Have you ever seen a woman with a fro so magnificent, so lush and healthy-looking, you couldn’t help but be a little jealous? Your fingers just double-tapped the heart before you could even realize what you were doing.
She might have shown a before picture with a cropped do and all of a sudden, six months later her coils fill-up the Instagram square. Her curls might be so defined you’re sure that it has to be Photoshop... lies... magic.
The beautiful thing is, we all have our beautiful genetic combinations. No matter the colour, texture, thickness, length, all-natural hair is beautiful hair.
But we all tend to want what we don’t have. Whether it’s insane growth, a different texture, or a colour you wish you had, some aspects of our hair are more compliant to our manipulations. One of the things that are so fabulous and fascinating about naturally curly or textured hair is the fact that it’s so versatile.
• create different shapes
• bring out differences in our hair texture
• cut and grow our hair
• colour our hair
• comb out our curls into puffs
• straighten, flatten, or curl
The possibilities are endless. But have you ever tried a style over and over again, but it just wouldn’t come out like the picture? Have you ever wondered if you get your hair more from your mom or your dad? Have you ever wondered if it’s that product or genetics making that curl pop? How can there be a straight-haired sibling and a kinky-haired sibling in the same family?
A Curl is Born
There are some traits that you get from one parent or another. You’ll physically see whatever the dominant gene is. They don’t combine. For instance, freckles. But hair is more mysterious. It comes from a combination of your genes. Curl is considered an addictive gene.
Whether your hair is curly or straight starts at the follicle. Round follicles tend to produce straight hair while the follicles of curly-headed folks are more oval-shaped.
You get your hair texture from both of your parents. But that doesn’t mean that your hair will look exactly like either one of theirs. You could get your curl pattern from your great-grandma. If you have super tight curls, you might also have the genes for looser curls, kinkier curls, or even straight hair. Even if you have super tight curls, you might also have the genes for looser curls, kinkier curls, or even straight hair.
What is hair even for?
Let’s look back at what purpose hair serves in evolutionary terms. Why did we develop hair in the first place? According to Science Daily hair helps with:
Regulating our temperature: Hair helped keep us warm. Straight hair in particular, because it lays closer to the skin and is oiler, which traps heat. Straight hair was likely a modification that came about during the Ice Age.
Sensory stuff: Getting goosebumps might just make you put on a sweater. But when humans ancestors had thicker layers of hair on their bodies, this would help make the hair spread out into a warmer “coat”.
Social Interactions: the role we most associate it with now.
So What’s Genetic and What is that Product, Technique, etc.
That’s like asking what is nature and what is nurture. It’s not an either-or question. It’s a question about how much? Here are some common factors that are important to naturalistas:
Let’s see what role genetics plays in each of these, and what else might be at play.
All hair follicles are formed when you’re in the womb. New hair is formed within those predetermined follicles. They go through different stages:
The growth phase differs based on where it is on your body. For instance, your upper lip (luckily) has a shorter growth phase than the hair on your head. Depending on how long the growth phase is, your hair might be longer or shorter.
After the growth phase, the hair in the follicle stops growing and chills for a while. When it’s done resting, a new growth period starts and we shed our old hair. This process is random. Some hair follicles are engaged in different phases at different times. That’s why we don’t (usually) shed all our hair at once.
Different people have different growth phase lengths. They can be from two to six years. Hair grows at about one centimetre every 28 days during each of those growth phases.
Genetics does play a role in how long your growth phases last. But this is also something that you can impact, particularly with diet. Eating a diet rich with protein and biotin has shown to prolong the growth phase. Using all-natural products that supplement those nutrients will also help!
The thickness of your hair is often mixed up with the density of your hair. Hair density refers to how many hair follicles you have, whereas thickness is about the circumference of the shaft. You are born with all the follicles you’re going to have, so you can’t change the density.
Patients who receive radiation treatment might also experience damage to their hair follicles, which can impact the size and shape of the follicles. But that’s a radical circumstance.
For the most part, your hair follicles are predetermined. That means that their shape and size are what they are. You can’t change the thickness of your hair. When you’re born with relatively large hair follicles, the hair growing out of the follicle will be thicker.
“Shine” often comes from oiliness or apparent hydration of one’s hair. That’s why straight hair can often appear shinier. It is naturally oilier because the oils created at the scalp are more easily distributed along the hair shaft.
Curly hair is prone to dryness because the oil gets trapped at the scalp rather than naturally getting distributed, or getting distributed through brushing.
So in some respects, “shine” is genetic. If you have naturally curly or kinky hair, your hair will be dryer and less shiny. To achieve shine and hydration, naturalistas need to properly hydrate. That hydration comes from the external application of oils and creams as well as drinking plenty of water.
Other Factors to Consider in Your Natural Hair Journey
Global warming, pollution, and other factors play a role in how healthy we are (and how healthy our hair is). You might live in an area with “hard water” which can add to dryness. You may live in a more humid environment that can cause already dry hair to look frizzy.
If you’re eating a well-balanced diet, drinking plenty of water, and getting exercise, you can maximize what your mama gave you. You may not be able to lengthen your hair growth cycle beyond the genetically predetermined range, but you can maximize your range. You can also keep your hair as healthy as possible to minimize breakage during the growth period.
Minimizing breakage is one of the factors that you have the most control over. Wearing a silk or satin bonnet at night, not straining your edges, and gently detangling with a good conditioner will also help.
Access to Products:
Your great grandmother likely had access to different types of ingredients. Whether your ancestors were in Africa, the Caribbean, the Americas, none of or all of the above, there was access to different types of plants, supplies, and techniques for hair care. People have always made use of what is available to make their hair look their best.
Luckily for you, we now have access to fresh, whole ingredients to bring out the best in our hair.
Ancestry.com Hair Texture and Hair Type
Genetics Home Reference Is Hair Texture Determined by Genetics?
Healthline 14 Foods for Hair Growth
Northwestern.edu The Science of Curls
The American Journal of Pathology Different Responses of Epidermal and Hair Follicular Cells to Radiation Correlate with Distinct Patterns of p53 and p21 Induction