Hair is a complex feature that helps to regulate internal body temperature and provide insulation. It also functions as a shield against ultraviolet radiation and, when it gets wet, is a source of cooling (sweat evaporates quickly from soaking hair). Humans have developed clothing and other means to protect themselves from the cold, but the hair found on the head serves to trap a layer of air that adds insulation. The hair is also attached to muscles called arrector pili that can make the external strand stand up, creating a heat-trapping layer above the skin. This is the same mechanism that creates goose bumps when a person feels cold or when a frightened cat raises its fur.
Hair grows from a small hole in the skin called a hair follicle. The follicle widens to become the hair bulb, which has nerves and blood vessels that nourish and supply hormones to developing hair cells. The hair follicle is surrounded by sebaceous glands that produce lipid-rich oils to keep the skin and hair healthy. New hair cells continually grow within the hair follicle until they are ready to emerge above the surface of the skin where they can be seen. The strands of hair are not alive, but contain dead cells that have been fused together into one solid unit that extends outward from the skin.
There are many different hair styles and textures. A person’s hair may be straight, wavy or curly. It can be very short or very long. It can be very dark or light in color. It can be very coarse or very fine. Occasionally, the hair can have a distinctive smell.
Depending on the culture and the person, hair can have symbolic significance. For example, a person’s hairstyle can indicate their worldview or social status. People are often judged by their hairstyle and color, a stereotype that can cause unfair inferences about their personality.
It is important to use descriptive language when writing about a person’s hair so the reader can imagine what the hair looks like. Using the right words is a great way to add a sense of detail and realism to a story or essay.
If you’re not sure what adjectives to choose, check out this extensive list of hair words to help you write more accurate descriptions. You can also learn more about writing description in this WITS blog post by Sharla Rae. Sharla passed away earlier this year, but she and her amazing lists live on here at WITS.