The Life And Death Of A Hair Follicle

A simple hair follicle plays an important role in our body structure and overall well-being. When somebody mentions hair, you likely think of just the hair on your head. Of course, we know there’s hair on almost every part of our body with the exception of the palms of our hands, the soles of our feet and yes…our lips.

While most of our hair is easy to see, like your eyebrows and the hair on your head, arms, and legs; other hair, like that on our cheeks is very fine and is almost invisible for some.

Each Individual Hair Follicle Has a Purpose

Our hair, depending on where it is has different functions. The hair on our head helps us retain heat, keeping it warm with the added benefit of providing some cushioning for our skull. Eyelashes protect our eyes by decreasing the amount of light and dust that can get into them, and our eyebrows protect our eyes from that salty sweat that may drip down from our forehead.

Whether our hair is growing out of our head, arm, or ankle, it all starts out of our skin in the same way and has a “shelf life”.

Where Hair Follicles Start Development

Before you were born, your hair follicles were being genetically coded while you were in your mother’s womb.

If hair loss genes were present as part of this coding, then the hair follicles on top of your head would be sensitive to the male hormones, testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

These genetically programmed hair follicles would then begin shrinking in adulthood. This would result in your hair follicles growing finer hair, lighter in color, shorter and less deeply rooted than previous growth cycles. In most cases, when this happens, the shrinking hair follicle will ultimately stop producing new hair.

Understanding the Hair Growth Cycle

Your scalp hair only makes up a small fraction (100,000 to 150,000 follicles) of the total follicle count for the body…somewhere around a staggering 5 million follicles.

Hair growth can be divided into three different phases:

  1. anagen (active growth)
  2. catagen (active loss)
  3. telogen (resting)

About 90% of your hairs remain in the “active growth” phase, which can extend over a period of 3 years. During the “active loss” phase (that lasts about 2 to 3 weeks), your hair separates from the dermal root but remains in place only by a thin strand of connective tissue.

In the “resting” phase the basal attachment (innermost layer of the epidermis) becomes even more thinned and weakened, resulting ultimately in the hair shaft falling out.

Normally hair remains in the “resting” phase about 10% of the time, and this phase lasts about 3 to 4 months. When the rate of hair loss is greater than that of hair growth, the result is thinning hair or even balding.

Makeup of the Hair Follicle Structure

When our hair starts to grow, it pushes up from the root and out of our hair follicle, through the skin where it can be seen. A hair follicle itself is a tiny, sac-like hole in our skin.

At the bottom of each follicle is a cluster of cells that reproduce to make new hair cells. The new cells that are made are added on at the root of the hair, causing the hair to grow.

It’s the tiny blood vessels at the base of every follicle that feed the hair root to keep it growing. But once your hair is at the skin’s surface, the cells within each strand of hair die. The hair you see on every part of your body is made up of dead cells.

To put this in perspective can you imagine how painful a haircut would be if your hair cells were alive? This is important to know when coloring or perming or straightening your hair. If you cut yourself, your skin heals, since it is living tissue. If you damage your hair, it doesn’t heal.

What Happens to Hair in Male Pattern Baldness?

If you are balding, you’ve figured out on your own that male pattern baldness is the conversion of thick and healthy hair into thin or fine “baby” hair.

The controlling factor for this type of hair loss comes from that single gene inherited at birth, regulated by circulating levels of those male hormones…testosterone and DHT.

When the male goes through puberty, the surge in male hormones drives the alteration, over time, from thicker hair to thinner hair and begins the process of hair loss.

Both of the male hormones (testosterone and DHT) are found in both men and women…but to different degrees. The rate of hair loss or change in hair density comes from your genes whether you are male or female.