We are living in an extraordinary period of time that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives and hopefully will never be repeated. It’s like warfare against an invisible foe whose main aim is to cause social discohesion and death to the elderly and weak. We can’t treat it (yet), and our only weapon is to wash our hands and stay away from everyone we don’t live with. It is like one of the novels the children read, foretelling of doom and gloom in a dystopian future except it is happening and we’re living through it now.
It’s quite easy to feel anxious; we have constant updates, broadcasts and text messages informing us of the importance to stay at home, we worry about our aged relatives who are on their own and more importantly, no one knows how long this will go on for. If we do venture out for the essentials in life, it can be with trepidation as we have to treat everyone else as if they are potentially contagious.
In an attempt to keep a positive outlook, we could utilise our time at home to learn a new skill or complete chores we never had the time to do before because there was always something more pressing to be done. We may even end up being each other’s hairdresser or barber – eek! However, the one thing we must not do with all our newly found free time is to use a heating styling appliance on damp hair. Why not? Because we could end up with Bubble hair.
Bubble hair? What is that?
This is an acquired hair condition where damage occurs to the hairs (or hair shaft) due to heat.
So I can get it from hair drying?
Bubble hair most specifically occurs when heated styling appliances are used on damp hair.
Why is that?
Well, normal hair contains air filled sacs or vacuoles. When hair is wet, these little sacs fill with water and then if you heat the hair, for example with a hair dryer, heated curlers, styling irons or hair tongs the water in the vacuoles expands and vaporises.
This vaporisation thins the cortex of the hair (the main bulk of the hair shaft and the part that contains the hair colour) and this thinning makes the hair shaft more brittle and liable to break.
What does bubble hair look like?
There may be generalised thinning of the hair over the scalp with hair that is especially brittle and may look grey. The hair does not fall out easily and there are no bald patches typically. Obviously hair in other body sites is unaffected.
When we look at the hair shaft under a dermatoscope we can see irregularly spaced air bubbles within the hair shaft.
[Heath, RJ, Bakshi A, Sutton C et al. An ‘airy hairy’ problem. Clin Exp Dermatol 2020;45:229-31.]
But I use a hairdryer every time I wash my hair!
Apparently, the amount of heat required and the duration of heat required to create bubble hair has been explored. It was found that a temperature of 175 oC for more than 5mins to a hair shaft would cause bubble formation.
[Detwiler SP, Carson JL, Woosley JT et al. Bubble hair: a case caused by an overheating hair dryer and reproducibility in normal hair with heat. J Am Acad Dermatol 1994;30:54-60.]
So a quick hair dry should not typically cause problems.
And the treatment?
This is pretty obviously avoiding the use of heated styling appliances on damp hair.
So stay strong mentally and physically, cherish your nearest and dearest and we will get through this eventually, with our without bubble hair!
Dr Sandy Flann, Consultant dermatologist.