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The Structure of Black Hair

Updated on February 27, 2020

First and foremost, it is important to understand that hair is hair, it's all the same, black hair is a cultural reference, it isn't scientific - the only thing that differs about all human hair is basically the curl pattern, but we'll learn more below.

If you are a black woman who wants to rock a natural hair style, you need to get down to the nitty gritty about how to keep your hair healthy. While the same can be said for women of all races, black women's hair has long been ignored, so that is why this article is written for them.

Is Black Hair Different?

People assume that there is a vast difference between black hair and other hair types, this article was created to help dispel some of the myths. In actuality, black hair is made of the same biological substances as all other types of hair. The difference is in the way that it is chemically arranged.

Keratin is the chief component of hair fiber; it is the sulfur-rich protein that gives hair the strength to withstand harsh styling techniques (combing, brushing, hair dryers, curling irons, flat irons, chemicals, etc.).

Each strand of hair comes forth from a pit in your skin called a follicle. At the base of the follicle, you will find what is known as the papilla. The papilla is your hair's source of oxygen, blood, new cells, and other important nutrients.

When the cells in the papilla multiply, they become an individual hair. After becoming individual hairs they begin to arrange themselves into three different layers: the cuticle, the cortex, and the medulla.


The Cuticle: The cuticle is the outside portion of your hair shaft. It is made of transparent cells that resemble fish scales. The main job of your cuticle is to prevent loss of moisture.

The Cortex: The cortex is located inside of the cuticle. The cortex holds the pigment that gives your hair its natural color.

The Medulla: The medulla is the deepest portion of your hair. Basically, it is made up of cells that run the entire length of your hair shaft (medulla, in medical terminology, always refers to an inner-most layer).

How Black Hair Differs

It is important to know that kinky and very curly hair, such as black women's natural hair, and other hair types, have fewer layers of cuticles than other types; therefore, it is far more vulnerable to breakage and will damage easily. This is the only real difference of black hair.

Moisture is the most important key to maintaining black hair, and every time you use chemicals, heat, or harsh techniques, you lose some of that moisture. If you take good care not to be overly harsh with your hair, and make sure to give it plenty of moisture (drink & wash) and healthy oils, it will be healthy and look good.

It takes a lot of time, research and general effort to figure out how to retain moisture and how to maintain natural hair in general. This is why there is such an explosion of natural hair care gurus on YouTube and on blogs.

Whitney White (Natural85) was one of the first of the Natural Hair Care Gurus to help pave the way for others to follow.
Whitney White (Natural85) was one of the first of the Natural Hair Care Gurus to help pave the way for others to follow.

Natural Hair Movement & The Natural Hair Gurus

The women who are a part of this current natural hair movement, the natural hair gurus, helped to start the current trend by putting a lot of energy into trying, reviewing and then filming and/or writing about their experience with different natural hair care products.

While today, some people balk at some of the advice from the natural hair care community overall, there can be no doubt that the natural hair care gurus helped to pave the way for many of us to be able to confidently rock our natural hair styles.

In the end, black women now have a wealth of good resources to look to when deciding to wear their hair natural, and learning about the structure of black hair is a good start.

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