Overview of Hair Growth

ByWendy S. Levinbook, MD, Hartford Dermatology Associates
Reviewed/Revised Oct 2022

    Hair originates in the hair follicles. These follicles are located in the dermis, which is the skin layer between the epidermis (the surface layer) and the fat layer (also called the subcutaneous layer). Hair follicles are present everywhere on the skin except the lips, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet. New hair is made in the hair matrix at the base of the hair follicle. Living cells in the hair matrix multiply and push upward. These cells rapidly dehydrate, die, and compact into a dense, hard mass that forms the hair shaft. The hair shaft, which is made up of dead protein, is covered by a delicate covering (cuticle) composed of platelike scales.

    Getting Under the Skin

    The skin has 3 layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the fat layer. Beneath the surface of the skin are nerves, nerve endings, glands, hair follicles, and blood vessels. Sweat is produced by glands in the dermis and reaches the surface of the skin through tiny ducts.

    Hair is colored by the pigment melanin, which is also responsible for skin color. Human hair colors come from two types of melanin: eumelanin in black or brown hair and pheomelanin in auburn or red hair. Diluted eumelanin gives blond hair its color.

    Hair grows in cycles. Each cycle consists of a long growing phase followed by a brief transitional phase and then a short resting phase. At the end of the resting phase, the hair falls out and a new hair starts growing in the follicle, beginning the cycle again. Eyebrows and eyelashes have a growing phase of 1 to 6 months. Scalp hairs have a growing phase of 2 to 6 years. Normally, about 50 to 100 scalp hairs reach the end of the resting phase each day and fall out.

    Hair growth is regulated by male hormones (androgens, such as testosterone and dihydrotestosterone), which are present in both men and women but in different amounts. Testosterone stimulates hair growth in the pubic area and underarms. Dihydrotestosterone stimulates hair growth in the beard area and hair loss at the scalp.

    Hair disorders include

    Most hair disorders are not serious or life threatening, but they are often perceived as major cosmetic issues that require treatment.

    Dandruff is not a hair disorder but rather a skin disorder (seborrheic dermatitis) of the scalp.

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