Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Medical Body and head hair differ, why?

  1. Jul 21, 2012 #1
    Why does head and body hair differ? Doesn't monkeys have the same type of hair on their head and the rest of their body?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 21, 2012 #2

    Simon Bridge

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member
    2016 Award

  4. Jul 22, 2012 #3
    this is a good topic, I used to know someone who was research this, not sure where he went this. Yeah so your head hair does different from you back and chest hair. For example a man who is going bald due to various known causes will still have a chest and back full of hair.
     
  5. Jul 22, 2012 #4

    Simon Bridge

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member
    2016 Award

    Assuming the difference of interest is the distribution of hair over the human body. It also differs in texture... pubic hair is generally stiffer than head hair for eg. OTOH: we may also ask why we may expect that it shouldn't be different on different parts of the body.

    The example was given for monkeys - however, you will see that monkeys usually have shorter fur over their faces than they do elsewhere and some have quite long fur down their backs. Apes tend to be bald on their faces. etc.

    The human hair is markedly different from other mammals though - we are strikingly bald with no fur at all and a variety of different kinds of hair. IFAIK: the details are something of a topic for ongoing research - the human fossil record does not, so far, contain hair or skin so we have no direct knowledge. The scientific american article linked to discusses this and relates some of the ideas.

    I tend to be cautious about this topic because creationists have been known to use "evolution does not explain human hair therefore humans were made by God".
     
  6. Jul 22, 2012 #5
    I've never run into this, but I suppose they'll seize on any possible issue.

    Now that the OP asks, I too am curious. The difference that intrigues me is that head and beard hair grow constantly while body hair ( and eyebrows and eye lashes) stops growing at a certain length. Head and beard hair will automatically become unwieldy after a few years and be a liability unless something is done about it.
     
  7. Jul 22, 2012 #6

    Simon Bridge

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member
    2016 Award

    I seem to attract them - and UFO nuts, and perpetual motion enthusiasts, and so on and on. You can see how that would warp the way you answer questions.

    How the length of human hair, particularly on the head, is regulated has been the subject of intense study. There is a huge market for baldness cures for eg. So there is no end of data on these mechanisms. For instance, iirc, you can switch hair growth on and off with an enzyme; baldness and hair thinning in old age has a genetic component (even old apes can get thinning hair all over.) But it's not something I've personally studied in great detail.

    The evolutionary mechanism that ends up with the (relative to other mammals) baldness in humans is something of a mystery. I'd bet on it being a side effect of something else... perhaps the mechanism for something else like language or self-awareness also stops your hair growing but it's not a disadvantage because we can wear clothes? Though judging by the way many people seem to prefer hairlessness in their partners, it may be a secondary sexual characteristic.

    Then, of course, there are some extremely hairy people.
     
  8. Jul 23, 2012 #7

    Q_Goest

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    I had asked my physician the same question a very long time ago, "Why does hair on my arm grow to a specific length, and the hair on my head keep growing?" He said that some hair on the body falls out after growing for a given period of time which is why it always seems to be a specific length. It never stops growing, it just falls out.

    I'm not sure if this is the reason, but like I said, that's what my physician told me. Maybe someone can confirm/deny?
     
  9. Jul 23, 2012 #8
    I think he must have been making that up on the spot. I think body hair lingers in place without growing a long time before it falls out.

    As far as I know, humans are the only animals whose head hair keeps growing indefinitely. This must have been a liability for early humans. Eventually, you have to take action to keep it out of the way. It's not an advantage in the cave or on the savannah, but we can assume it didn't become an obstacle to living to the age of procreation.

    Maybe the hair of some other animals does keep growing, though. Maybe a wild sheep would become so wool bound it would eventually die from immobility. I don't know.
     
  10. Jul 23, 2012 #9

    Astronuc

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Some folks have more hair than others, and some can grow longer facial or scalp hair while others can't grow much. Even body hair has different texture among different genetic groups.
     
  11. Jul 24, 2012 #10
    Yes, but I'm not sure if that has to do with the type of hair, balding men usually only loses hair on the top and the front of the head, they still have hair right above the ears and in the back. And when they with hair transplantation move hair from the back of the head to the front, the hair survives so it seems to me like there is some difference in the back head and front head hair. Thats kind of strange too, that some of the head hair is more resisting to balding than the other.
     
  12. Jul 24, 2012 #11

    Q_Goest

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    I did a little research on this. Seems the physician I mentioned had the right idea after all. Hair grows in a 3 part cycle, and the cycle can vary depending on where on your body it grows. I remember as a kid, shaving hair off my arm (don't ask) and finding it always grew back to the same length. The reason is as the physician mentions, it follows a cycle and then falls out. Note that hair doesn't have any signals running up and down its length to tell it when its at the right length to "stop growing" so to speak, because there is no such thing as a hair that knows how long it is. Hair has no way of determining how long it is so it can't grow to a certain length and stop. Instead, it grows for a certain amount of time and stops and then falls out.
    http://www.healthjolt.com/hair-loss/

    Wikipedia says the same thing:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hair_follicle

    As does this paper on the topic:
    http://physrev.physiology.org/content/81/1/449.full#sec-13
     
  13. Jul 25, 2012 #12
    So each individual has a personal maximum hair length they can achieve. There's a Chinese guy with hair 18 feet long. He's a freak. Not because he let it grow that long but because his hair's growth period is so much longer than most people's.
     
  14. Aug 12, 2012 #13

    In Czech the word for body hair and the word for fur are the same.

    That article says: "Human beings are almost hairless because it was useful for them to be almost hairless at some time in the past."
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2012
  15. Aug 12, 2012 #14

    Simon Bridge

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member
    2016 Award

    I bet Czech-speaking zoologists have a way to distinguish the two when they want to talk about body coverings.

    The article says more than that :) and SA usually has references.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook