Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hair Myths Uncovered: Head Shaving

Once again the question has popped up and once again I am amazed. People, even licensed and trained cosmetologists, are sometimes privy to some really misguided ideas. This time it has to do with head shaving.
When I was a kid I remember the neighbor shaving her son's head before he had a chance to sprout a full head of hair. Her reason: she believed that shaving a baby's head would result in thicker, fuller hair.
Just the other day, a client of mine asked about his hair texture. He had heard from a professional that if he were to shave his head, his hair would come in straight rather than its natural curly form. Luckily he hadn't taken to the clippers yet.
Here's the skinny on head shaving: it won't do jack to change your hair, other than to alleviate you of its burden temporarily.
There are many elements that affect the amount of hair you have, the thickness of each individual strand and its texture (straight, wavy, curly). The first is genetics. If you are born with 1,578,935,235 hair follicles (the little pores in your skin that house the roots of your hair), you cannot suddenly acquire 2,578,935,235 by shaving your head. You just can't. God, Vishnu, Jehovah, the big bang, your mom and dad or whomever saw it fit, gave you the number of hair follicles that you possess. Without some serious skin & follicle grafting, you cannot grow more. Also, the thickness of each individual strand is another factor powered by your DNA. You cannot increase the thickness of your hair by shaving it, even though it sounds like it would work. Please read on.
If you are reading this, you likely shave (or have shaved) some part of your body. Now, the reason people fall for the idea that head shaving increases thickness of the individual hairs is that when you shave, the hair that continues to grow out feels coarse. This is because you have cut the hair in a blunt manner, creating stubble. If you were to grow out this hair until it reached full maturity, you would find that it is no longer quite so blunt. It seems to become softer and finer. Don't believe me? Stop shaving for a month or two. What happens is that the hair grows to a point at which it no longer feels quite so blunt and coarse anymore. Each hair is still the same diameter. Your perception changes, however because the hair is not jutting out of the follicle once it grows long enough.
Now, as to texture of your hair (whether your hair is curly, straight, or wavy), this is determined by a number of factors. One is hormones. Puberty, pregnancy, post-partum, menopause: all these can change your hair. In fact, you don't have to go through pregnancy to experience hormonal changes. Your body is changing all the time, based on what you do, what you eat, medicines you take, the amount of exercise you get, etc. These changes affect your hair and may even lead to dramatic texture change. For example, my neighbor was surprised when she had her third baby; her lifelong curly hair lost its curl and became nearly straight.
The texture of your hair is also determined by follicle shape and DNA. It is not determined, however, by having shaved your head. If you shaved your head and found your straight hair grew in curlier, it's likely due to some kind of physiological change, not your clippers!
The one time cutting your hair will affect your hair texture is when you have removed a good deal of weight. If you have very long, wavy hair, you may find that cutting 4-6 inches off results in your hair seeming curlier. This is because you have removed weight, allowing the curl to spring up further. Another example is when I went from long hair to a very short style. My wavy-almost-curly hair seemed straight all of the sudden. This is because I cut my hair at a point before it normally began to twist into its natural wave. It was very strange for me to experience nearly-straight hair after a lifetime of waviness, but made perfect sense.
Just because one event precedes another, does not mean it is the cause of it. We humans are programmed to judge cause-effect relationships; it's what Darwin would say teaches us to keep our hands off a hot stove. But please, make sure you do your research before you decide to pull a Britney Spears.


Style Guide said...

One last comment: the reason that shaving a baby's head may seem to result in fuller hair is that babies' follicles are not all active by age one. Mothers will be the first to tell you that the fine lanugo around the face is last to develop to maturity. Generally, by age 3, children's lanugo is developed and incorporated into the rest of their hair.

Harry James said...


siby baby said...
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Sowpath das said...

nice post

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Karen Sparkes said...
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