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Curly or straight: What determines hair shape?

hair shape
Scientists know that the shape of the hair follicle and the behavior of follicle cells during hair growth contribute to hair shape.

 Whether it is straight, curly, or wavy, your hair is unique to you. But what biology is at play? Curvy or straight hair follicles set the look of each hair throughout your life.

Hair has several biological and cultural functions. It protects the scalp from sunlight and keeps it warm in cold weather. It is also important in social communication.

The hair follicle is a complex, multi-cellular compartment, buried deep inside your skin. Straight hair follicles produce straight hair fibers, while curly hair grows from curved follicles. But why are some hair follicles curvy, and how does a hair get its curl?

Many types of hair

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Curly hair includes a wide range of hair fiber shapes, ranging from twists and crimps, to waves and kinks. Scientists from the Center for Skin Sciences at the University of Bradford and Unilever R&D in Bedfordshire, both in the United Kingdom, explain what is known about curly hair in a recent article published in the journal Experimental Dermatology.

The shape of each hair follicle is thought to be determined during embryonic development, but scientists do not know exactly how this happens. Curvy hair follicles are “S-shaped,” meaning that they have two bends. This shape is set for life, although the hair follicle naturally undergoes structural changes every few years.

Each hair grows for around 3 to 5 years before undergoing a resting phase of several months, and then, eventually, it falls out.

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