The biology and genetics of curly hair

Exp Dermatol. 2017 Jun;26(6):483-490. doi: 10.1111/exd.13347.


Hair fibres show wide diversity across and within all human populations, suggesting that hair fibre form and colour have been subject to much adaptive pressure over thousands of years. All human hair fibres typically have the same basic structure. However, the three-dimensional shape of the entire fibre varies considerably depending on ethnicity and geography, with examples from very straight hair with no rotational turn about the long axis, to the tightly sprung coils of African races. The creation of the highly complex biomaterials in hair follicle and how these confer mechanical functions on the fibre so formed is a topic that remains relatively unexplained thus far. We review the current understanding on how hair fibres are formed into a nonlinear coiled form and which genetic and biological factors are thought to be responsible for hair shape. We report on a new GWAS comparing low and high curl individuals in South Africa, revealing strong links to polymorphic variation in trichohyalin, a copper transporter protein CUTC and the inner root sheath component keratin 74. This builds onto the growing knowledge base describing the control of curly hair formation.

Keywords: curl; hair follicle; hair trait genetics; human hair.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biocompatible Materials / chemistry
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Hair / physiology*
  • Hair Follicle / physiology
  • Humans
  • Intermediate Filament Proteins / genetics
  • Keratins / metabolism
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Protein Precursors / genetics
  • South Africa


  • Biocompatible Materials
  • Intermediate Filament Proteins
  • Protein Precursors
  • trichohyalin
  • Keratins