What Is Uncombable Hair Syndrome?

Shilah Yin embraces her unique hair, though she's not too fond of her daily hair care routine which often lasts upwards of 20 minutes. . (Photo: shilahmadison/Instagram)

Having a hard time getting a comb through your child's hair? There might be a good reason why it's so hard to handle. She could have uncombable hair syndrome, a genetic condition that affects hair shape and growth in some people.


According to the National Institutes of Health, uncombable hair syndrome is a rare disorder characterized by "silvery-blond or straw-colored hair that is disorderly; stands out from the scalp; and cannot be combed flat."

Celeste Calvert-Yin of Melbourne, Australia, knew something was up with her daughter's hair when Shilah was around 3 months old. As a baby, Shilah had ordinary brown hair, but after a few months, a strawberry fuzz starting growing in. Over the years it continued to grow straight out and became even blonder.


A few years later, Calvert-Yin learned how truly unusual her daughter's hair is. Shilah is one of only around 100 people to have uncombable hair syndrome. Her hair not only looks a little different, it is also genetically different. The hair shaft of those with uncombable hair syndrome is triangular in cross-section (compared to round in those without the condition).


It's because of this genetic difference that traditional hair taming techniques such as hot oil treatments and hair straighteners don't really work for Shilah or other kids with the condition. Some styling methods may help for a day or two but most are often more trouble than they are worth.


Calvert-Yin's openness about her daughter's condition has, of course, come with its share of criticisms. Almost every picture on Shilah's Instagram account has dozens of comments with advice on what Calvert-Yin should be doing to tame her daughter's locks. But Shilah's mom says that she is happy for all of the responses her posts receive. "I love the fact that people have taken the time to write, whether it is positive, supportive and helpful, or just letting them share their feelings about her UHS."


For most kids with uncombable hair syndrome, the condition fades away over time, with hair generally returning to "normal" by adolescence. But Shilah isn't too concerned. According to her mom, Shilah loves her unique look. "Shilah has connected with so many people that well and truly outweighs any negativity," Calvert-Yin says.


In the meantime, Calvert-Yin and her daughter are happy to continue sharing Shilah's story, both to educate people about uncombable hair syndrome and to "reinforce individuality, uniqueness and mostly confidence for little girls everywhere no matter the color of their skin, their imperfections or their differences."