Do You Worry About Your Hair?
YOU may be one of many who spend time each day in front of a mirror carefully inspecting their hair. Men and women alike are interested in their hair, and sometimes it can be a source of worry.
Know Your Hair
Do you know how many hairs your scalp contains? On the average, about 100,000. An individual hair continues to grow for only two to six years, not endlessly. It then falls out, and after an interval a new hair starts to grow from the same pore. The life cycle of an individual hair is called a hair cycle. (See the box on page 27.) Because of this cycle, even if one does not have a hair problem, some 70 to 100 hairs fall out naturally every day.
What causes the variety we observe in hair color? The World Book Encyclopedia explains: “The color of hair is determined largely by the amount and distribution of a brown-black pigment called melanin.” Melanin is a biological pigment that is found in hair, skin, and eyes. The greater the amount of the pigment, the darker the hair will be. As the amount of melanin lessens, the hair color varies from black to brown or rust or blond. If hair contains no melanin at all, it looks shiny white.
What concerns many, apart from dandruff, is either a loss of hair or gray hair.
Do You Have Gray Hair?
Gray hair is often viewed as a sign of aging. And white hair is usually viewed as a characteristic of older people. True, white hair increases with aging. However, in addition to aging, other factors, such as excessive dieting, are known to cause gray hair. Graying occurs regardless of the gender or natural hair color of individuals, though it may be more noticeable on those who have darker hair.
Because they have gray hair, some may be viewed as older than they actually are and feel uneasy about it. On the other hand, there are people who, having no gray hair, are concerned about the imbalance between their appearance and their actual age.
Graying does not mean that the hair dies. In fact, the visible portion of all hair is already dead. Each hair extends below the skin surface. This end is called the bulb and is the only living part. The bulb functions as the hair factory. When hair is formed by a rapid division of cells in the bulb, it absorbs melanin, which is produced by pigment cells. For that reason, if the pigment cells stop producing melanin, the hair will be white.
No one yet knows why pigment cells suddenly stop generating melanin. So no definitive treatment to prevent graying has been found. It is also known that pigment cells that have stopped working may start working again. Interestingly, the Bible contains many expressions relating to hair, and one of the illustrations that Jesus gave refers to white hair. He said: “You cannot turn one hair white or black.” (Matthew 5:36) These words indicate that the graying process has long been recognized as beyond the power of man to prevent or cure.
Some try newer treatments, such as melanin injection. Others choose to dye their hair, and this is by no means a modern practice. Hair dye was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans. The ancient Egyptians used the blood of bulls to color their hair. It has been recorded that Herod the Great, who was a contemporary of Jesus Christ, dyed his graying hair to hide his age.
Yet, to keep dyeing one’s hair takes time and effort, and for some it may cause skin problems or allergic reactions. Even if you decide to dye your graying hair, there may come a time when you will want to stop, and then you will no doubt have to deal with the growing-out stage. On the positive side, gray hair can look elegant and give you a dignity that you never had before. The Bible comments: “Gray-headedness is a crown of beauty when it is found in the way of righteousness.”—Proverbs 16:31.
Thinning Hair and Baldness
Other typical hair problems are thinning hair and baldness. These problems too have been around for a long time. In ancient Egypt the ingredients for an antibaldness remedy included the fat of lions, hippopotamuses, crocodiles, cats, serpents, and geese. Today the market is flooded with hair and scalp treatments that claim to be effective, and an enormous amount of money is spent on them each year.
Baldness occurs when the hair cycle becomes abnormal. A normal hair cycle could be disturbed by a physical abnormality, such as malnutrition, a prolonged high fever, or some kind of skin disease. Pregnancy and childbirth can also affect the hair cycle, so that the scalp sheds much hair before completing the normal cycle. When the causes are no longer present, however, this type of hair loss stops and the hair cycle becomes normal again.
Another type of hair loss is called alopecia.a Often, with this problem, hair loss is experienced in patches on the scalp. Recent medical research suggests that alopecia is probably a disorder of the immune system.
The most common hair thinning is called male pattern baldness. As is indicated by its name, this occurs in men. It starts with the recession of the front hairline or the thinning of the crown, and it progresses gradually. The hair cycle becomes abnormal in the affected area and will eventually stop. The Encyclopædia Britannica explains: “On the affected areas of the scalp a downy hair called vellus replaces the former long, sturdy, pigmented terminal hair.” This means that as the hair cycles continue, the hair becomes thinner and short-lived and that eventually none will grow. This is the result of a combination of hereditary traits and male hormones.
Male pattern baldness may begin as early as the teens, but it is more likely to occur when a man is in his late 30’s or his 40’s. Though many males experience this type of hair loss, its occurrence rate varies from race to race and individual to individual. Unfortunately, thus far no absolute cure for this ailment has been found. Some may choose to wear a hairpiece or undergo hair transplants. For many, taking good care of the remaining hair to decelerate hair loss may help.
To say that one’s hair is thinning does not necessarily mean that hair is being lost. Rather, it can mean that the individual hairs are becoming finer, or thinner, and thus the hair is losing its volume. How thick is a hair? According to a survey, it can vary from 50 microns in some people to 100 microns in others.b Hair becomes thinner as one ages. Just a few microns’ difference may not seem significant. But please recall that there are 100,000 hairs. So just a slight thinning of individual hairs results in a big difference in the total volume.
Care for Your Hair
Hair grows more than three eighths of an inch [10 mm] per month, and it is one of the quickest developing parts of the body. When the growth of all the hairs is combined, it reaches more than 60 feet [20 m] per day!
Although no radical cures for gray hair and baldness have yet been found, we can do much to take care of the hair we have. Taking in sufficient nutrition and improving blood circulation to the scalp are essential. Extreme dieting or eating unbalanced meals may accelerate hair graying and hair thinning. Professionals suggest that we shampoo our hair regularly and massage our scalp, avoiding scratching it with our nails. This prompts proper blood circulation to the scalp. After shampooing your hair, rinse it thoroughly.
Do not brush your hair with too much force. If you have long hair, it is better initially not to brush through from the root to the end. Rather, first hold your hair and use the brush to untangle the ends. Next, brush from the middle to the end. Then, finally let your hair down slowly and brush from the root to the end.
Finding gray hairs or many fallen hairs may cause you concern. Yet, remember that others are not usually as concerned about your hair as you are. It is your choice whether to dye or not, to use a hairpiece or not, or to seek other treatment. Whatever your hair color and whatever the amount of hair you have, what is important is to keep it clean and groomed.
b One micron is one thousandth of a millimeter.
[Box/Diagram on page 27]
The growth of our hair is cyclic. It consists of a growing phase, a short transition phase, and a resting phase. The World Book Encyclopedia explains: “A hair stops growing during every resting phase, when it is known as a club hair. The club hair remains in the resting follicle until the next growing phase. During the growing phase, the club hair is shed as a new hair grows and pushes it out of the follicle.” At any given time, while 85 to 90 percent of hairs are in the active phase, 10 to 15 percent will be in the resting phase and 1 percent in the transition phase.
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