles might be changed over time with regular contact with a topical product (though relaxers should never be placed on the scalp) even briefly. Think every 8-10 weeks for 10-20 years. It also makes sense that once relaxing is stopped for a given period, the follicle cells would slowly return to some other genetically pre-set orientation.
When does scab end?
I’ve heard people complain of scab hair lasting from 3 months to one year or more. The one thing is, you can’t really know if you’ve got scab hair until after your real texture begins to grow in. It is one of those things that can only really be realized in retrospect, after hair has been allowed to grow out without chemical treatment. And again, what some think is scab hair often turns out to be their natural texture after all.
More research is needed!
Certainly, more research is required before the scab hair debate can be laid to rest. Good research into this area might investigate the disulfide make up of scab hair versus other natural and relaxed hair. If scab hair is indeed natural hair that has been reshaped by a transitioning or changing follicle shape, then it should contain the same number of important disulfide linkages as the wearer’s natural hair though the texture and shape differ. If important disulfide linkages are not intact, then research should be conducted to investigate the discrepancies. Finally, I’d like to see qualitative/quantitative research on new naturals who’ve experienced chemical burns in the past and whether or not burn frequency is a determinant of either follicle shape change or the occurrence of scab hair.