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Hair Structure

By :Nyaki Tshabangu 0 comments
Hair Structure

We all want to have thick luscious long hair, and unfortunately, the beauty industry knows that with the right branding, and marketing, we will buy anything that promises our hair dreams.

  • Used this to turn your relaxed hair curly again
  • This products reverses split ends
  • This hair color actually makes your hair stronger:

We’ve all heard them, and we’ve all fallen for them but, while products promise and sometimes deliver on these dreams, it’s important to actually understand your hair and how it grows before diving into the sea of making it flourish.

Don’t get me wrong, there are wonderful products on the market that can temporarily wash and learning about your hair will help you identify them. 


First up, the purpose of hair; why do we have it, or need it: 

The most obvious is Aesthetic. Hair is pretty, it makes us feel pretty and confident. For eons, women (and men) from all walks of life, treasure hair because it is probably one of the most noticeable features on your face. Your hair is you. You are your hair – I’m sorry India Arie- but it’s true. 


But besides that It Protects us from heat loss, brain trauma and exposure to excess sunlight. 


How it grows:

Human hair follows a specific growth and shedding pattern that’s hard coded into your individual DNA. A single strand of hair is only thick, but is remarkably strong with a tensile strength equivalent to a thin strand of wire. 

Why then does hair seem so fragile? 

Hair stretches easily, unlike wire, and it is just fine when it extends to about 30% of its original length. However anything beyond that damages the hair strand. At 80% stretch, the hair shaft fractures. Hair is even more vulnerable to breaking when the hair shaft is damaged or wet- but more on that later. 


Each hair strand is made up of three layers: The cuticle, the cortex and the medulla. (insert image)

The cuticle is the outermost layer of the hair stand. It has flaps that overlap and work at protecting the cortex. The cuticles are semi transparent and can either reflect or refract light to provide shine and sheen to your hair. The cuticle is responsible for maintaining moisture in the hair strand and a damaged cuticle will have trouble retaining moisture. 

The cuticle can easily become damaged by chemical processes like relaxers and colouring, poor hair habits like constant manipulation. 


The cortex is the middle layer of the hair strand and this is basically ‘your hair’ making up 90% of its weight and giving hair its strength. The cortex also provides colour to your hair determined by melanin pigment. 


The medulla is the innermost part of the hair and its function is still unknown. Some hair, particularly grey or very thin hair doesn’t have a medulla and science doesn’t know why! 


Hair damage is mainly as a result of the breakdown or damage of any one of these layers, primarily the first two – cuticle and cortex. 


Hair is made up primarily of a protein called Keratin. Keratin is a solid resilient water resistant form of protein. Getting a bit more technical, keratin is made up of amino acids linked together in a chain. Amino acids are the building blocks of the hair. 

These amino acids are called cysteine- and cystine is important to hair because it contains sulphur and sulphur can link together to form a disulphide bond, which is what gives the hair its shape strength and flexibility. 

Two other bonds are formed- namely hydrogen bonds; which are the weakest bond and can easily be broken by water or heat. This is how your hair is able to be manipulated to become straight or curly. Adding more hydrogen repairs these bonds returning them to their natural state. 

The third kind of bonds are salt bonds, and these are broken and damaged by a strong acidic or alkaline product like baking soda. 

Disulphide bonds are the ones that break when we color or relax our hair and cannot be repaired. 


As you know, the hair shaft comes out of the scalp; but the scalp is ALSO made up of a number of layers and parts. 


The scalp has three layers: the epidermis, the dermis, the middle layer where most of the action happens and the hypodermis in the bottom layer. 


The epidermis is the layer we feel and can see. The dermis is the middle layer of the scalp and is the home of the hair follicle which is responsible for hair production as well as  texture and thickness, sebaceous gland, that produces sebum needed to keep hair lubricated,  and blood capillaries that ensure blood and nutrients make it to the hair follicle. 


The hypodermis mainly consists of fat cells and nerve endings. 


Diving deeper into the dermis, just underneath the hair follicle sits a little pear shaped ball called the Dermal Papilla. The dermal papilla is responsible for transferring vitamins and Nutrients from your bloodstream to your hair strand. The dermal papilla supports production of key amino acids. Think of it as the umbilical cord of your hair. 


Wrapped around the Dermal Papilla is a structure called a hair matrix. This is where your hair pigment is produced and most importantly this is where a massive cell division takes place that forms the major structure of your hair. In fact the cell division and renewal process in this area is one of the fastest in the human body. So to tie it all together when you eat food, vitamins and nutrients get broken down into your bloodstream, the dermal papilla transfers those nutrients into the hair Matrix and encourages cell division. This rapid cell division is what forms your hair strands and the whole area is called the hair bulb.


The replication of cells at the base of the follicle is the continuous process by which our hair grows. As the hair follicle produces new cells, the older cells are (wait for it)Keratinized or hardened and forced upwards through the scalp. Once the hair leaves the protection of the hair follicle it is no longer a living tissue. 


And that is how your hair grows… easy right? 


Ok so although we got a bit technical here, it’s important to dive into the unseen so we can properly understand what is going on where you can see. 

Understanding the composition of your hair and scalp will help you in understanding what your hair needs to be healthy and happy!

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