I saw my first one when I was only 17. After that white hairs started coming in fast. Now, after all those years of denying my genetics and being a bit inspired by Maye Musk, I gave in to the inevitable. It is hard getting used to such a change, harder still to silence that voice in my head asking “When did you become your mother?” Becoming momentarily obsessed with hair has made commiserate with the 30-something men noticing a glare from the back of their heads. I am hyper aware of what changes like these do to one’s self-identity. And I have learned a lot about hair.
- While humans may appear fairly hairy compared to other primates, we have about a million hair follicles, about the same as chimps. While one-fourth of men begin balding by age 30, baldness does not mean having no hair. It means having the wrong kind of hair. A bald head has the same number of follicles-approximately 100,000. The follicles no longer function and produce only wispy, colorless hairs. Most of our hair is vellus-that wispy, nearly invisible hair that covers most of our bodies except the lips, palms, soles of our feet and backs of our ears.
- Recent studies indicate that body hair does play a part in the choice of a male partner. In addition, when women are at their most fertile, they more often choose men with less body hair. Postmenopausal women prefer hairier men while premenopausal women prefer men with more hair. Women’s preferences regarding body hair also correlate highly with the amount of hair their fathers had.
- Humans are the only primate to lose their body fur. As the brains of humans became larger, it became more necessary to keep the head and body cool. The thick extra hair on early man hindered the sweating necessitated by larger brains. In order to keep a cool head, man had to shed. There is another theory as to the reason modern man has so little hair. According to this theory, humans lost their hair for sanitary reasons-to-be free from blood-sucking parasites like lice, fleas and ticks. Then, this theory goes, those with less hair would be seen as the healthiest and the fittest mates. Natural selection would take over and favor hairlessness. This theory ignores the presence of pubic hair still present (although admittedly not for long in today’s culture).
- Our ears contain 2 types of hair cells which bend back and forth when stimulated by sound. Loud sounds can permanently damage the operation of these hair cells, causing permanent hearing loss.
- Hairs in the nose act as filters for our lungs removing dust and toxins from the air as well as humidifying our entire respiratory system. A study at Turkish Hacettepe University found that people with little nose hair are 3 times more likely to suffer from asthma.
- Armpit Hair acts as a wick for sweat, reduces friction between our arms and our body, and diffuses pheromones to attract promising mates. Hair in armpits can increase the attractiveness of a man and can help women feel more relaxed.
- Hair is not all the same. Thin, barely visible vellus hair follicles differ in their sensitivity to androgen (testosterone, etc). As androgen levels rise during puberty the thin vellus hair is transformed into terminal hair. As the thicker hair appears, the sense of touch expands into the space around the skin and responds to vibration.
- Goosebumps are the result of hair muscles (arrector pili muscle) contracting in order to provide insulation and reduce cooling. These hair muscles are also responsive to stimuli from the central nervous system—causing that sensation of hairs on the back of your neck standing up.
- Hominids evolved from the hairy creatures millions of years ago to the relatively hairless bodies of today. The body location of most human hair is usually related to sweating. Eyebrows keep sweat from the eyes. The hair on the head keeps heat from the head, especially from the brain, and allows space for sweat to evaporate and cooling to occur. Head hair has follicles that stay in an active phase for a couple of years, accounting for longer hair on the scalp. Body hair has a lifespan of only 6 months.
- Body hair correlates with intelligence. Mensa members have more than average body hair.
- Pubic hair, like all terminal hair, has sebaceous glands. These glands produce sweat and body odor and wick away hormones, sending them toward potential partners. Next, to the hair on your head, this is perhaps the murkiest hair topic and the one with the longest history. The Roman poet Ovid urged women in 2 B.C. to groom so that “no rude goat find his way beneath your arms”. (Am I the only one who thinks this sounds like modern-day trolling?) In 1450 women removed pubic hair to get rid of lice. And the merkin-aka the vagina toupee-was born. In 1987 the seven J. Sisters from Brazil opened a salon in New York City and began a waxing service called “The Brazilian”. Laser removal of hair was developed in 1996 and approved by the FDA at lightning speed, only a year later. Celebrities, porn stars and 62% of women now go bare. Many Instagram influencers are obsessed with body hair and shave their entire body daily. One could say hair is the mane thing.
Written by Margaret Pendleton & published with permission.