The biology of human hair: A multidisciplinary review

Am J Hum Biol. 2020 Mar;32(2):e23316. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.23316. Epub 2019 Sep 3.


In the last century, human scalp hair morphology has been studied from multiple, and sometimes mutually exclusive, perspectives by anthropologists, biologists, geneticists, forensic scientists, and cosmetic scientists. Here, we review and synthesize historical and current research on hair to better understand the scientific basis and biological implications of hair microstructure and morphology. We revisit the origins of existing nomenclature regarding hair morphology and classifications, discuss the currently recognized limitations to hair analysis within the varied scientific disciplines studying hair, point out aspects of hair biology that remain unknown, and the great potential for integrating these diverse perspectives and expertise in future scientific investigations, while highlighting the benefits of combining nondestructive microscopical analysis with chemical and genomic analyses for explicating hair biology. Further, we propose consensus terminology for root growth stages through descriptions and images that will aid in the morphological and microscopical analysis of human scalp hair, thereby reducing confusion and the promulgation of inaccurate information that is presently in the literature.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Hair* / anatomy & histology
  • Hair* / chemistry
  • Hair* / growth & development
  • Hair* / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission