What is hair?

It comes in little coils or straight fibres. Some have it in abundance while others have bald spots crying for help, but what actually is hair?

In as much as we may believe that our hair is just a covering over our heads, it is a strong element that has been used in centuries to communicate and create awareness of different regimes. It has been used as an indication of social status as seen in different continents such as Europe and Africa.  In Rwanda, kings and queens styled and cut their hair into ‘amasunzu’. Other countries like Namibia have the Himba tribe who are renowned for having elegant clay styled hair that can also communicate the transition from teenage years to adulthood or even gender. This chapter is also opened into the religious customs of covering hair or tabooing the ideology of a shaved bald woman. This all comes down to a cocoon of 5, 000, 000 hair follicles that cover our body and 100, 000 that specifically cover our scalp.

So what is hair? I would love to explain this with the most simplicity, here is my try: each hair is made of a strong protein called keratin. One little hair sits in a cosy blanket called a hair follicle. This hair follicle is anchored in the hair bulb. To make it simple, the hair bulb is where all the active living cells abide along with blood vessels. The hair bulb is the engine to your hair growth or loss.

Each hair stand is made up of three main sections, the inner most part being the medulla, followed by the cortex which is responsible for the water intake, strength and contains melanin which determines the colour of your hair. As we grow older, pigment cells die or produce less melanin which makes the hair to turn grey. Some people do genetically produce grey hair at a young age and it is not to be feared or cause medical alerts. The last layer is the cuticle. It is worth noting that the hair strand is only about 0.18 mm in diameter yet it is a complex anatomy of its own.

We have often heard people say that hair we see on our head is “dead”. This is due to the scientific analogy that states that the only living hair is that which is found in the hair bulb as it interacts with more live spheres of blood vessels and living cells. The hair that protrudes on your head is, however, deemed “dead” because it does not have any biochemical action taking place. This does not mean that one should consider it dead and strike as the walking dead, but rather, feed inner body with fresh healthy nutrients to regenerate cells. As for the ‘dead’ hair, feed it with natural products as it is still able to respond to products. A good example that hair responds to products is the use of relaxer, hair can turn from a defined curl to a straight texture.   Let me save my urge to give hair advice for another time.

Hair grows at different rates in different people. The apparent average rate is 1.25 cm a month or 15 centimetres a year. I personally do not stand to that estimate as most research done on hair has not been in the interest of people of colour, at the least, black people. The representation of black people has been minimal to none. It is only in the recent years that research is being developed to understand black people’s hair.

So, next time you hear the preacher man say that God knows the number of hairs on your head, just remember that this includes the entire hair bulb and follicle, should you wish to educate the masses, you may blurb on about three layers that make up a hair strand.



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