Ringed Hair

Caped woman at a hair salon
Q: I have been told on more than one occasion that my hair is quite unique. Various hairdressers from different countries - who have been in the business for many a year - have been baffled by my hair. You see, it has a fine spotted appearance to an almost 'shimmery' effect. One hairdresser told me the likely cause of this is that the outer layer of my hair is see through in some places and you can see through to the core of my hair which is a slightly different colour.
However another hairdresser contradicted this by saying that my hair is not damaged to be able to see the inner core as my hair is smooth and strong not rough and brittle as it would be if it were missing the outer layer in places. I would love to know what 'type' of hair this and how rare it is as everyone who sees it up-close comments on it. Can you help shed some light on this matter?

A: What you are describing sounds like "ringed hair" which is a rare disorder of the hair (non-threatening) that affects the way in which the hair grows with regard to its pigmentation. It is a form of canities (graying hair) and is shown to be a genetic trait passed down in families.
Ringed hair is structurally the same as normal hair on the exterior, and the spotted appearance comes as a result of alternating bands of pigmentation and non-pigmentation along the hair shaft. Basically, as the hair grows out of the scalp the follicle is producing varying amounts of pigment in the hair as it forms when less pigmentation is produced the hair in that length is lighter and more translucent, and when more pigment is being produced, the hair becomes darker and more opaque in that length.
On the interior (when viewed under an electron microscope) ringed hair appears to have "air bubbles" in the lighter areas of the length, which can also account for the translucence. Since "ringed hair" is related to canities (gray hair) this would also explain the presence of what you call a substantial amount of white hair for your age.
This isn't something to be concerned over, and I don't know of any treatment to stop this. However, it presents no significant problems if you wish to use haircolor treatments to cover the inconsistencies in your haircolor, apart from the usual issues in dealing with gray hair (which can be resistant to haircolor).
Photo: Tyler Olson/Shutterstock
See also:
Hair diseases
Hair density