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Causes of Corkscrew Hair

By: Jennie Kermode - Updated: 4 Jan 2017 | comments*Discuss
Corkscrew Hair Scurvy Anorexia Menkes

Corkscrew hair can be a symptom of a number of medical conditions. This strange hair type is fragile and breaks easily, often resulting in Alopecia. It's important to see a doctor about it as soon as possible, especially if it develops on a baby, as it could be a sign of serious illness. Some corkscrew hair producing conditions, however, are relatively mild and can be easily treated a home, restoring both your general health and your lost hair.

Identifying Corkscrew Hair

How can you distinguish between corkscrew hair and hair that is naturally kinky? Sometimes genes for afro hair can lie dormant in families who don't expect them to be there, leading to the sudden appearance of a curly-haired child with straight-haired parents. Corkscrew hair, however, is different.

Corkscrew hair is easily distinguished because it is very pale, usually transparent or grey. It is also very tightly kinked and brittle, so it breaks easily and cannot grow long, sometimes leading to patchy baldness where the head has been rubbed or scratched. Individual strands are usually much finer than other hair. Corkscrew hair can appear anywhere on the body but is usually easiest to identify on the scalp.

What Causes Corkscrew Hair?

Corkscrew hair has been shown to be linked to copper deficiency. This can result either from a poor diet or from an inability to absorb copper properly. This means that the shaft of the hair doesn't form properly and is flattened on one side, leading it to twist round on itself as it grows. It doesn't develop the framework of proteins that gives normal hair its strength.

Menkes Kinky Hair Disease

The most serious condition which involves the appearance of corkscrew hair is Menkes kinky hair disease. This is a genetic condition that almost exclusively affects boys and is carried on the female side of the family, but it can go for generations without showing up. Affected children have corkscrew hair from the start but seem otherwise normal until about seven months of age, when they start to show developmental problems.

Menkes kinky hair disease can be fatal but recently developed treatments have been shown to treat it very effectively in some children, enabling them to live relatively healthy, fulfilling lives. The earlier treatment starts, the better the chances of success, so any appearance of corkscrew hair in a baby should precipitate a quick visit to the doctor.


Although people tend to think of scurvy as an ancient disease suffered by sailors that doesn't cause problems for anyone today, it is still with us. The development of corkscrew hair, and related hair loss, can be an early symptom. Cracking skin and bleeding gums are other early signs.

Scurvy occurs due to a low vitamin C intake. This affects how the body metabolises copper, which is why it can trigger the development of corkscrew hair. It is most common these days in people with anorexia or people who are experimenting with unusual diets, and it occasionally occurs simply because some people hate eating fruit and vegetables.

If you're in the latter category, the good news is that you really don't need very much in the way of fruit and vegetables to cure scurvy. A glass of orange juice once a day will usually do it, though of course it's better for your health to have more, and a well balanced diet can also help to protect you against a number of other hair loss conditions.


The other leading cause of the development of corkscrew hair in adults is anorexia. This isn't just about people who're obsessed with being dangerously thin. Any swift weight loss, if not supervised by a medical expert, can result in nutritional deficiencies. In these cases, corkscrew hair and resultant breakage is usually followed by hair falling out altogether.

In this case, the news is also good. Though anorexia tends to be a chronic condition that requires careful long-term management, good dietary choices mean that you can still get adequate nutrition -for your body and for your hair – even if you can't manage to eat very much. Good sources of copper in food include tomatoes, potatoes, calf's liver, mushrooms, cashew nuts and most dark green leafy vegetables. In severe cases, copper injections from a doctor are also an option.

Hair and Diet

What you eat really can impact on the condition of your hair. Find out more in our feature Eating The Right Diet For Healthy Hair.

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Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Hi I'm Zain from Durban South Africa. I've had a problem with my hair growth since I was 8 months old now I'm 35,Cork screw hair on my arms, legs and chest, ingrown hair at certain places, lucky I hav good hair on my head, should I do a blood test to check my vitamin c levels, please advise me......
ZainO - 4-Jan-17 @ 11:37 PM
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