Hair is a filamentous biomaterial, that grows from follicles found in the dermis. Hair is one of the defining characteristics of mammals, but is also found in other animals.
The human body, apart from areas of glabrous skin, is covered in follicles which produce thick terminal and fine vellus hair. Most common interest in hair is focused on hair growth, hair types and hair care, but hair is also an important biomaterial primarily composed of protein, notably keratin. In many human societies, women predominantly grow the hair on their head long while men cut theirs short.
The word "hair" often refers to two distinct structures:
- the part beneath the skin, called the hair follicle or when pulled from the skin, called the bulb. This organ is located in the dermis and maintains stem cells which not only re-grow the hair after it falls out, but also are recruited to regrow skin after a wound;
- the shaft, which is the hard filamentous part that extends above the skin surface. A cross section of the hair shaft may be divided roughly into three zones.
Hair fibers have a structure consisting of several layers. Starting from the outside:
- the cuticle which consists of several layers of flat, thin cells laid out overlapping one another as roof shingles,
- the cortex, which contains the keratin bundles in cell structures that remain roughly rod-like; and in some cases,
- the medulla, a disorganized and open area at the fiber's center.
Each strand of hair is made up of the medulla, cortex, and cuticle. The innermost region, the medulla, is not always present and is an open, unstructured region. The highly structural and organized cortex, or middle layer of the hair, is the primary source of mechanical strength and water uptake. The cortex contains melanin, which colors the fiber based on the number, distribution and types of melanin granules. The shape of the follicle determines the shape of the cortex, and the shape of the fiber is related to how straight or curly the hair is. Asian hair typically has a round fiber and is quite straight. Oval and irregularly shaped fibers are generally more wavy or even curly. The cuticle is the outer covering. Its complex structure slides as the hair swells and is covered with a single molecular layer of lipid that makes the hair repel water.
Hair growth begins inside the hair follicle. The only "living" portion of the hair is found in the follicle. The hair that is visible is the hair shaft, which exhibits no biochemical activity and is considered "dead". The base of the root is called the bulb, which contains the cells that produce the hair shaft. Other structures of the hair follicle include the oil producing sebaceous gland which lubricates the hair and the erector pili muscles, which are responsible for causing hairs to stand up. In humans, with little body hair, the effect results in goose bumps.
All natural hair colors are the result of two types of hair pigment. Both of these pigments are melanin types, produced inside the hair follicle and packed into granules found in the fibers. Eumelanin is the dominant pigment in dark-blond, brown hair, and black hair, while pheomelanin is dominant in red hair. Blond hair is the result of having little pigmentation in the hair strand. Gray hair occurs when melanin production decreases or stops.
Human hair growthEdit
Hair grows everywhere on the external body except for mucous membranes and glabrous skin, such as that found on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and on the lips.
Hair follows a specific growth cycle with three distinct and concurrent phases: anagen, catagen, and telogen phases. Each has specific characteristics that determine the length of the hair. All three occur simultaneously; one strand of hair may be in the anagen phase, while another is in the telogen phase.
The body has different types of hair, including vellus hair and androgenic hair, each with its own type of cellular construction. The different construction gives the hair unique characteristics, serving specific purposes, mainly warmth and protection.
Eyebrows and eyelashesEdit
The eyebrows provide some protection to the eyes from dirt, sweat, and rain. More importantly, they play a key role in non-verbal communication. In many other mammals they contain much longer, whisker-like hairs that act as tactile sensors.
The eyelash grows at the edges of the eyelid and protects the eye from dirt. The eyelash is to humans, camels, horses, ostriches etc., what whiskers are to cats; they are used to sense when dirt, dust, or any other potentially harmful object is too close to the eye.
Depilation is the removal of hair from the surface of the skin. This can be achieved through methods such as shaving. Epilation is the removal of the entire hair strand, including the part of the hair that has not yet left the follicle. A popular way to epilate hair is through waxing it.
Shaving is accomplished with bladed instruments, such as razors. The blade is brought close to the skin and stroked over the hair in the desired area to cut the terminal hairs and leave the skin feeling smooth. Depending upon the rate of growth, one can begin to feel the hair growing back within hours of shaving. This is especially evident in men who develop a five o'clock shadow after having shaved their faces. This new growth is called stubble. Stubble typically appears to grow back thicker because the shaved hairs are blunted instead of tapered off at the end, although the hair never actually grows back thicker.
Waxing involves using a sticky wax and strip of paper or cloth to pull hair from the root. Waxing is the ideal hair removal technique to keep an area hair-free for long periods of time. It can take five to nine weeks for waxed hair to begin to resurface again. Hair in areas that have previously been waxed also is known to grow back finer and thinner, especially compared to hair that has been shaved with a razor.
Cutting and trimmingEdit
Because the hair on the head is normally longer than other types of body hair, it is cut with scissors or clippers. People with longer hair will most often use scissors to cut their hair, whereas shorter hair is maintained using a trimmer. Depending on the desired length and overall health of the hair, periods without cutting or trimming the hair can vary.
Many people will confuse what a haircut is versus what a trim is. A haircut is usually performed in order to change one's hairstyle, while a trim helps to keep away split ends and keep the hair well-groomed. Cutting hair tends to take off more hair than trimming hair does. When hair is trimmed, only the first few centimeters need to be removed, whereas haircuts can sometimes result in the loss of many inches of hair.