Hair Basics: Hair Structure

I have realised with my own hair journey that it’s so easy to miss fundamental points about hair that you really SHOULD know. This happens because you’re getting all these new things/terms thrown at you from all corners and it becomes an information overload. I feel like I might have started doing the same to you all, so here I am putting on the brakes and taking us back a notch to have a REAL TALK about HAIR. We need to understand the structure of our hair and how it grows before we can implement new ‘things’  effectively. If we don’t we will never quite GET IT. The key to healthy hair care is KNOWLEDGE. Knowing what you are doing, to your hair and WHY. Today let’s talk about hair structure. Be warned this topic is a bit boring, you feel like you are reading a biology book but I’ll try to summarize/simplify the info I’ve come across as best I can.


Our hair has two main parts, the hair FOLLICLE under our skin where our hair growth takes place. This is the part of our hair we don’t see. The second art is the SHAFT which we do see and get to touch/brush etc as it protrudes from the scalp.

Hair Follicle

It is located underneath the skin in the dermis. I would describe it as the container for our hair root/bulb. It plays three key roles.

1)      Protects the hair root- splitting of cells occurs to form new hair all enclosed in the follicle. *the root is the only part of our hair that is alive. The rest is bundled dead cells.

2)      Feeds the hair root- there is the dermal papilla at the bottom of the follicle. It contains tiny capillaries/blood vessels that nourish the hair cells for hair growth. This part of our hair is alive.

3)      Condition hair- the hair has sebaceous gland that produces sebum, an oil like substance that conditions the hair and skin. As ‘women of colour’ the curl pattern of our hair prevents sebum from travelling down the shaft, hence our hair can look dry more often than not

Hair Shaft

The visible length of our hair, that grows from the scalp. The hair shaft is divided into three layers. The outer layer is the cuticle, the second layer is the cortex and the inner layer is the medulla. The diagram below shows these three parts clearly
hair shaft
1) Cuticle**- this is the visible outer layer of the hair shaft. It is made up of flat tightly packed durable cells that overlap one another (looks like a roof top) and protect the rest of the hair shaft. The cuticle determines hair texture. The cuticle cells when the cuticle cells are flat they protect the inner parts of our hair against damage from heat, the elements etc

2)     Cortex- The main part of the hair shaft. It is the middle layer of the hair shaft and it is made up of a strong protein called keratin. This part of the hair holds pigment and gives hair it’s colour

3)     Medulla- The innermost part of the hair made up of clustered cells. The medulla may or may not be present depending on the thickness of the hair.


**That’s the very basic information about hair structure. I hope this sinks in and that you have attained a general appreciation for the topic. It will make more sense once I now start making references to hair structure, and different hair types and conditions like “hair porosity” etc. However, it’s one step at a time.




One thought on “Hair Basics: Hair Structure

  1. Pingback: Top 10 tHs Highlights of 2013 | tellingHAIRstory

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