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If you feel your head hair, it typically feels a lot softer and is easier to manage (comb, brush, fix) than a lot of other hair on your body - specifically I'm thinking about beard hair and pubic hair, which typically are a lot coarser than the hair on your head.
Why are these hairs thicker?
What causes them to grow differently than the hair on our head?
8 Things Your Body Hair Says About Your Health, According to Doctors
Growing faster? Coming in thicker? Falling out? Hormones play a role in all three.
Having body hair is a normal part of, well, being human. The fine fuzz that covers your skin is made up of vellus hairs (from the Latin word for &ldquofleece&rdquo). But those long, coarse, pigmented bad boys? They&rsquore called terminal hairs, which make up your eyebrows and eyelashes, and pop up on the scalp, chin, under your arms, and in your pubic area.
The amount of thicker hair that you have on your body usually depends on your genes, says Gary Goldenberg, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. &ldquoThere is a variety of normal: Some will notice very little body hair that&rsquos very light in color or texture, whereas others may have more body hair and it may be darker and coarser.&rdquo
But when your body hair changes suddenly, it can be a tip-off that something isn&rsquot quite right elsewhere. Whether it&rsquos growing faster than usual, coming in thicker, or even falling out, here are a few things your body hair may be signaling about your health.
The symptoms of hypertrichosis will depend on which form and type a person has. Each type of hypertrichosis is characterized by a certain kind of hair growth: lanugo, vellus, and terminal.
- Lanugo is a soft, fine, light-colored layer of hair that covers a fetus in the womb. All newborns are born with lanugo and it may develop in adults due to certain medical conditions. It’s not as visually obvious as other types of hair growth. hair is typically blonde, thin, and grows on cheeks and arms/legs of kids before thick dark terminal hair grows. hair growth is thicker, longer, and darker than the other forms and is the type that grows on your head. The androgen released during puberty transforms vellus hair into terminal. Of the three types of hair growth, terminal is the most noticeable.
A person can either be born with the condition or acquire it later in life. There are three types of hypertrichosis a person can be born with.
- Congenital hypertrichosis lanuginosa: In this form of the condition, this fine layer of hair present during the fetus stage doesn’t go away after the baby is born and instead, continues to grow.
- Congenital hypertrichosis terminalis: This is the characteristic “werewolf syndrome” form of the condition where a person experiences abnormal—and often stark—hair growth over large areas of their body. As opposed to lanugo, the hair is typically dark and may be quite thick.
- Nevoid hypertrichosis: This form may also occur later in life but is usually present at birth. It's a less severe form of hypertrichosis where the abnormal hair growth is limited to relatively small, isolated patches. One of the more common examples is a unibrow.
Certain medical conditions can also result in hypertrichosis, including:
- Acquired hypertrichosis: Depending on the cause, this form can be relatively mild or as severe as congenital forms. A person with acquired hypertrichosis can experience two kinds of hair growth: vellus or terminal. : This type of abnormal hair growth occurs when thickness and patterns of hair growth that typically occur in the male body, such as facial hair, occur in a female body. The condition is characterized by the growth of dark, coarse, hair on specific areas of the body such as the upper lip (in the pattern of a mustache), the chest, and the back.
In addition to abnormal amounts or patterns of hair growth, many people with hypertrichosis have problems with their oral health. If you have the congenital form of the condition you’re more likely to have a condition called gingival hyperplasia which causes enlarged gums that may be prone to bleeding. Teeth of babies born with hypertrichosis and gingival hyperplasia may come in late or fail to come in at all.
Congenital hypertrichosis that’s accompanied by other bodily abnormalities, such as poor dental health, is sometimes referred to as hypertrichosis universalis congenita, or Ambras syndrome.
Why Can't Some Men Grow Facial Hair?
Facial hair is a symbol of virility and wisdom (not to mention a wonderful enhancement to a male body). But that doesn't mean a man who suffers from boy face—meaning, he can't cultivate a beard—isn't wise or manly. So why can't some men grow facial hair?
The diversity of facial hair growth depends on genetics. Men start to develop facial hair—which is regulated by testosterone—during their pubescent stage, and it doesn't fully mature until they reach their early twenties. The interaction between testosterone and the hair that already exists causes it to grow thicker and darker.
You might think men who can grow a beard have a higher testosterone level, but in reality, most men have about the same level of testosterone. And that's where genetics come in: How one's body responds to testosterone results in how one's facial hair grows. Being highly sensitive to testosterone means more facial hair. On the down side, it attributes to baldness. So for those who have boy face, don't fret! You're safe from baldness later in life! For the time being, a glue-on beard might just do the trick.
Menopause & Underarm Hair
According to BabyCenter.com, hair growth occurs in phases. Typically, you will experience approximately three years of grow in any one hair follicle followed by about three months of rest on average. This does not result in the hair falling out of the follicle, but it will remain rooted in the scalp at a given length for the remained of the resting phase. In people with long hair, this isn't an issue, but if you have buzzed hair or have an infant, you may notice these periods. They are harmless and natural, and in time, the hair will resume growth. Additionally, this does not happen to all of your hair at once, instead occurring to different follicles at different times.
- According to BabyCenter.com, hair growth occurs in phases.
- In people with long hair, this isn't an issue, but if you have buzzed hair or have an infant, you may notice these periods.
6 Possible Causes Of Folliculitis
Various viruses, fungi, bacteria, and parasites can infect you and cause folliculitis.
The Staphylococcus aureus bacteria are usually responsible for bacterial folliculitis. The bacteria can infect hairy areas like the beard in a condition called folliculitis barbae. This is more common among men who shave, with contaminated shaving equipment leading to infection. Also, reinfection is not uncommon, particularly among men who have conditions like hay fever, sinusitis, or nasal discharge. This happens when bacteria that live in the nose infect hair follicles. 2
A variety of folliculitis known as hot tub folliculitis, which usually develops on the trunk, is caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa. These bacteria are usually found in spas or hot tubs that have not been properly sanitized.
A rare kind of folliculitis known as gram-negative folliculitis, caused by gram negative bacteria which affect the face, usually develops after antibiotics are used to treat acne. 3
The herpes simplex virus, which causes herpes or cold sores, can sometimes cause folliculitis too. It is usually seen in men who suffer from recurrent facial herpes infections and who use razors.
Herpes zoster, the virus that causes shingles, can also cause folliculitis.
Another virus known as Molluscum contagiosum, which is commonly found in children, can cause this condition. You usually see papules clustered around a body fold in this case.
Yeasts, which are a kind of fungi, can cause folliculitis. The most common yeast that causes folliculitis is known as Malassezia, causing an acne-like itch rash on the chest or back of young adults. Meanwhile, another yeast called Candida albicans causes the development of folliculitis in the folds of your skin or beard.
Ringworm of the scalp (Tinea capitis), which is the result of a fungal infection, generally causes hair loss and scaly skin. Sometimes, it can lead to folliculitis too.
Infestation by parasites like Demodex and Sarcoptes scabiei can result in folliculitis. Demodex generally infests the scalp or face of elderly people or people whose immune system has been weakened. Sarcoptes scabiei is responsible for causing scabies.
2. A Close Shave
If beard hair is cut too short, it can curl back and enter your skin, causing inflammation. This condition usually affects the beards of men with curly hair. This is similar to folliculitis barbae but without the infection and is, therefore, called pseudofolliculitis barbae. 4
3. Skin Irritation
Some substances and practices can irritate and damage hair follicles, block them, and cause folliculitis.
Irritation of the skin due to friction can lead to folliculitis. This is generally seen in women or men who shave their legs or faces using a razor, especially if the shave goes against the direction of hair growth. This kind of folliculitis is also associated with wearing tight clothes or being obese.
Topical application of products like moisturizers, oils, and ointments can block the hair follicle opening and lead to folliculitis. Some products may also cause your skin to swell. This may block the follicle opening and lead to inflammation.
Reaction To Chemicals
Topical products containing coal tar and other chemicals can irritate your skin and cause folliculitis. Some topical medicines like corticosteroids can also cause swelling and obstruct your follicular opening, particularly when used on the face.
Many medicines can induce folliculitis too. Some examples include oral corticosteroids, epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors, androgenic hormones, and lithium.
5. Weakened Immunity
A weakened immune system can leave you more susceptible to folliculitis. A particular kind of folliculitis known as eosinophilic folliculitis is a rare and recurrent skin disorder that specifically arises in people whose immune system has been compromised, say those with HIV or cancer. 5
6. Skin Conditions
Various skin conditions can cause folliculitis. Some of them include:
A skin condition characterized by an itchy non-infectious rash that can affect various body parts like arms, trunk, legs, genitals, mouth, nails etc. 6
Discoid Lupus Erythematosus
A chronic skin condition that results in sores, scarring, and inflammation. It generally develops on the ears, face, and scalp though other body parts can be affected too. 7
A chronic inflammatory skin condition that develops on the scalp, though other areas like beards, armpits, legs etc. can sometimes be affected too. Itchiness, scarring, and hair loss can be indicative of this condition. 8
Acne Nuchae Keloidalis
An inflammatory condition that develops when the hair on your nape or the back of your head grows into the skin, irritates the follicles, and leads to inflammation. This condition is more commonly seen in people with dark skin and curly hair. 9
In some cases of folliculitis, a cause cannot be identified – for instance, buttock folliculitis commonly affects the buttocks in men as well as women. Although this is thought to have a bacterial origin, the specific offender is yet unknown. 10
Medical Reasons for Eyebrow Loss
Hirsutism is a condition that can cause a change in hair texture. The Mayo Clinic website states that hirsutism is a condition of unwanted, male-pattern hair growth in women. Approximately 10 percent of American women have some level of hirsutism. Hirsutism is believed to be caused by diseases that stimulate the production of male hormones known as androgens. Hirsutism may also be a family or ethnic trait, notes the Mayo Clinic website. Hirsutism is characterized by excessive amounts of coarse and pigmented hair on body parts that do not typically experience hair growth in women, such as the face, back and chest. Although there are no hirsutism-related physical complications, the chemical imbalances that cause hirsutism should be assessed by a qualified physician.
- Hirsutism is a condition that can cause a change in hair texture.
- Hirsutism is characterized by excessive amounts of coarse and pigmented hair on body parts that do not typically experience hair growth in women, such as the face, back and chest.
Blow-Dry for Longevity
Carol Yepes / Getty Images
A great blow-dry at the salon can last for two to three days, even on oily hair. You can actually give yourself a salon-quality blow dry as long as you have the right products and tools.
- Start by towel-drying your hair until it's as dry as possible.
- When it comes to fine hair, a "rough dry" is key. Remove the nozzle attachment to your dryer (it concentrates heat and can flatten hair). Blast the air all over your hair while roughening up the roots with your fingers. Bend over at the waist and blow dry your hair. This adds lift to the roots.
- Once your hair is about 50 to 75 percent dry, section it off and dry from underneath. Pull hair up towards the ceiling with your brush and shoot the hair up and along the shaft to add body. Put your nozzle back on—a diffuser also helps point the air in a specific direction—and finish drying.
- Once your hair is dry, blast your entire head with cool air. "This creates fullness and loosens up the blow-dry," hairstylist Nathaniel Hawkins tells Allure magazine.
Hormones. Thick body hair is called androgenic hair because its growth depends on the production of androgens, a unisex hormone found in both men and women. Levels of this hormone are significantly higher in men, which is why they generally have thicker body hair and why they have hair on more areas of their body. Body hair has a significantly different growth pattern than the growth pattern of the hair on your head, which is why the hair on your head can grow so long and your body hair is much shorter.
For women who have excess body hair, blame your hormone levels, not your razor. High levels of hormones can cause women to grow thick facial hair as well as hair on their arms, back, and chest. An imbalance can be caused by several things, most which can’t be prevented. Certain medications, puberty or menopause, and even genetics contribute to increased androgen levels in women. This is why women develop thick and sporadic facial hairs that seem to appear out of nowhere.
What Is 'Smelly Hair Syndrome?'
Everyone has an occasional "bad hair day," but for those unfortunate people stricken with a condition known as "Smelly Hair Syndrome," a bad hair day can mean relationship problems, taunts from coworkers and even expulsion from school. Consider these examples:
"I wash my hair and by the middle of the day it has a sweaty, muggy smell . I'm a sophomore in college, never had a boyfriend, never even kissed a guy, all because of this smelly demon that I have had to cope with since eighth grade." -- Corrin, The Beauty Brains Forum
"I go to work everyday because I have no choice, but my co-workers are very cruel to me because of the bad odor they smell coming from my head. They don't know how hard I try to take care of this problem." -- Sierra, The Beauty Brains Forum
"An 8-year-old girl said she was removed from her classroom at a Seattle school because of the way her hair smelled. She has now missed a full week at Thurgood Marshall Elementary." -- KIRO TV report
What's going on here? What is "Smelly Hair Syndrome" and can it really be so socially stigmatizing? After receiving hundreds of questions about this issue we were intrigued to find out more.
The symptoms of smelly hair
We discovered that Smelly Hair Syndrome manifests in one striking symptom: a horrific odor that emanates from the hair and scalp. According to the people who have commented on our blog, the olfactory character of the smell varies from person to person. Some describe it as ". stinks like a diaper." Others have compared the smell to "sour milk, wet dog, moldy hay, potatoes, an old shoe or dirty socks, a jacket that's never been to the dry cleaner, and an oily smell mixed with vomit." The most unusual description we've heard was ". sort of a cross between Dorito's Bold BBQ chips and cinnamon (and not a sweet smell, actually kinda foul) and maybe a hint of cheese." And, finally, one unfortunate reader told us that "my hair is so smelly that sometimes flies buzz around my head."
The odor is so strong that other people can easily notice it ("I know my co-workers could smell it and I was so embarrassed.") Spouses and significant others have also told us that the odor is problematic because it can transfer to towels and pillow cases. For some people the smell is noticeable right after showering for others it starts a few days after they've washed their hair. We received several comments from people who shower before sleep and wake up with a smelly scalp. Interestingly, one person pointed out that their hair starts out with one scent right after washing and changes to a different odor about 12 hours later. In addition to the malodor, some people experience increase in oily hair and scalp. One woman notices a "thick, oily, flour-like substance on my scalp."
Causes and cures
These secondary symptoms made us wonder if a potential cause of Smelly Hair Syndrome could be seborrheic dermatitis (seb-o-REE-ik der-muh-TI-tis), because it causes an increase in oil production and flaky scalp residue. However, according to Mayo Clinic's webpage, scalp odors like those described above are not typically associated with seborrheic dermatitis. Furthermore, our readers tell us that in many cases their doctors have not been able to identify a definitive cause. Many said that their doctors didn't take the problem seriously: "I even went to the dermatologist. Twice! He never heard of such a thing and seemed to not even believe me which made me very angry! Why don't these doctors have a clue?!" "I went to see a dermatologist. Which was of no help! I got prescriptions and so forth but nothing worked."
Without a satisfactory medical explanation, people are left to figure out their own cures. Our readers have tried just about everything you can think of, including medicated shampoos like Nizoral, Selsun Blue, Neutrogena T/Gel, Head & Shoulders and Denorex. They've used tea tree-based products (like Giovanni Tea Tree Triple Treat conditioner) because of the alleged anti-fungal properties of tea tree oil (unfortunately, most tea tree oil shampoos contain very little of the actual oil). In desperation, some people have even tried medicated pet shampoos.
Others have forsaken commercial products for home remedies like lemon juice, baking soda, apple cider vinegar, coconut oil, aloe vera, neem oil, chlorophyll supplements and a mixture of honey and cinnamon. One person even uses hand sanitizer on her scalp two or three times a day. Then there's the most elaborate of all the treatments we've heard of: "I go to this salon where they rub a liquid into your hair, wrap it in plastic wrap and steam it. This is followed with something they call 'frequency treatment' -- it is a glass rod attached to a machine and they deliver something like an electrical impulse."
What really works to treat Smelly Hair Syndrome? Of all the solutions proposed by our readers, two seemed to provide reasonably consistent results: Dial antibacterial liquid body wash and sulfur-containing soaps. These treatments make sense from a scientific point of view, if the cause is bacterial or fungal. An antibacterial agent (like the Triclosan used in the Dial bodywash) could prevent bacteria from growing, while sulfur could reduce scalp oiliness thereby eliminating the "food" that bacteria or fungi need to grow. For those who haven't had success with other treatments, these two options maybe worth a try. Of course, you should consult with a dermatologist to ensure your symptoms aren't caused by psoriasis or some other condition.
From the comments we've received, Smelly Hair Syndrome appears to be a real problem that is unresolved for many people. Based on our readers' input, the medical community has not yet provided a satisfactory solution. According to our understanding of chemistry and hair and scalp biology, shampooing with sulfur and Triclosan-based soaps may offer some relief. We hope that more definitive treatment options are identified by the medical and cosmetic science communities.
If you or someone you know suffers from Smelly Hair Syndrome, leave a comment and share your experiences with the rest of our readers. If you are a health care professional with experience with this problem, please leave a comment and share your advice.