Uncombable hair

People suffering from Uncombable Hair Syndrome have silvery hair that resists all attempts to comb, brush, or otherwise groom it.

Struwwelpeter
Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

A couple of months ago I wrote about an 1845 German children’s book – Der Struwwelpeter – that set out to terrify children into good behaviour, for example by threatening to chop off the thumbs of thumb-suckers.

The title character of that book is Struwwelpeter, translated as Shock-Headed Peter or Shaggy Peter (or, in Mark Twain’s 1891 translation, Slovenly Peter). He does not pay attention to personal grooming, and his hair and fingernails grow wild and unmanageable. In the book it’s just another one of these threatening stories, but we now know that the untameable hair described in this book can be a symptom of a real genetic disorder: Uncombable Hair Syndrome.

People with a defect in one of three specific genes may manifest hair that is silvery white, frizzy, wiry, and resembling nothing so much as fine spun glass. It does not settle on one’s head but sticks out in all directions. Combing it or brushing it does nothing, because the problem is in the shape of the hair itself.

If you slice off a hair from someone with uncombable hair syndrome and look at the cross-section, it’s not round. Instead, the hair is either triangular or pinched in the middle like a kidney bean. These irregular shapes mean that the hair doesn’t lie flat, cannot in fact lie flat. No matter what you do, it just sticks out all over the place – and makes you the unfortunate target of ignorant 19th century German children’s book authors.

Fortunately, this problem mostly resolves itself by adulthood. I’ve seen people speculating online that Albert Einstein and UK prime minister Boris Johnson both suffer(ed) from Uncombable Hair Syndrome, but I haven’t read any actual proof for that rumour.

5 Replies to “Uncombable hair”

  1. Boris Johnson, no way. It has been documented that he messes up his hair intentionally before public appearances. Appearing to be a buffoon has its advantages. There are plenty of hits on an image search for “boris johnson combed hair”.

      1. My son was born with uncombable hair in 1979. He was born with silver hair that stood straight up!!! The nurses said they had never seen a baby be born with silver hair. They took him around other nurses to show his hair off. They never said there was a name for it. I tried everything to have it lay down. Baby oil, Vaseline, hand lotion, everything I could think of. Everyone would pet his head and laugh at him, in a good way. He went from silver hair to being a towhead and now having dirty blonde color.
        I have to get pictures out to see how long it actually lasted. I know you say it starts at a later age, but he was born with it. I always tell people about it but this is the first time I’ve heard a name for it. Would love to know more about it

    1. My own personal belief about posh idiot Boris Johnson( yes I’ m from the UK) is that he deliberately ruffles his hair up( have seen him do it before he was interviewed for North West tonight news) and exaggerates his bumbling posh buffoon so he comes across as ‘ endearing ‘ & likeable ….Also of course it’s to get the focus off that he doesn’t have a clue about what it’s like to live an average ‘ normal life’s in Britain & should take to wearing a ruff round his neck because he’s a clown !

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