Hair fiber and follicle changes with different ethnicity

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Ethnic differences in hair fiber and hair follicles

Each individual is unique and so is their hair. The hair production rate, size, and shape vary with each individual. But in a broader spectrum, people with different ethnic backgrounds have distinct characteristics in the nature of their hair fiber.

Take the example of the hair qualities of some of the ethnic groups: Asian hair is characterized by the thickness and coarseness. Their Caucasian and African American counterparts are noticeably thinner and smoother hairs. The latter group almost always has straight hairs that are circular in cross section. On the other hand, the Asians have lower density of hair on the scalp (which is measured by the numbers of follicles per unit area of skin) as compared to those of the Caucasians. At the same time, the average Caucasians enjoy somewhat greater density of hair follicles than the African Americans. It is the Asians who have the lowest density of scalp follicles- they typically have just 90,000 scalp follicles and rarely get above 120,000 scalp follicles.

You will come to find great varieties in Caucasian hair that may range from straight, wavy or curly hair. The hair fibers are either circular or oval in cross section and are on average thinner than Asian hair. Hair follicle density also varies and there is a close relation between density and hair color - the red haired Caucasians are said to have the least dense scalp hair growth while for the blonds the density is highest. The brown haired people stay somewhere in the middle. On an average, for the Caucasian, density can range from 100,000-150,000 scalp hair follicles.

The typical tightly coiled up African American hair is termed as spiral hair. In cross section, it gives an elliptical image in general and almost flat and ribbon-like image in few instances. This highlights two points: 1. there is more strength and rigidity to the fiber across the area of greatest cross section; 2. the hair is much more pliable across the narrow section. This makes up typical curly African type hair that naturally flexes and coils along the ribbon with little or no coiling from side to side.

It is the different hair follicles that lead to the differences in the hair fiber types. As for example, large, straight hair follicles with a circular cross section give birth to the thick straight hair. Curly elliptical or ribbon shaped cross section hair is born out of curly, flat hair follicles. In African Americans, their highly coiled hair is the result of very curly, flattened hair follicles in their skins. According to a group of researchers, that the hair follicles would actually appear to be spiral/spring shaped if they could be examined along the length of these hair follicles.

It is the shape of the hair follicle that provides the mold for the creation of the hair fiber. You will come to find soft and pliable hairs deep in the hair follicle areas. It is here where cells are added to the fiber at the root. The cells of the fiber take the shape of the surrounding hair follicle sheath. Next the cells are squashed together and keratinized leading to the formation of chemical bonding that is responsible for holding the hair fiber into the shape of the hair follicle. This is how curly hair follicles lead to the formation of curly hair fibers. However, the scientists still have not been able to find out what makes curly hair follicles. But it can be presumed that racial differences must have something to do in the chemical composition of the fiber. Some scientists are of the opinion that African American hair has a greater amount of low sulfur protein as compared to their Asian or Caucasian counterparts carrying high sulfur protein. More recent studies however failed to find out a significant difference in the sulfur content of hair fiber in people of different ethnicities.

A common complaint of people with very coiled hair is: their hairs seem to weather more rapidly with cuticle flaking leading to an overall deterioration in hair quality. The probable reason behind this is: the coiling causes stress on the hair fiber cuticle. The outer side of a coiled hair is composed of cuticle and cuticle is easily stretched thin. The scales are also relatively more exposed and easy to get damaged. Contrastingly, the cuticle in the inner side of a coiled hair is relatively thick and scrunched together. The thin and stretched hair on the outer side of the coil takes less physical or chemical action to flake. This causes damage to the cuticle exposing the softer cortex of the hair underneath.

Then, African American hair follicles produce more oils and sebum than follicles in other ethnic groups. But the coiled shape of the hair fibers prevent the oils getting evenly distributed along the length of the hair fiber. Thus ultimately the hair fiber remains typically very dry. This necessitates the use of more hair oil supplement for the African Americans to maintain the flexibility of their hair fibers. These coiled up hairs are also difficult to brush and comb. Oils make these hairs manageable by reducing the friction from combing. African Americans typically need to use specially formulated oils and shampoos, because their hairs respond differently to the hair products than Caucasian and Asian hairs. The preferred grooming products for African Americans typically contain humectants and mild cleansing agents but strictly avoid harsh plant oils or harsh detergents such as sodium lauryl sulfate.

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