Chapter 1 : What You Should Know About Your Hair
Hair is the most misused, tortured, and taken-for-granted tissue on our entire body. The things we do to it would ruin other parts of the body, but even when damaged and frail, hair keeps going, unless – of course – you lose it altogether. Hair is a body tissue that grows. It is greatly affected by what we put on it, what we eat, the shape of our mental or physical health, and what we expose it to.
Hair grows from follicles all over the scalp. Hair cells are some of the fastest-growing cells in the body. Each person is born with all the hair follicles they will ever have, about five million of them. The follicle grows from beneath the skin of the scalp and is sometimes referred to as a bulb, because that is what it looks like. Look at a tulip bulb. It is a rounded teardrop shape and usually has several sheaths coming from the small top. That is exactly what a hair follicle looks like.
The shape of the hair follicle determines what kind of hair a person has. Round follicles produce straight hair while oval ones send forth curly hair. If you have round follicles today, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will have them for life. They can change shape throughout your life.
I have a friend who decided to shave her head because her hair had become thin, poker straight, and basically unattractive. When it started to grow back she started to see a little curl in her otherwise straight hair. It grew in a little thicker and curly. Apparently her follicles decided to change shape after she shaved her head. This doesn’t happen to everyone. My great aunt had brain surgery and her head was shaved before the procedure. When it grew out, her hair was still thin and curly, just like it was before.
The follicle is surrounded by two different sheaths. The inner sheath ends below the opening of the oil gland associated with the follicle and the outer sheath grows all the way to the gland. This gland secretes oil and sebum, which serves as a natural conditioner. More sebum is produced as a person goes through puberty, but it starts to taper off as you grow older. These oils keep the hair shiny and healthy; generally, the more you wash your hair, the more oil these glands produce.
When I was young, my hair was very oily. I washed it every day, but by evening it was oily again. One day, I became ill and had to go to the hospital. I was not allowed to wash my hair; as a teenager I was mortified, because I knew my hair would become slick with oil by the end of two days. Miraculously, it didn’t. It looked a bit oily by the evening of the first day, but it looked the same the second day. The third day there wasn’t much difference, either. It was oily, but not as bad as I thought it would be.
When I got home, I stopped washing it every day and the oiliness seemed to improve. I began to wash it every other day, and my hair remained healthy for years. The older I grew, the less oily it became; now I can get away with washing it only every three days, as long as I brush it to distribute the oil and avoid putting conditioner on the roots.The shaft is the visible part of the hair and, believe it or not, it is the dead part of the hair. Yes, our hair is dead. That is why it doesn’t hurt when we cut it. However, this dead tissue has more to it than other dead cells on the body. The shaft has three layers. The cuticle is the colorless overlapping flat cells that give hair smooth or frizzy quality. The cortex determines color and texture, such as curly, thick, thin, or straight hair. The medulla is the heart of the hair that determines its strength.Hair is a protein made up of Keratin, most of it in the cortex. Blood vessels running through the scalp are what nourish the follicles and help them produce hair, making our hair grow.
These blood vesselsfeed hormones to the hair; as you get older, these hormones change, ultimately resulting in gray hair.Growing hair has three stages. Normal hair grows at the rate of a half inch per month. That means your hair grows about six inches a year, although some people have faster or slower hair growth.There are three stages to hair growth. Anagen is the growth phase, which lasts for several years. Catagen is a transitional phase where growth slows down and the follicles may shrink in size. Telogen is the resting phase; in many cases the shaft detaches from the follicle at this point and a new hair pushes the old one out. Then it all starts over again.About 90% of the hair on your head is currently growing while the other 10% is in a resting state.
Each follicle produces a new hair about 20 times during the lifespan of a person, assuming they do not go bald. When you see all these statistics, you can truly see how your hair is a wondrous thing and worthy of a great deal of care to keep it healthy.
Bone marrow is the fastest growing tissue in the body, but hair comes in a close second. It takes about three whole years to grow hair out to shoulder-length and seven for it to reach the waist. The difference between male hair and female hair is infinitesimal; the only difference is that male hair may be a little thicker than female hair. Forensic scientists cannot differentiate gender by hair, but they can find out what a person has put in their body if it ends up in the bloodstream. The most accurate drug screening available is the hair test.
Hair is very elastic when wet. It expands by 30% of its own length while it is wet and it is extraordinarily strong. Some circus performers attach heavy objects to their hair and lift them while suspended in the air. Of course, their hair is always wet when they do this; it would not work with dry hair. Hair is very absorbent; it can soak up more than half its weight. Hair was used to sop up oil in the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill in San Francisco. It was able to soak up much of the oil that spilled into the bay.
Genes from your ancestors are what give you the type of hair you have. If you have Asian blood, the likelihood of having straight black hair is very great. The odds are much lower if you have German or Scandinavian ancestry where you will be likely to have blond hair.
African hair is often curly to frizzy but is very soft; other cultures have curly and frizzy hair that is coarse.
Straight hair includes many different types of straightness including fine, thin, shiny, or coarse. Wavy hair includes types that are thin, fine, or coarse; it can lay close to the head or frizz out toward the ends. Curly hair owns a cuticle that refuses to lay flat. Some hairs curl in an S-shape and others sport a Z-shaped pattern. Hair can tumble down in loose curls, ringlets, and spirals or be tight, coarse, and kinky.
Although natural hair grows in a variety of shades, hair color can be broken down into three simple categories. Dark hair includes shades ranging from black to brown. Blond hair can include lighter browns ranging to natural white. Thirdly, there is red hair in its full range from light to dark. Most people have a combination of several colors, but generally one of these three will predominate.
The most common color of natural hair is the dark category. More people existing in the world today have black to brown hair. There are fewer blonds in the world and even fewer redheads. Only one to two percent of all the people in the world have red hair.
Hair has many uses in addition to shading our scalp and making us look pretty. In some areas of the world, human and animal hair is added to a clay mixture to create bricks and other building materials including stucco. Why? Because it strengthens the clay and adds extra insulation to the building.
Hair is often added to garden compost, although it takes forever to break down. Human hair contains high amounts of nitrogen, an essential ingredient for plant growth. Cow fertilizer contains only about 0.3% nitrogen while chicken manure has more at 4.6% nitrogen. However, human hair has a whopping 16% nitrogen content, making it highly prized as a major source of fertilizer in China and other parts of the world.
Hair also helps to keep pests away. My grandfather would collect hair from his local barber shop and mix it with wet soil, compost, and mulch before spreading it over his vegetable garden. He said it kept the rabbits away. He also put a bunch of hair in the same hole as spring bulbs when he planted them, to keep squirrels from digging them up and eating them before they could bloom in spring. He had grandma sew small drawstring bags from loosely woven muslin or cotton and put human hair in them. He tied the bags to fruit trees and leafy bushes to keep the deer away.
Human hair is sought after by companies that make hair products. They use discarded hair to test shampoos, conditioners, styling aids and dyes. Human hair is also used to make wigs, a practice begun as far back as ancient Egypt, in around 1400 BC. Hair does not decompose quickly; Egyptian tombs have yielded wigs with human hair still intact.
It’s a common thing for humans to be discontented with the hair they’ve been given. Many of my friends with curly hair wish they had my straight hair, while there are times I wish I could coax some curl into mine. We have come up with products that change the color of our hair, alter its texture, and change its curl factor. It is a good thing our hair is dead already because some of the chemicals we inflict on it can be pretty hard on our tresses. Subjecting our hair to the heat of hair dryers, straighteners, and curling irons can damage the hair cuticle as well. If the damage is severe enough, it can cause the hair break off and fall out.
I can’t replace all the sources of physical heat damage in this book, but I can help you prevent chemical damage to your hair. The homemade hair solutions I’ve included, ranging from shampoos to styling aids, can help restore damaged hair and can give you healthy and beautiful tresses again, all without the use of harmful chemicals.
At the same time, you’ll be saving money. The recipes and tips in this book often use things you’re familiar with, frequently finding new hair-friendly uses for common household ingredients. It is much cheaper to make your own hair products and it’s healthier for your hair in the long run. If you want to help your hair look its best, read on