Getting to Know Your Hair: The Hair Follicle

Hair can be an easy thing to overlook, and most people don’t think about it too much until after it has started to go away.  After all, it doesn’t seem to do too much other than lay there and keep your head warm.  However, at The Griffin Center of Hair Restoration and Research, we know that hair is actually much more impressive than most people think, and the anatomy of each individual hair follicle is really quite complex.  Hair is made up of two distinct structures: the hair follicle itself, which resides underneath the skin, and the hair shaft, which is visible above the skin’s surface.  In part one of this two part series, we will explore the inner world of the hair follicle by looking at the tiny, specialized organs that make hair growth possible.

  • Getting to Know Your Hair The Hair FollicleHair Root: The portion of the hair underneath the skin’s surface is surrounded by an external and an internal root sheath. The inner sheath follows the hair shaft and ends below the opening of a sebaceous (oil) gland. The outer sheath continues all the way up to the gland.
  • Sebaceous Gland: The sebaceous gland is vital because it produces sebum, which conditions and lubricates the hair and skin, helping to alleviate dry, brittle hair and split ends. After puberty our body produces more sebum but as we age we begin to make less.
  • Arrector Pili Muscle: This muscle attaches below the sebaceous gland to a fibrous layer around the external root sheath. When it contracts, this muscle causes the hair to stand up, forming goose bumps, and stimulates the sebaceous gland to secrete oil.
  • Sweat Gland: A small gland that secretes sweat, situated in the dermis of the skin. Such glands, which help regulate body temperature, are found over most of the body, and have a simple coiled tubular structure.
  • Hair Follicle: The hair follicle itself is a tunnel-like segment of the epidermis that extends down into the dermis. At the base of the follicle is the hair bulb, which includes the papilla and the matrix, where real hair growth takes place.
  • Hair Papilla: The papilla is a large structure at the base of the hair follicle made up mainly of connective tissue and capillaries, which are the tiny blood vessels that provide blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the rest of the hair bulb.
  • Matrix: A collection of epithelial cells and pigment-producing cells called melanocytes where the rapidly dividing cells that form the major structures of the hair fiber and the inner root sheath are formed. The matrix wraps completely around the papilla, except for a short connection to the surrounding connective tissue.
  • Arteries and Veins: the cells at the base of the hair follicle divide every 23 to 72 hours, much faster than any other cells in the body. This means that they need a constant supply of blood to keep them nourished and healthy.
  • Adipose Tissue: An anatomical term for the loose connective tissue commonly known as fat. The purpose of adipose tissue, which exists throughout the body, is to store energy, although it also cushions and insulates as well.

Understanding how these specialized structures all work together to keep the hair growing and healthy is the beginning of any hair restoration treatment, but their complexity can sometimes make diagnosing hair loss difficult.  That is why board certified dermatologists Dr. Edmond Griffin and Dr. Ashley Curtis insist that every case of hair loss requires a thorough examination and an individual diagnosis.  If you are concerned about your own hair loss, or are interested in learning more about the many surgical and non-surgical hair restoration options that are available, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ to get the latest news or answers to your questions about hair restoration or contact The Griffin Center of Hair Restoration so that we can schedule an appointment for a full hair loss consultation and stay tuned for part two of our ongoing blog series, where we will investigate the complex anatomy of the hair strand itself.