A hairy story
hair; pubic; vellus; terminal; keratin; shaving; waxing; sugaring; hirsutism; beard; legs; lice;
What is hair?
All hair is made of keratin (say ke-ra-tin). This is the same hard protein that is found in your nails. Hair grows from a hair root inside a hair follicle (it looks a bit like a flower bulb) underneath the surface of the skin.
There are two sorts of hair on the skin.
Vellus hair (say: vel-us) is the soft fine hair that grows all over the body. When we shiver this hair stands up on our arms and legs. In animals such as apes this hair protects them from getting cold, but we don't have enough hair on our bodies to protect us from getting cold.
- The only places that vellus hair does not grow are on the palms of our hands, the soles of our feet and our lips.
Terminal hair (say: ter-min-al) is thicker, darker and longer.
There are several types of terminal hair.
- There are the short hairs of the eyebrows and eye lashes.
- There are long hairs which grow on our heads.
- Some terminal hairs start to grow when our bodies go through puberty (when our hormone levels change), such as underarm hair, hair in the pubic area, and hairs on our legs.
- Men start to grow hair on their faces and chests (and sometimes their backs) near the end of puberty.
stories of the past
People have had stories about hair for thousands of years.
- In the Biblical story of the strong man Samson and his treacherous woman Delilah, Samson's strength was in his hair, so when it was cut off he was weak and could be overpowered by his enemies.
- It has been discovered that many of the ancient Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans plucked their eyebrows using tweezers.
- Julius Caesar is said to have had his beard plucked!
- Men and women shaved their legs and bodies using a variety of instruments from bronze razors to string, which they wrapped round their fingers and rubbed up and down their legs. The string wrapped around the hairs and pulled them out! Sounds really painful!
- Some used sugar, which they made into a sort of soft toffee then spread it out on the skin and quickly pulled it off, yanking the hairs out. Some used beeswax in the same way.
- Some used depilatories (say dep-il-a-tor-ris), to dissolve the hair above the skin.
- Some of these were made from such yukky ingredients as resin, pitch, bat's blood, powdered viper and even quicklime and starch. I should think that the hair would come off all right, but probably the skin would too, or at least be rather damaged!
Hair growing on the head has also had an interesting history.
- At one time it was the fashion for both sexes to shave it off entirely, and then hide their bald head under a wig. Possibly they did this because they did not have any other way of getting rid of head lice.
- During the time of Elizabeth 1 of England, ladies used to pluck out some of their hair so that they looked like they had a very high forehead.
- But mostly women have worn their hair longer than men.
Men and women have gone from shaving, wearing hair long, wearing powdered wigs, to all the different hairstyles of today.
- Nowadays, hair styling is big business in Western Society, and men and women are interested in looking fashionable.
- Removing body hair has also become very popular - there are many beauty salons around where people can remove the hair of women and men with rather more modern instruments than were used so many years ago.
- Many men choose to shave their heads nowadays (sometimes this is because they are losing their hair (going bald).
So, who decides whether or not hair is unwanted?
- Sometimes it is a matter of culture or religion.
- Sometimes it is a matter of fashion and choosing to follow that fashion.
- Sometimes it is a matter of someone feeling that she has too much hair, eg. maybe a person is suffering from a condition called hirsutism in which the strong dark terminal hair grows over much of the body.
Doctors are good people to talk to and can advise what medication or treatment is available in this case.
Basically though, everyone's body naturally grows hair. If you choose to remove any of it, talk to someone first about your options and your reasons. What other people want to do with their hair is up to them.
When you are an adult, it's your body, your hair and your choice.
Our topic on Getting rid of body hair can give you information about the different methods.
One of the main reasons for removing body hair in the past is thought to be to help keep the body clean and free from infection or lice.
Nowadays with showers and baths in most homes, hygiene is a lot easier, so this is not an issue.
There are also some good treatments for head lice, so that people do not have to shave their heads.
If you make the choice to remove hair, then find out how to do it and get help from the adults in your life who will be able to teach you what to do.
Our topic Getting rid of body hair has more about how to do it.
Did you know, when your grandparents were young, everyone was supposed to brush their hair a hundred times each day? This was probably a way of getting rid of head lice. The brushing probably hurt the lice so that they were not able to lay eggs.
Our topic about dandruff might be interesting now that you have read all about hair.
We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.