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Welcome to Hair-Pedia™ -- The Hair Encyclopedia

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Hair is a protein filament that grows through the epidermis from follicles deep within the dermis. The fine, soft hair found on many nonhuman mammals is typically called fur; wool is the characteristically curly hair found on sheep and goats. Found exclusively in mammals, hair is one of the defining characteristics of the mammalian class. Although other non-mammals, especially insects, show filamentous outgrowths, these are not considered "hair" in the scientific sense. So-called "hairs" (trichomes) are also found on plants. The projections on arthropods such as insects and spiders are actually insect bristles, composed of a polysaccharide called chitin. There are varieties of cats, dogs, and mice bred to have little or no visible fur. In some species, hair is absent at certain stages of life. The main component of hair fiber is keratin. The hair can be divided into three parts length-wise, the bulb, a swelling at the base which originates from the dermis, the root, which is the hair lying beneath the skin surface, and the shaft, which is the hair above the skin surface. In cross-section, there are also three parts, the medulla, an area in the core which contains loose cells and airspaces the cortex, which contains densely packed keratin and the cuticle, which is a single layer of cells arranged like roof shingles.

Hair Types:
Human beings have three distinct types of hair:
Lanugo is fine hair that covers nearly the entire body of a fetus. Unless born prematurely, the fetus loses this layer of hair before birth. Lanugo also sometimes returns in cases of malnutrition or extreme anorexia nervosa, as the starved body attempts to insulate itself.
Vellus hair is extremely short, fine, scarcely noticeable hair that covers most the human body in both sexes.
Terminal hair is fully developed hair, which is generally longer, coarser, thicker, and darker than vellus hair.


Balding and Greying:
The tendency of older people to develop grey hair is due to "a massive build up of hydrogen peroxide due to wear and tear of our hair follicles ...[which] winds up blocking the normal synthesis of melanin, our hair's natural pigment." Grey hair is considered to be a characteristic of normal aging. The age at which this occurs varies from person to person, but in general nearly everyone 75 years or older has grey hair, and in general men tend to become grey at younger ages than women.

It should be noted however, that grey hair in itself is not actually grey; the grey head of hair is a result of a combination of the dark and white/colourless hair forming an overall 'grey' appearance to the observer. As such, people starting out with very pale blond hair usually develop white hair instead of grey hair when aging. Red hair usually doesn't turn grey with age; rather it becomes a sandy colour and afterward turns white. Some degree of scalp hair loss or thinning generally accompanies aging in both males and females, and it's estimated that half of all men are affected by male pattern baldness by the time they are 50. The tendency toward baldness is a trait shared by a number of other primate species, and is thought to have evolutionary roots.

Distribution Rate:
Human scalp hair normally grows at a rate of 0.4 mm /day (incidentally human scalp hair grows at a rate four times that of human nails. Human nails grow at a rate of 0.1 mm/day). It is commonly accepted that emotional distress, especially that caused by verbal abuse, etc. often is a contributing factor to a slower hair growth rate. Furthermore, the abuser often experience similar affects as the abusee. As far as the growth after death, it is a myth; the appearance of growth is actually caused by the retraction of skin as the surrounding tissue dehydrates, making nails and hair more prominent.

Hair texture is described as fine, medium, coarse or wiry, depending on the hair diameter. Within the four texture ranges hair can also be thin, medium or thick density and it can be straight, curly, 'kinky' (tightly coiled), or wavy. Hair conditioner also affects hair texture. Hair can be healthy, normal, oily, dry, damaged or a combination. Hair texture can also be affected by hair styling equipment such as straighteners, crimpers, or curlers. Also, a hairdresser can change hair texture with chemicals.

Hair is genetically programmed to be straight, wavy, curly, or 'kinky,' and it can change over time.

For many years, it was believed that the shape of a person’s hair was determined by the individual hair shafts, and that curly and 'kinky' hair get their shape because the cross-section of the hair shaft was flatter and had more intertwined layers than straight hair, which was round. But scientists have determined that whether your hair is curly, 'kinky', or straight is determined by the shape of the follicle itself and the direction in which each strand grows out of its follicle. Curly and/or 'kinky' hair is shaped like an elongated oval and grows at a sharp angle to the scalp. This growth pattern, in turn, determines the cross-section of the shafts.

Curly and/or 'kinky' hair has a different biological structure from straight hair. It tends to be much drier than straight hair because the oils secreted into the hair shaft by the sebaceous glands can more easily travel down the shaft of straight hair. People with very curly hair may find that this hair type can be dry and often frizzy.

Hair, whether it is curly or straight, is affected by the amount of humidity in the air. It serves as a restoring force for the hair, forcing water back into the hair fiber and forcing hair shaft to return to its original structure. This may be more noticeable in somebody with curly hair because it tends to get frizzy when the humidity rises.

According to The Physics Factbook, the diameter of human hair ranges from 17 to 181 µm. It varies slightly with ethnicity, where Europeans generally have 57-90 µm and Asians around 120 µm.

By using hair-water partitioning, the density of hair is estimated to 1.32 kg/L. Thus, considering hair as cylindrical, the weight of a single hair is between 3 and 340 microgram per cm, for a diameter of 17 and 181 µm respectively.

Drugs used in cancer chemotherapy frequently cause a temporary loss of hair, noticeable on the head and eyebrows, because they kill all rapidly dividing cells, not just the cancerous ones. Other diseases and traumas can cause temporary or permanent loss of hair, either generally or in patches. Patients with Hyperthyroidism or Hypothyroidism can experience hair loss until their hormone levels are regulated.

Hair Analysis:
The hair shafts may store certain poisons for years, even decades, after death. In the case of Col. Lafayette Baker, who died July 3, 1868, use of an atomic absorption spectrophotometer showed the man was killed by white arsenic. The prime suspect was Wally Pollack, Baker's brother-in-law. According to Dr. Ray A. Neff, Pollack had laced Baker's beer with it over a period of months, and a century or so later minute traces of arsenic showed up in the dead man's hair. Mrs. Baker's diary seems to confirm that it was indeed arsenic, as she writes of how she found some vials of it inside her brother's suitcoat one day.

In recent years, a University of Toronto laboratory pioneered the use of neonatal hair to show exposure to drugs of abuse in pregnancy. Drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, etc., accumulate in the neonatal hair during its growth and thus serve as a long term “memory” of what happened during fetal life. The hair analysis method used by Dr. G. Koren's research group revolutionized the diagnosis of in utero exposure to drugs.


Evolution of Hair:
A recent study by scientists from Medical University of Vienna traced the origins of hair to the common ancestor of mammals, birds and lizards that lived 310 million years ago. The study found chickens, lizards and humans all possessed a similar set of genes that was involved in the production of keratin . In chickens and lizards, the keratin produced was found in their claws, but in mammals it was used to produce hair. The scientists involved were still searching for the mechanisms that allowed mammals to use the keratins of animal claws to produce hair.

Human "Nakedness":
Historically, some ideas have been advanced to explain the small amount of body hair in humans, as compared to other species. However, recent research on the evolution of lice suggests that human ancestors lost their body hair approximately 3.3 million years ago.

Most mammals have light skin that is covered by fur, and biologists believe that human ancestors started out this way also. Dark skin probably evolved after humans lost their body fur, because the naked skin was vulnerable to harsh African UV radiation. Therefore, evidence of when human skin darkened has been used to date the loss of human body hair, assuming that the dark skin would not have been needed until after the fur was gone.

Dr. Alan R. Rogers, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Utah, used mutations in the MC1R gene to estimate when human skin darkened. He said humans may have gone through several genetic "clean sweeps" with light-skinned individuals dying off and dark-skinned individuals surviving. He estimates the last of these clean sweeps took place 1.2 million years ago. Therefore, humans have been hairless at least since that time.

The Savanna Theory suggests that nature selected humans for shorter and thinner body hair as part of a set of adaptations to the warm plains of the African savanna (in addition to bipedal locomotion and an upright posture). Some hold that there are several problems with this theory (including balding), not least of which is that cursorial hunting is used by other animals that do not show any thinning of hair. Nevertheless, other species likely migrated to Africa by way of a gradual process. This provided them with time to adjust to the intense UV and sunlight by way of other means (such as panting). Hominids, on the other hand, originally possessed fur, but, due to a relatively sudden change in behavior 2.5 million years ago (due to hominid inventiveness/technological innovation) that involved intense hunting during the day, they developed sweat glands that enabled them to perspire. This change necessitated the loss of most body hair in order to facilitate sweat evaporation (i.e. cool the body). Furthermore, balding usually occurs at around 30 - 40 years of age. In prehistoric times, most individuals did not live past 30. Hence it wasn't a common trait. Also, dark pigmentation of the skin could have compensated for premature baldness (although such a condition would have still been somewhat uncomfortable relative to having hair[dubious – discuss]). Finally, there are indeed other African mammals that have lost fur due to equatorial heat. These include the African (and Indian) elephant, as well as the hippopotamus. Thus this theory remains the best explanation of human hair loss despite the persistence of those advocating the lice hypothesis et al.

Another theory for the thin body hair on humans proposes that Fisherian runaway sexual selection played a role. (as well as in the selection of long head hair). Possibly this occurred in conjunction during fetal/early child development neoteny such that more juvenile appearing females being selected by males as more desirable (see types of hair and vellus hair) (however, this conclusion may be more of a reflection of current standards of beauty rather than prehistoric ones).

The aquatic ape hypothesis posits that sparsity of hair is an adaptation to an aquatic environment, but it has little support amongst scientists.

Humans, like all primates, are part of a trend toward sparser hair in larger animals; the density of human hair follicles on the skin is actually about what one would expect for an animal of equivalent size[13]. The outstanding question is why so much of human hair is short, underpigmented vellus hair, rather than terminal hair.

Evolutionary Variation:
Evolutionary biologists suggest that the genus Homo arose in East Africa approximately 2.5 million years ago (Jablonski, 2006). During this time new hunting techniques were innovated (Jablonski, 2006). The higher protein diet led to the evolution of larger body and brain sizes (Jablonski, 2006). Jablonski (2006) postulates that increasing body size, in conjunction with intensified hunting during the day at the equator, gave rise to a greater need to rapidly expel heat. As a result, humans developed the ability to sweat and thus lost body hair to facilitate this process (Jablonski, 2006). Notably, Pagel et al. (2003) argue against this hypothesis, stating that hominids without fur would not have been able to warm themselves as efficiently at night, nor protect themselves well enough from the sun during the day. However, it is likely that increased intelligence, combined with sophisticated hunting techniques, enabled humans to warm themselves at night using animal skins. Furthermore, assuming that hair loss evolved gradually, dark skin color likely developed to protect the skin during the day (Rogers et al. 2004). Hence the former hypothesis concerning loss of hair via the evolution of sweat glands is still quite viable.


Tightly Coiled Hair:
Jablonski (2006) agrees that it was evolutionarily advantageous for pre-humans (Homo erectus) to retain the hair on their heads in order to protect the skin there as they walked upright in the intense African (equatorial) UV light (Jablonski, 2006). In addition, axilliary hair (in the underarms) was likely retained as a sign of sexual maturity. During the process of going from fur to naked skin, hair texture putatively changed gradually from straight (the condition of most mammals, including humanity's closest cousins--chimpanzees), to Afro-like or 'kinky' (i.e. tightly coiled). This is supported by Iyengar's (1998) findings that the roots of straight human hair may act as fiber optic tubes that allow UV light to pass into the skin, while it is notable that 'kinks' in fiber optic tubes are known to prevent UV light from passing through. In this sense, during the period in which humans were gradually losing their straight body hair and thereby exposing the pale skin underneath their fur to the sun, straight hair would have been an evolutionary liability. Hence, tightly coiled or 'kinky' natural afro-hair may have evolved to prevent the entry of UV light into the body during the gradual transition period towards the evolution of dark skin.

Straight Hair:
According to the recent single origin hypothesis, anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) arose in East Africa approximately 200,000 years ago (Tishkoff, 1996).

Anatomically modern behavior in terms of innovation in hunting instruments and artistic expression arose within the past 100,000-70,000 years in Africa. It was just after this period that modern humans began to expand their range to regions outside of (and within) this continent (Tishkoff, 1996). Among those in the group who left the African continent, some migrated to northern regions such as central and northeast Asia. It is hypothesized that, given their original sub-Saharan origin, these groups initially faced a special dilemma. Their dark African skin and 'kinky' African hair, both of which likely evolved to minimize entry of solar radiation into the body (Jablonski, 2006), were ill-suited to the weak sunlight of these regions.

This is because, some time during the period in which humanity was in Africa, their skin had developed the ability to manufacture vitamin D (which was essential for bone development) upon exposure to UV light (Jablonski, 2006). However the UV light of northern regions was too weak to penetrate the highly pigmented skin of the initial migrants in order to provide enough vitamin D for healthy bone development (Jablonski, 2006).

Malformed bones in the pelvic area were especially deadly for women in that they interfered with the successful delivery of babies. Hence, those with lighter skin gradually survived and had children at higher rates because their skin allowed more UV light for the production of vitamin D (Jablonski, 2006).

It is probable that, during the transition period from dark to light skin, the need for vitamin D grew so intense that northerners with mutations for straight hair survived and had children at higher rates. This is likely because straight fibers better facilitate the passage of UV light into the body compared to 'kinky' hair. This, again, is in accord with Iyengar's (1998) findings that UV light can pass through straight human hair roots in a manner similar to the way that light passes through fiber optic tubes.

The EDAR Locus and the Evolution of Straight 'Coarse' Hair in East Asia:
A group of studies have recently shown that genetic patterns at the EDAR locus, a region of the modern human genome that contributes to hair texture variation among most individuals of East Asian descent, support the hypothesis that (East Asian) straight hair likely developed in this branch of the modern human lineage subsequent to the original expression of tightly coiled natural Afro-hair (Mou, 2008; Fujimoto, 2008; Fujimoto, 2008b). Specifically, the relevant findings indicate that the EDAR mutation coding for the predominant East Asian 'coarse' or thick, straight hair texture arose within the past ~65,000 years. This indicates that the initial expression of this trait among modern humans occurred only after the migration of humans out of sub-Saharan Africa.

Social Role of Hair:
Hair has great social significance for human beings. It can grow on most areas of the human body, except on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet (among other areas), but hair is most noticeable in most people in a small number of areas, which are also the ones that are most commonly trimmed, plucked, or shaved. These include the face, nose, ears, head, eyebrows, eyelashes, legs and armpits, as well as the pubic region. The highly visible differences between male and female body and facial hair are a notable secondary sex characteristic.

Hair as Indicator:
Healthy hair indicates health and youth (important in evolutionary biology). Hair colour and texture can be a sign of ethnic ancestry. Facial hair is a sign of puberty in men. White hair is a sign of age, which can be concealed with hair dye. A well known old wives' tale often told to children claims that eating a large portion of bread crusts can make hair curly. Male pattern baldness is sign of age, which can be concealed with a toupee, hats or religious/cultural adornments. In modern times, it can be reversed in some men with minoxidil (marketed as Rogaine or Regaine) or finasteride (marketed as Propecia); see Baldness treatments. Rather than these options, many men simply shave their heads for a clean look. Males in some religious groups, for example Sikhs and Orthodox Jews, may follow certain rules regarding hair as part of their faith, e.g. never cut their hair, or shave some or all of it. Some groups, such as women in the Muslim and orthodox Jewish communities, cover their hair as part of religious observance. Hair whorls have been discovered to be associated with brain development.

Hairstyle can be an indicator of group membership:. Metalheads can often feature long hair for headbanging, although long hair is commonplace for many men and women outside of heavy metal (ex: Indian sadhus, the hippie subculture, etc). Beatle "mop-top" haircuts. Mohawk haircuts, often associated with punk rock and the punk subculture. Skinhead haircuts, where the head is often shaved completely bald, or "buzzed". Mullet hairstyles, which have stereotypically been portrayed as pertaining to rednecks. Deathhawk A larger, fuller, back combed version of a mohawk - popular in the gothic sub-culture, and heavily featured in deathrock and gothic rock bands in the 1980s. Undercut where the sides and back of the head are shaved short or bald, and the top hair is allowed to grow long. Common among so-called "cybergoths" and followers of Industrial and heavy electronic music scenes. This is especially true of women in these subcultures, although the undercut is accepted as a unisex hair style. Fascinator (hair style) where the hair is short at the back and long at the front and the front forms itself into a point. It is similar to a mullet in reverse (also known as a frullet) or a devil lock. Hair that is usually short with a long side fringe [American: bangs] is a cut often associated with emo music and its fan basis. It is often dyed black or vibrant and contrasting colours such as pink or blue. It is considered a unisex haircut and often appears similar to the mop-top.

Growing and Removing:
In Western society, men's hair is generally kept short. This is due in part to the English Civil War. The followers of Oliver Cromwell decided to crop their hair close to their head, as an act of defiance to the curls and ringlets of the king's men. The Cromwell followers won. Hair length for men: Cavaliers and Roundheads, long hair in the 1960s, skinheads, mullets and other hairstyles, the uncut hair of Sikhs. Having bobbed hair was popular among the flappers in the 1920s as a sign of rebellion against traditional roles for women. Female art students known as the "cropheads" also adopted the style, notably at the Slade School in London, England. Hairy arms and legs, regional variations in hirsutism.

Hair, Power, Punishment, and Status:
Samson and Delilah. Shaved heads in concentration camps. Head-shaving as punishment - especially for women with long hair. Military haircuts, monastic tonsures.Kovstro and his Seven Hounds. Extremely long hair of some Indian holy men. Regular hairdressing as sign of wealth. The dreadlocks of the Rastafari were despised early in the movement's history. Having one's own hair cut in order to liberate oneself from their past, usually after a trying time in one's life. Having hair cut as a sign of mourning, which was practiced in a number of cultures. Yoko Ono famously cut her very long hair after the assassination of her husband John Lennon, saying, "John loved my long hair, so I gave it to him.". Tightly coiled hair in its natural state can be worn in an Afro. This hairstyle was once worn among African Americans as a symbol of racial pride. Given that the coiled texture is the natural state of most African Americans' hair, this simple style is now often seen as a sign of self-acceptance and an affirmation that the beauty norms of dominant (northern/European) culture are not absolute. Flappers of the 1920s cut their traditional long hair into short bob cuts to show their independence and sexual freedom. Hippies of the 1960s grew their hair long in order to illustrate their distance from mainstream society. The film Easy Rider (1969) includes the description of one Hippie forcibly having his head shaved with a rusty razor to indicate the intolerance of some conservative groups towards the Hippie movement. At the conclusion of the Oz obscenity trials in the UK, the defendants had their heads shaved by the police, causing an outcry. During the appeal trial, they appeared in the dock wearing wigs.

Concealing and Revealing:
Keeping women's hair hidden: headscarves, the hijab in Islam, head-shaving and wigs in Orthodox Judaism etc. Keeping men's hair hidden: the turban in Sikhism. Displaying women's hair: hair fashions in Western society. Displaying men's hair: facial hair in Islam, ringlets in Hassidic Judaism. Hair ornaments. Keeping pubic hair hidden or shaven.

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