What is Hair and How Does it Grow?

Hair can be a bit of an enigma.  While many people devote a great deal of effort to its care and upkeep, few actually spend much time thinking about what it actually is.  While it may appear simple, the hair is actually much more complex than people realize.  Dr. Edmond Griffin, Dr. Ashley Curtis, and the other hair restoration specialists at The Griffin Center of Hair Restoration and Research have spent the last forty years working to understand the intricacies of hair and how it really works in an effort to develop both surgical and non-surgical treatments for all forms of hair loss.

what-is-hair-and-how-does-it-growUnderstanding what hair is begins with understanding how it is produced.  All hair grows from follicles, specialized, tunnel-like segments of the epidermis embedded in the skin.  About 5 million hair follicles cover the body, with approximately 100,000 on the scalp alone, and each is responsible for growing (and re-growing) a single hair strand.  The portion of the hair strand inside the hair follicle is called the root, and at the base of this root is the hair bulb, where all growth actually occurs.  Nourished by the network of blood vessels called the papilla, the cells in the hair bulb divide every 23 to 72 hours, significantly faster than any other cells in the body.  As new cells are formed the old ones are pushed upward, towards the skin’s surface.  Along the way, each hair cell undergoes a process called keratinization, gradually losing its nucleus and filling with fibrous proteins.  By the time the hair shaft reaches the scalp surface it is functionally dead, even though the hair follicle itself is still alive and active.  No longer composed of living, growing cells, the strand is now nothing more than a collection of amino acid strands, or polypeptides, that form a complex, interwoven pattern.

The structure of the hair has important implications for its care.  Because the hair is predominantly composed of amino acids, not unlike the building blocks of the skin and nails, foods that are rich in protein and amino acids, like fish and legumes, are essential for healthy hair growth.  Polypeptides that form hair strands can also form side bonds with one another, and the presence of these sides bonds determines whether a specific hair strand is thick or fine.  Some of these weaker bonds can be altered through the use of heat and water, which is why products like curling irons and flat irons can affect the hair’s shape, while even the strongest bonds can be temporarily or even permanently broken by damaging hair treatments such as waves or relaxers.  When the bonds are damaged, the hair tends to break easily and the ends of the strands can become frayed, a condition commonly known as “split ends.”  This not only makes the hair more difficult to style, but can also exacerbate the symptoms of hair loss by making the hair appear even more thin and wispy.

Understanding the basic anatomy of the hair can help provide valuable insight into its growth, health, and longevity.  In order to find out more about hair and hair loss, including the conditions that can cause it and the procedures that can treat it, check out our hair restoration blog, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.  If you fear that you or someone you love may be starting to experience hair loss, please contact The Griffin Center of Hair Restoration and Research to schedule a hair loss consultation.