A recent article published by Science Daily reports that researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) are investigating the structure of hair to understand what makes hair so strong. You might not realize it, but the hair on your head has a strength-to-weight ratio comparable to steel. Scientists hope that understanding what makes hair so strong, flexible, and resistant to breaking will enable advances in industries as varied as cosmetic manufacturing and body armor production. At Vinci Hair Clinic, we share the latest in hair research to promote further education and understanding about hair and its properties.

Hair’s unique structure endows it with surprisingly unique qualities. The team at UCSD discovered that human hair behaves differently when it is stretched at fast and slow rates. Dr. Marc Meyers, a professor of mechanical engineering, explained that hair is stronger the more quickly it is stretched. “Think of a highly viscous substance like honey,” he told Science Daily reporters. “If you deform it fast it becomes stiff, but if you deform it slowly it readily pours.” Hair behaves this way because of its structure.

Human hair is made of two parts: the cortex and the matrix. The cortex is made of small fibers parallel to one another while the matrix has a random structure. Hair can withstand rapid, high stress because the matrix is sensitive to the speed at which the hair is deformed. On the nanoscale, stress causes molecules shaped in chains to become sheet structures called “beta sheets.” This change in molecular behavior when hair is under stress enables it to handle large amounts of stress and pressure.

UCSD researchers hope that understanding the nanostructures of hair that contribute to its unusual strength will enable scientist to build similarly strong materials. Additionally, scientists hope that bettering our understanding of hair structure will inspire the creation of better cosmetic products for hair treatment. At Vinci Hair Clinic, we hope that UCSD researchers and other scientists around the world continue to unlock the mysteries of human hair and that their breakthroughs can be applied to help men and women around the world who struggle with hair loss.

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Did You Know Human Hair Has the Strength of Steel?