Hair shaft abnormalities--clues to diagnosis and treatment

Dermatology. 2005;211(1):63-71. doi: 10.1159/000085582.


Hair dysplasias are congenital or acquired alterations which often involve the hair shaft. Hair shaft abnormalities are characterized by changes in color, density, length and structure. Hair shaft alterations often result from structural changes within the hair fibers and cuticles which may lead to brittle and uncombable hair. The hair of patients with hair shaft diseases feels dry and looks lusterless. Hair shaft diseases may occur as localized or generalized disorders. Genetic predisposition or exogenous factors produce and maintain hair shaft abnormalities. Hair shaft diseases are separated into those with and those without increased hair fragility. In general, optic microscopy and polarized light microscopy of hair shafts provide important clues to the diagnosis of isolated hair shaft abnormalities or complex syndromes. To establish an exact diagnosis of dysplastic hair shafts, a structured history and physical examination of the whole patient are needed which emphasizes other skin appendages such as the nails, sweat and sebaceous glands. Profound knowledge on hair biology and embryology is necessary to understand the different symptom complexes. Therapy of hair shaft disorders should focus on the cause. In addition, minimizing traumatic influences to hair shafts, such as drying hair with an electric dryer or permanent waves and dyes, is important. A short hairstyle is more suitable for patients with hair shaft disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Hair / abnormalities*
  • Hair / pathology
  • Hair Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Hair Diseases / genetics
  • Hair Diseases / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Physical Examination