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Hair Care Hub

Updated on June 21, 2012

Hair Structure and Growth – What You Need to Know About Healthy Hair

No amount of makeup or style can be successfully complemented without a good looking head of hair, and this, when added to a charming smile, elegant moves and an overall stylish ensemble, makes you an obvious head turner in any party. Now, most of us will unarguably say that we do take regular and proper care of our hair, but do we actually? Most of us take our hair for granted, being satisfied with the fact that it where it should be. However, there are a number of other things that one should seriously consider for the uniform and proper growth of hair. Proper hair maintenance and treatment, in case of hair damage, is strongly recommended for the good health of your hair.

In the sections below, we briefly describe the structure of hair, reasons of hair loss and also the effective method of treatment.

Structure of hair

Hair that we have can be classified into three different types – lanugo, vellus and terminal. Lanugo is only present until child birth and sheds as soon we are born. Vellus comes in the next stag but is barely noticeable, and at the time of puberty, some of these form terminal hair. Keratin is the common component in all these three hair types, and is the same substance that is responsible for the formation of nails and the exterior layer of our skin. Now, let us discuss in some detail about the structure of hair.

Although there are some points of similarity between the vellus and terminus hair, there is a significant difference that easily distinguishes between the two. Vellus is composed of two layers, while terminal hair is divided into three sub-layers. The extra layer in terminal is called medulla, and is the inner core. The other two common layers are called the cortex and the cuticle respectively. Here, the cortex is responsible for maintaining the color and strength of the hair. The cuticle is a relatively thinner layer and only functions as protection of the cortex.

The surface of the skin is also home to a complex that functions continuously for the uniform and proper growth of hair. The follicle holds the root of the hair and also forms a place to collect all the essential components required for hair growth. Studies have shown that this follicle is further connected to several blood vessels that carry the required nutrients and oxygen to the hair-producing cells. This also determines the overall growth of hair in the body (hormones are understood as growth instructions).

Growth of hair – The different phases

Opposed to the common belief that our hair keeps on growing continuously, it has now been proved that it actually undergoes three stages in its life cycle before dying. These three phases, combined, form one growth cycle and is constantly being repeated. Simply said, this means that the cycle never stops, and our hair is always undergoing some growth cycle.

The first stage of hair growth starts when the follicle emerges from the papilla, with the latter comprising largely of living cells. Cell multiplication, also termed mitosis in medical terms, takes place here, and this leads to the beginning of the formation of hair. In due course of time and with sufficient amount of oxygen, these newly formed multiplied cells keep on growing. Internally, they still remain in a very delicate state; however, the outer cells become flattened as a result of constant contact with the follicle wall. These cells at this stage are known as the cuticle, and primarily work to protect the soft inner layer from any damage. The cortex needs protection because it is the most valuable layer, and also forms the major part of the hair (in some cases up to 90%). Additionally, the cuticle, by this time, also starts encompassing the hair by overlapping it with the others. Different aspects of our hair, and also probably the most important ones, are formed in this stage. These include strength, texture, elasticity, and quality, only to name a few.

The central core, that is the medulla, is only present in terminal hair. Another interesting fact is that some hair may even have up to two if these. Here again, keratin needs significant mention. This complex has been found to be very helpful for building up strong and healthy hair. It has also been discovered that sulfur is an important part of keratin, and is possibly one of the reasons why this complex imparts strength to the hair. This is also why dermatologists recommend that people refrain from using too much color, since the chemicals they contain can negatively affect the balance of the proteins. Such activities and others, like over processing of hair eventually result in making your hair brittle and prone to breaking.

Hair gets its natural color from melanin. This is a chemical substance which is present inside our body, and is clear in the initial stages. However, it goes through transformations until it eventually seems like a black pigment. The transformations do not stop here, and these further keep happening until finally the real color of the hair is depicted based on the size of the granules. For instance, when natural color is added to white hair, it forms ray hair. Conclusively, all the natural hair colors that we come across are typically mixtures of various color pigments like black, red, yellow and brown.

When hair starts growing and reaches its first phase, it spends most of its life there. This can be varied for different situations, and is usually in the range of 2-6 years. Technically known as the anagen phase, this is commonly called the growth phase. The next, catagen phase, is the shortest phase in the hair growth cycle, and only goes on for a couple of weeks. The follicle shrinks and gets detached from dermal papilla. Lastly comes the telogen phase or the resting phase, and hair in this phase continues to be for about 5-6 weeks. Nonetheless, each hair follicle is completely independent from all the others as soon as it enters each growth cycle.

Hair loss – Why does it happen?

Truthfully, there are numerous reasons why some people suffer from severe hair loss, and also because there are practically too many causes, it is impossible to make a definite list of all of them. However, some reports suggest that women are more prone to this issue than most men, and we ourselves have observed this on more than one occasion.

The good news is scientists have found that vitamin deficiency is mainly responsible for hair loss in most cases, and therefore people with proper diet and regular vitamin intake can avoid problems related to hair damage and loss. Although all vitamins have their own significance and serve exclusive functions, we highlight below some very important vitamins for healthy hair growth.

  1. Vitamin A – This is also called beta-carotene, and is abundantly present in all bright colored food as well as in green leafy vegetables. Doctors have also found this vitamin to be an excellent antioxidant because of its production of healthy sebum in our scalp.
  2. Vitamin C – Also commonly referred to as ascorbic acid, this vitamin plays an extremely important role in the formation of proteins and other connective tissues that are essential for the formation of hair. The vitamin has also been successfully tested on animals to prove hair growth in them.
  3. Vitamin B-2 – This is also medically known as Riboflavin, and is mainly concerned with the health of the hair. The vitamin is a variation of vitamin-B and is also water soluble, thus leading to high metabolism and very efficient detoxification.

In addition to these vitamin deficiencies, there are also quite a few other common reasons responsible for hair loss. Certain illnesses and diseases (including diabetes), change in hormones and hormonal imbalance are very common causes of hair fall. Women undergoing pregnancy or those suffering from high stress levels or other genetic issues are more prone to hair loss. Deficiencies in kidney or lungs can also lead to this problem.

Keratin treatment

The above sections have already presented a brief idea about what keratin is and the role it plays in the development of our hair. This protein is produced by the living cells that are present in our body, and this is also why their structure differs from person to person. Nevertheless, keratin treatment is based on the infusion of some organically produced compounds that increase the production of the protein in the body, gradually leading strong and healthy hair. This method does not only work for victims of hair fall, but has also been known to give successful results in case of hair that is thin or has lost its luster. The treatment works by forming keratin which forms a protective layer to safeguard the skin and the follicles. Experts usually employ a hot ironing method for treatment, and patients are advised to refrain from the use of other chemicals while under treatment. It is, however, strongly recommended that you consult your dermatologist or hair expert before undergoing this treatment.

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