4 Genetic Hair Disorders You May Not Even Know You Have

Is your hair weak, damaged, or breaking? You might have been born that way.
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Is your hair weak, damaged, or breaking? You might have been born that way.

We know that heat and chemicals cause damage, and that protein and moisture help keep these fibers of keratin supple, soft, and on your head. But did you know that sometimes you are just BORN with a likelihood of hair breakage? 

I am one of those people. I have monilethrix, which causes hair to break off in segments. Even with meticulous maintenance and care, my hair still breaks, and as a result it takes forever to accumulate length.  

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Let’s start with your hair type. If you have finer hair strands, that's strike one.  Your hair texture (thickness) is directly passed down from your ancestors. If you have coarse hair, you have hit the genetic hair lottery when it comes to armor. The sometimes multiple layers of keratinized cells in the cuticle protect your hair, come hell or high water. Finer strands have less physical bulk to them, literally exposing itself to the elements, and making it much, much more prone to damage from everyday styling.  

Now add in your curl pattern. Just having #4 curls increases the likelihood of breakage, as each turn in the hair is a weak spot.  

Not to scare you, but you must remember that hair is DEAD DEAD DEAD.  As dead as the white part of your fingernails. This is why is must be protected and cherished. There are some other hair disorders that are working against you, and they are also built-in, as well as exacerbated by heat and chemical damage, but luckily also helped with the things we love to use: product!

Trichoptilosis

Trichoptilosis is a fancy way of saying split ends, but it is a consequence of styling for some, and an inherent part of life for others. Split ends can be caused by heat and chemical damage, but also, again, you are mainly born with this disposition. 

An illustration of Trichoptilosis, or split ends.

An illustration of Trichoptilosis, or split ends.

A split end is actually a place where the keratin splinters off of the hair strand. This can occur anywhere on the strand, but mainly occurs on the ends where cells are the oldest. Areas of damage cannot be explicitly and permanently repaired, they are broken hair bonds that cannot be reformed. The only way to "cure" a split end is to cut it above the broken portion. This is the very basis of why people trim their hair other than to maintain a shape. 

One can mask this problem temporarily, by both conditioning with protein and with products such as Joico K-Pak Split End Mender, which temporarily adheres splinters to the hair shaft while protecting it, but this is not recommended as a long-term strategy, especially if you are trying to grow your hair.

Monilethrix

I am one of the poor unfortunate souls to have Monilethrix, or “bamboo hair." This condition is detected by examining hairs under a magnifying glass and spotting small beaded nodes along the length. 

This can be severe or mild, with severe cases resulting in tons of broken, short hairs. I think my case is mild, but goes through phases of being at times really severe. Without conditioning and gentle care, heat, styling, washing, and even brushing can snap off bits of the hair, and each bit adds up, believe me.  

Nape hair is the most common area to suffer from this, and mine is patchy and rough-looking, and does not grow quickly or easily. I know that this condition has no known cure, but it can be helped with careful maintenance. 

Monilethrix hair breaks off at beaded segments.

An illustration of Trichoptilosis, or split ends.

These hairs are brittle, thin and fragile in-between beads or after a bead. They need some protein, but only weekly, as most days they just need moisture. I can tell you that switching to argan and other emollient oils has been helpful. I have also given up a 10+ year habit of wearing some form of extensions in the nape of my head, which was adding more stress to the hairs. Finally, the nape hair on my head has passed a shirt collar without being complete cotton candy. 

Keeping hair with Monilethrix soft and stress free is a way to help it grow long, but regular trims will be necessary to keep it from looking thin.

For a weekly protein treatment, I like to use Paul Mitchell Super Strong Treatment. Hydrolyzed wheat protein fills in the thinner pieces, and a conditioning base softens the hair, allowing it to be strong but malleable. For a daily conditioner (or every time you wash), using the Phyto line for dry hair makes a huge difference. Rosemary and calendula are very softening and soothing to the hair, helping to keep it attached to its node as long as possible.

Trichorrhexis Nodosa

This is a disorder of the hair which can occur anywhere on the strand and cause the hair to appear most damaged. Trichorrhexis Nodosa also creates nodes on the hair strand, but these are broom-like in texture, and can catch other hairs in the tangle. This is the technical term for tangles, but some are more likely to be born with this type of damage, and some cause it with brushes, tools, or chemicals.  

Trichorrhexis Nodosa causes tangles in the hair.

Trichorrhexis Nodosa causes tangles in the hair.

The node forms when pieces of the cuticle splay off, and cuticle material from another strand entangle with it, creating what we know as a knot. Keeping hair moisturized is essential to fighting tangles, as softened hair has less static electricity, which also causes the fibers to attract to one and other.  

I have always been a fan of Moroccanoil, knowing full well that the price tag represented how much product should be used in the hair. It contains silicones as well as argan oil; this will dramatically improve the appearance and occurrence of these  tangles, though it cannot cure them. Silicones are not always bad--they help to temporarily seal the cuticle and reduce static in hair, but one must use no more than a dime sized amount per 6” of length.  

Fragilitas Crinium

Last but certainly worst of all is Fragilitas Crinium. This is one of the more dramatic disorders of the hair, and when present in infants can help lead doctors to determine certain genetic conditions. 

This condition appears like Trichorrhexis Nodosa, but without nodes. Hair appears broken and split, and can even split away close to the scalp, causing short patches within the length of the hair. 

Hair with Fragilitas Crinium is brittle and appears damaged.

Hair with Fragilitas Crinium is brittle and appears damaged.

Fragilitas Crinium is not always helped with products, especially when present since birth, but it is helpful to avoid heat and chemicals. Again, proper moisturizing and weekly protein could help retain as much healthy length as possible, but it is unfortunately a very tricky condition to manage.    

For a condition such as this, I would recommend hot oil pre-shampoo treatments weekly with argan oil (straight) and a daily protein boosting spray to allow styling to even happen without breakage.

Some hairstylists do not always recall this information, but it is important to point out that you might not be able to stop or control hair breakage and knots, since we are, after all, born this way.  

Also, it should be noted that Paul Mitchell Seal and Shine spray is the best thermal protectant that adds zero weight to the hair. This is perfect for every single hair type, and I used to religiously bathe all hair in this product  before any heat ever touched it. I currently break my own rules by not using it and only have myself to blame when my Monilethrix is acting up!