What Is Hair?

We’ve all heard the old adage “Knowledge Is Power”. If that’s the case, then it only stands to reason that, if you’re looking for ways to make your hair grow faster, you need to start by learning the basics. So–what is hair? What is hair made of, and how does it grow?

What is hair? How does your body grow hair?

We’ll start with this simple fact: The hair on your body is composed of dead cells. Perhaps a tad gross to think about, but true. Living hair cells are built and grown inside the hair follicle; as these hair cells grow, they push out the older hair cells. These older hair cells are compressed as they travel out towards the scalp, eventually becoming a protein known as keratin.

The keratin hair shaft that is visible is composed of three layers: an inner layer known as the medulla, a middle layer called the cortex, and the final outer layer, also known as the cuticle.

Your hair color is determined by pigment cells scattered throughout the cortex and medulla. The cortex also determines the elasticity of your hair. Excessive hair coloring and treatments can lead to dull, brittle hair.

Damage to the cuticle, whether from excess heat (ironing and drying), brushing, color treatments,  or various environmental factors, can also lead to damaged, easily broken hair. Because a healthy cuticle is essential in growing your hair longer and faster, as well as in how your hair appears, you should avoid having your hair tightly bound or pulled. Excessive heat treatments need to be avoided, and if possible based on your hair and scalp, it’s best not to wash your hair daily.

How can I have healthier, faster growing hair?

Since hair is overwhelmingly composed of keratin, it only makes sense

that, in order to have longer, healthier hair, you should strive to keep your body supplied with the nutrients it needs in order to produce keratin. Luckily, it’s not all that hard to do.

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You’ll want to start off by making sure your diet is high in quality proteins. Lean meats such a chicken and turkey are a great source, as are foods such as fish (think salmon!), yogurt, and other low fat dairy products. Your body breaks down the protein you eat into amino acids, which are then re-purposed in order to fuel the growth and repair of cells.

Make sure that your body is getting the vitamins and minerals that in needs in order to fuel the keratin production process. Iron is essential, as it allows red blood cells to carry oxygen to your hair follicles. Vitamin C is also key, since it increases your body’s ability to absorb any iron you get from a plant-based source. You’ll also want to be sure to get enough zinc in your diet, since zinc helps aid in hair growth and repair, and also helps maintain the production of sebum, an oil produced by hair follicles that keeps your hair and scalp moist.

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In addition to iron, vitamin C, and zinc, it’s essential that your diet is rich in B Vitamins. Because vitamin B enhances the creation of new red blood cells, it’s an important factor in helping oxygen reach your hair follicles and scalp. If you starve your hair of these type of nutrients, you’ll never be able to grow longer hair, regardless of any hair care regimen you follow or hair products you use.

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Another way to nourish your hair’s natural keratin is by using keratin formulated shampoos and conditioners. These specially treated products can increase the elasticity and shine of your hair, as well as repairing damaged hair. Be sure not to overdo it, as many applications require the use of high heat to effectively bond keratin to your hair. You’ll also want to be careful that whichever keratin formulated shampoo doesn’t contain an excessive amount of formaldehyde. Anything more than 2% should be avoided.

What do your hair follicles do?

So that covers the basics of what your visible hair is composed of. But what’s going on behind the scenes, in the actual hair follicles?

The hair follicle is where the magic begins. At it’s base is a projection known as the papilla, composed of capillaries and charged with delivering oxygen and nutrients to your living hair cells. The living clump of hair cells near the papilla divide every 23 to 72 hours, more quickly than any other cell type in the body, slowly pushing the older hair cells up the follicle.

The follicle itself is surrounded by two sheathes. The inner sheath, sometimes referred to as the internal sheath, ends below the opening of a gland known as the sebaceous gland, which produces sebum–an oil which is key in how healthy your hair and scalp are, since it prevents both from becoming overly dry and brittle. The outer sheath continues up to the gland, and connects to a muscle known as the erector pili. This muscle, when contracted, causes your hair to stand on end, and also prompts the sebaceous gland to secrete sebum.

How can I have healthier hair follicles?

Nutritionally, the vitamins and minerals needed to maintain healthy hair follicles are the same as those you need for healthy hair shafts. In addition, you’ll want to make sure that your follicles don’t become clogged, which can slow and prevent hair growth.

Clogged follicles are caused by several different factors. One common cause is an excessive build up of testosterone. Testosterone can be converted by the body into Dihydrotestosterone (DHT). When DHT reaches the hair follicle and papilla, it can shrink the follicle, leading to thinner hair and slower growth. DHT can also prevent or block nutrients from reaching the hair cells as they grow. Luckily, there are many topical shampoos and treatments that can help alleviate this.

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Plugged hair follicles can also be caused by unhealthy ingredients in the shampoos and conditioners you’re using. This is easily remedied by using shampoos featuring more natural ingredients, or shampoos/conditioners formulated to unclog follicles.

Lastly, follicles can become clogged by the excessive production of sebum, which can combine with dirt, dead skin cells, or byproducts of your shampoo to clog your hair follicles.

By understanding what your hair is made of, how it grows, and what your body needs in order to form new hair, you can more effectively manage your diet and beauty routine in order to grow longer hair faster.