Scab Hair–Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

Is scab hair real?  Yes.  I have it now and have been dealing with it ever since I decided to go natural and my hair started to grow out.  In case you have never heard of scab hair, it is the hair the grows out after relaxer treatments are stopped.

Photos of My Scab Hair
The hair is rough, resistant to any styling, dry, and just plain unpleasant to deal with.  As you can see from the photo at the left, the scab hair is thicker. It is the hair in the middle, with the hair closest to the scalp being all natural hair, and the hair on the ends the remaining relaxed hair. I really wish you could see it in person and feel it. You would immediately know it was not normal. You can have scab hair all over or only in parts of your scalp.

As I stated elsewhere on this site, I did not get my first relaxer until I was 30, so I was well aware of what my hair should look and feel like in its natural state.  And this ain’t it.  Now I do think that some of the rough hair may be compounded by it being gray, because as we know gray hair is more wiry and coarser than hair that still has its color.  However, this would not account for the extreme difference in the way my hair feels now and how it did in the past.

Most of the articles I have read on scab hair relate it to a lack of moisture.  In fact, it is probably due to a lack of lubrication.  What is the difference?  One relates to water and the other to oil or sebum produced in the follicle by the sebaceous glands.  Consider–all relaxer instructions state to keep the product a certain distance from the scalp–this is obviously to prevent burns but also this keeps the relaxer out of the follicles and sebaceous glands to prevent damaging them.

Follicle and Sebaceous Gland Damage

After giving it some thought, follicle and sebaceous gland damage are probably the main culprits in scab hair.  (The sebaceous glands are connected to the follicle and actually produce the lubricating sebum.  Wikipedia has a good image here to show you the relation of the sebaceous glands.  Clicking the link will open a new window and take you to Wikipedia.  Don’t forget to come back! )  The reason I say this is the follicles and sebaceous glands can be affected by the relaxer and can’t do their  jobs of producing sebum and moving it along the hair shaft to keep the scalp and hair strand lubricated.  Until the follicles and sebaceous glands start to function normally again, the hair in this area will be affected.

Why and How Do Relaxers Cause Follicle and Sebaceous Gland Damage?

Relaxers are caustic substances.  They will actually dissolve not only hair but flesh if left in contact too long with it.

When we relax our hair, no matter how hard we try, some of the relaxer will get on the scalp.  This can happen whether we self relax or go to a professional.  The shorter the hair the harder it is to keep the relaxer off the scalp.  Also improper neutralizing of the relaxer and rinsing can cause it to be left in contact with the scalp too long.

What Happens When Our Follicles and Sebaceous Glands Stop Lubricating

Think of all the substances we have to lubricate our bodies–tears, oils, mucus, etc produced by various glands and mucous membranes.  When something goes wrong with our bodies and these lubricating substances stop being produced, we suffer.  Think of dry skin, dry eyes, and yes, dry hair.

Imagine you were trying to grow a crop for food–would it grow better in the desert or on fertile farm land?  You could add various things to the desert soil to make it better, but it would not be the same.  Now think of our hair.  If the natural lubrication is interrupted, you can treat it with various external substances, but nothing works better than our naturally produced ones–they are custom made just for you by your own body.  The natural sebum that is produced by our bodies also serves as waterproofing, and so the moisture balance of our hair is also affected, in my opinion causing the hair to release moisture too quickly.

This is why so many transitioners feel their hair is extremely dry, whether they big chop or not.  Because it is! 

Another Photo of My Scab Hair
The normal sebum production has been interrupted.  This was really a revelation for me, that I had scab hair before I decided to transition while I was still relaxing my hair!  This also explains why when the new growth starts to grow in we feel inclined to touch-up sooner than we should–we think the new growth is our actual texture and is unmanageable.  This scab hair makes an even bigger contrast between our natural and relaxed hair, and we feel we can’t deal with it.  So we relax again, starting the vicious cycle over again and maybe making matters worse by relaxing too often.  Why does our relaxed hair not feel this way?  To some extent it does, because many times we have to keep relaxed hair moisturized (with some external substance) to keep it feeling soft, and remember too your hair when relaxed has been chemically altered, so the smoothness you feel along the hair is a product of the relaxer, not naturally produced by the hair itself.

Why Do I Not Have Scab Hair All Over My Head?

Why is my entire head not affected by scab hair?  I know in my case I had the most new growth in my crown, exactly where I have the most scab hair.  My theory is that more relaxer was used in this area and left on longer, leading to more scab hair.  Other problem areas are the front edges and temple areas.  The hair in these areas is known to be more delicate and damaged easily by relaxer left on too long.  In these areas too the relaxer most likely was in direct contact with the scalp since these areas are  in front and we really wanted to get them straight.

How to Treat Scab Hair

Is the situation hopeless?  No.  The human body, like the earth itself, has an amazing ability to heal and repair itself.  We just need to help heal the follicles and sebaceous glands and milk them back to life so the lubricating substances can be produced again.  How?  Time will probably take care of it in most cases.  The fact that the follicles are still producing hair prove that they are not beyond recovery.  (If you do have a smooth spot on your scalp anywhere that is not producing hair you need to see a doctor to determine the reason why.)  But also by topically applying substances know to have healing properties and massaging these down into the follicle, hopefully also helping the sebaceous glands to speed their natural recovery.

**********My Lineup For Treating Scab Hair**********

I am sure there must be some product out there that claims to heal follicles and sebaceous glands, but I have not tried any specifically for this as of yet.  For now I decided to try a mixture of vitamin E (said to help wound healing depending on who you ask), castor oil, and lavender oilin a base of extra virgin olive oil(olive oil is said to resemble our natural sebum, along with some of the other popular oils like jojoba oil).  I plan on using this twice a week (I have read recommendation to restrict vitamin E use to no more than this).  I am massaging this into my scalp in an effort to get it down into the follicles.  Hopefully this will speed up the healing process of my follicles and my sebaceous glands will start to produce sebum and softer hair.

Important Information For Those Who Relax

If I had had this information when I was relaxing I would have done some things differently in order to protect my scalp and hair and prevent scab hair:

  • I would have devised a plan to keep the relaxer off my scalp–better than just basting my scalp, which I was already doing.
  • I would have immediately after a touch-up started the healing process by massaging and basting my scalp with my healing substances to reverse the damage done by the relaxer.
  • I already was stretching my relaxer sometimes as long as 18 weeks.

If you are still relaxing your hair try these suggestions, and you may be able to ward off the dreaded scab hair.


To read other articles on this site, please see Hair Care Articles Index.



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16 comments to Scab Hair–Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

  • lynnj85

    great article, very helpful…

  • This was brilliant! I never even knew scab hair existed, only found out about it now that I’m having transitioning thoughts. (no decision made yet, but the thought is there in the back of my head) Thank you so much for the informative and educational post! And if I do decide to touch up and postpone my thoughts on transitioning, I will still keep all of this in mind.

    • Alyce

      Thanks Robyn for your kind comment. Yes, scab hair can really be a problem, especially early in the transitioning process when you don’t realize what is happening. I think you are doing the right thing in finding out all you can about it before you start. Your chances of being successful the 1st time you try to transition are greater if you know what to expect and are prepared.

  • Nice read! Thank you for posting this article. It helped me understand scab hair more. Again, Thank you!

  • Nicole

    I am so happy I read this…. This is what is going on to the the back of my head… just thick and unruly… I can not get it tamed and barely curls… however it responds well when I condition and add olive oil which sucks because the rest of my hair is to thin to take the oil. I have 3bc and 4a hair… This transition has been the easiest but now that my hair is the longest it’s ever been in the natural state I just feel loss… =( 3 different hair textures??? I am grateful for hte information on to find products to help scab hair…. #sigh

    • Alyce

      Hi Nicole,
      Yes, the scab hair phase is the hardest to deal with. As the hair grows and changes the products have to change too. This is what I have been going through even though I no longer have scab hair. Maybe just apply the heavier oil and conditioner to that part of the hair that needs it? I think there is a lot of experimentation along the way as the hair changes. But one day it will all come together. Don’t give up! Thanks for stopping by. Alyce

  • Crystal

    Hi Alyce. This is the most informative article I’ve read regarding scab hair. I am transitioning & have experienced it. Feeling my new growth after 30 years of relaxing was surprising. Feeling the scab hair was a shock! I had never heard of the term. Like you, I experienced it in my crown down to my nape. It was so different than the rest of my hair. When applying products after washing it would poof up w/in a few minutes as if I didn’t apply anything. It would crackle when I touched it. I was so grateful that I didn’t big chop b/c I probably would have returned to the chemicals. It wasn’t noticeable b/c I was able to hide it in a bun. I had to be gentle when taking it down b/c of the fear of breakage. 9 months in I noticed smoothness at my roots. After research I realized what it was. I pree pooed w/ oils before my discovery but I decided to pree poo w/ a steamer or heat cap before each wash. I usually keep it in overnight. I started oil rinses, GHE method several times a week & deep conditioning w/ each wash. I also stepped it up w/ more amounts of leave in conditioner. After a few months it no longer looks or feels like brillo. It’s a different texture than my new growth & permed ends. There is one small area of new growth coming in that feels fuzzy. I’ll take it. In the meantime i’ll patiently wait for it to grow out. Thanks for the information

    • Alyce

      Hi Crystal,
      It is amazing that some ladies still deny scab hair as being real when so many people experience it. I no longer have scab hair, but that phase can be very discouraging, especially if you don’t know what it is. I am almost 3 years post my last relaxer and I can say my hair is still changing as it grows longer. I can also say you will be rewarded with a head of gorgeous, healthy hair for your patience and perseverance. Thanks for sharing your experience. Alyce

  • Tina B

    You know, come to think of it, I do remember my stylist applying relaxer to the crown of my head first! I know she probably did it because she could feel how coarse and scabby this area had become over time… And it was her job to get it as straight and smooth as possible. The result… This area never ever responded to heat when flat ironed and always broke off at an alarming rate. Now that I am transitioning, this area is filled with hard, wiry, dry, unruly hairs. It also gets matted very easily, even after detangling. I can, however, feel the texture changing underneath… Softer, smoother hair. I know not all people will experience this, so they can’t really agree one way or the other. I can only speak from my experience. My experience has lead me to believe that this is real, but a temporary problem. Thanks for this blog!

    • Alyce

      Thank you Tina. Those of us that have experienced scab hair know it’s real! It’s just a shame that we did not have this information earlier.

      • Tina B

        We are still in the infancy stage of learning abt our hair and the damage of relaxers. I’m just glad we have this bit of information to help us through the rough times. Glad I’m almost done with this phase.

        • Alyce

          Yes, I have been natural a few years now and I am continuing to learn about my hair. Thanks for stopping by and I promise after the scab hair phase is done you will be happy you made the decision to go natural! Alyce

  • Tott

    Now that a few years have passed since you wrote this article, can you please tell us if you no longer have this wiry type hair and if your natural hair has returned.

    • Alyce

      Hi Tott,
      I really do need to get back into posting and post an update on this. I am happy to say that my hair has completely recovered. I do have a new routine now that I will be posting soon. The hair in the crown of my head has also improved and is relatively normal now. So, if you are going through this, just give your hair some time. Thanks for asking.

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