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November 23, 2022 4 min read

What makes hair thicker?

Hair “thickness” or “fullness”, comes from 5 things:

  • Number of hair follicles on your scalp
  • The diameter of your hair strand
  • How healthy your hair follicles are
  • The amount of curl in your hair
  • The length of your hair

Understanding each of these helps you appreciate your natural hair density, as well as learn what you can do to affect the fullness of your hair. Some people are looking to make their hair appear thicker and fuller, others are wanting to make their hair finer. 

As with many things in life, the saying “the grass is greener on the other side” applies to hair thickness. Many people with fine hair want it thicker hair and many with thick hair want it to appear finer!

Let’s take a look at each of the key factors.

Follicle Density, Hair Diameter 

On average there were between 800 to 1,290 hairs per square inch, according to the publish study “Hair Anatomy” by lead author, Morgan Murphrey.

Spoiler alert!  The human hair is not actually round. Instead, it is typically varying degrees of oval.  For simplicity sake, the average diameter of human hair can vary anywhere from about 20 micrometers to 180 micrometers. Follicles determine the diameter of the hair strand.

Those are wide ranges! Based on these alone, you will be genetically pre-disposed to thicker or finer hair. For simplicity, think of these factors as interesting and nice to know, but there isn’t much you can do to change them.

Follicle Health

Good news is that the number of follicles and the diameter of your hair are just the start of full hair. It is also important to understand how the hair follicle works and consider that every hair follicle goes through various life stages.

Your hair follicles are made up of 2 parts: the papilla and the bulb. 

  1. The papilla delivers the blood supply to the hair follicle.
  2. The bulb, located at the bottom of the hair strand, contains the cells that grow the hair. 

Out from the hair follicle grows the hair shaft. This is the part of the hair that is visible, what we know to be our roots. The hair shaft is made up of a protein called Keratin and an outer protective layer, the cuticle.  

How do hair follicles work?

Hair follicles move through a cycle of 3 stages: anagen, catagen, and telogen. - stages are also known as growth, death, and rest.

  1. Anagen: Growth. Lasts 2-7 years. The hair grows anywhere from 18-30 inches, depending on your genetics, age, or other health factors. 
  2. Catagen: Death. Lasts 2-3 weeks. The strand detaches from the papilla but remains in the hair follicle.
  3. Telogen: Rest. Lasts 3 months on average. New hair begins to grow. At the end of this phase, the older strand is shed. 

It’s an interesting way to look at a life cycle. If allowed to rest after death, the hair cycle renews so that the hair follicle can grow new hair. If the hair follicle is damaged, it may not regrow hair. 

Hair thinning or balding is an indication of possible damage.

The average person has 100,000 hair follicles on their head, but our follicles don’t move through this life cycle in tandem. Instead, they stagger, with about 80-90% of follicles being in anagen - growth - at any given time. 

Healthy hair means remaining in the growth phase (anagen) for as long as possible, and allowing adequate rest (telogen) when it’s time.

Unfortunately for a lot of people, hair follicles are under siege by harsh detergents and hair treatments. Good news is that diet, sleep, hydration, organic products, and scalp massage all play a role in supporting healthy hair follicles. 

Amount of Curl and Hair Length

The curlier your hair, the naturally fuller it will appear. That’s because curls add volume. Straighter hair will appear less full.  While we favor embracing your natural wave, ask your professional stylist for advice about ways to enhance your curl for the look you want. Even a few minutes of heat styling can make a bid difference and sleep in curlers work for some people. Healthline explains, “Curly hair is influenced by the result of your genetics, your hair style, the products you use, and even how long your hair is.As you age, your hair can become less curly due to hair loss (alopecia) or get even curlier due to hormonal changes.” In their “How to Straighten Hair Without Heat” they share:

  • Blow drying with cold hair
  • Wrapping your hair
  • Rolling with large plastic rollers
  • Using essential oils and protein-based products that straighten hair naturally
  • Trying a hair mask

Hair length also plays a role in the appearance of thickness.  This totally depends on each person and there is a happy spot that your full head of hair looks its best.  Typically, hair that's too short can look thinner, hair that's long can look fuller.  But fine hair that is too long, can lack volume.  The common thread is that healthier hair strands with be more flexible and less prone to breakage. Look for conditioners that penetrate the hair shaft with healthful natural oils.  Avoid silicones that coat the outside of the strand, suffocate it, and cause it to be more brittle. 

Wherever you are in your hair journey, understanding what makes hair thicker is the first step to letting go of what you can’t control and taking charge of what you can. Look for routines that take care of your scalp and hair follicles – including eating well, sleep, and products made with healthful ingredients. Play with ways to accentuate or soften your natural curl pattern.

Here's to getting to your healthiest, fullest head of hair!

- Abigail

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