The [not so] Secret Life of Hair

We humans are animals. Well, zoologically speaking, we’re animals on the tree of life.

Animals. That’s our “Kingdom.”  Within that Kingdom we are part of the Phylum of Chordates; that is, in the simplest of terms, we have spinal cords. Well, at least most of us.  [Sadly, Mr. Lupner was born without a spine.  Sorry SNL]

And we are part the most “advanced” classes of chordates.  We are mammals.  The 6,500 known mammal species are extremely diverse, ranging from: kangaroos and cats; to foxes and ferrets; to racoons and rabbits; and from dolphins to dogs; wallabies to wombats; hamsters to humans.  Well, you get the picture.  Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, as the King said to Anna. [sorry, Mr Hammerstein]. Anyhow, we’re a very diverse class.

[At this point I can’t help but spout out, er, ah, recite, the old mnemonic: King Phillip Came Over From Great Spain.  A few of you might follow that. But I’ll move right along now. Did Mr Brandt teach me that in High School?]

One of the five or so major distinctive characteristics of mammals (the word comes from the Latin “mamma”, which means “nipple”, even though a few mammals don’t have them) is that they have hair pretty much all over their bodies.  Yes, even you. Everywhere.  Please, don’t go looking now.  At least if you’re not alone. And yes, I know we don’t have hairs on the palms of our hands and feet. Different discussion.

Hair.  It’s a scientific topic that has been on my mind a lot lately.  I guess mostly as regards to humanoids and canines – the kinds that live in our domiciles.

Hair is weird.  Especially if it’s long.  No matter their length, hairs are very light. Look what a healthy breeze can do: give us “bad hair days.”  That’s if hair is attached to one’s skin, or pate; some of us are “follically challenged”, and/or we decide to keep our hairs short.

Nonetheless, we all have hair.  And it’s not always attached to our follicles.  We all shed. As do dogs. Pay close attention and you’ll spot hairs wafting through your house’s air from time to time (not too closely or too often, because, ewwww).

Hair is also “sticky”.

If it’s dry it tends to attract static electric charge, which can last quite a while as dry hair is a poor conductor.  It’s near impossible for various items to have the same charge; when differently charged items get close to each other they attract.  [When similarly charged, they repel; like when someone touches a van de Graaff generator, all their hairs get the same charge … and weeee].  So, those loose floating dry hairs tends to stick to whatever they come in contact with.  And they stay there until the charge nears that of the stuckee (slacks, shirt, curtains) and then a gentle breeze, or flick of your fingers, sets it free to waft about again.  [stuckee – a very technical term].

When hair is wet, tiny water droplets have enough surface energy to “stick” (or adhere) to both the hair and what it comes to rest upon, after it is done drifting randomly about.  Have you ever found a hair (likely fairly long, otherwise you probably wouldn’t find it) sticking to your bathroom floor, sink or something in your home, like a dinner plate?  You try and try to pick it up. When you finally do, it is stuck to your fingers. Try to pull it off with your other hand and the problem repeats.  Finally, you get wise and pull it off with a paper napkin, or the like, and pitch it in the bin.

So, dry or wet, hair is annoyingly “sticky.”

It gets curiouser and curiouser (sorry Alice).  Every house, especially those with forced air heating or cooling, have a small set of air flow patterns.  If not from forced air, it’s the way we tend to move around our homes.  There are higher air flow areas (where air moves steadily) and eddy flow areas (where the air just kind of swirls without changing its locale much, just keeping to itself).  Just as in any fluid dynamics situation, from the water of mountain brooks to the air in breezy valleys.

Hair is responsive to this.  Its gossamer structure, with very high length-to-weight ratios, means it can catch the slightest breath of air, and then go “anyway the wind blows.” (sorry Freddie).  Much hair eventually finds an eddy – in a corner or crevasse, or in a funny place between bollards, or near a bookshelf – and just settles down.  Where one hair settles usually other hairs will likewise find their way.  The hairs – collecting slowly, steadily, one by one – make a tangled wad.  Eventually dust (skin flakes, dead mites and their feces) find the eddy too, and all get caught up in this ever-growing ball of life’s detritus. Joe!!!  I know, I know.  That’s kind of yucky.

At this point you’re wondering why I’ve been thinking about this.

In our family, as in many families, we have come to accept – and eventually embrace – our share of domestic duties. Some are cooks.  Some lift heavy things. Some organize.  Some keep books.  Some plan generalities, and some plan details. Some move the furniture, while the other plans where the furniture should go. Some do yard work. I was a pretty good diaper-changer in my day.  For us, I generally get the house-cleaning duties.  Somehow, I have mostly escaped showers, but I get most of the rest.  It’s all good.  Mom would be proud, I guess. My goodness, I swear: hair is not rare.  Hair is everywhere.  I don’t mean to scare, but say a prayer, and don’t have a hair nightmare. (sorry George C).

To know me is to know that hair can be rare.  Fred Astair got no hair.  (sorry again George).  I have been blessed with a pate that is rather rare of hair, and what’s left I pare ‘til it glares.  Might as well just go with it and keep life simple.  In fact – as a general rule – hair is rare for both owner-occupants of our home.

As hair for us is rare, it always amazes me how much hair shows up when I do my regular house-keeping duties. (OK, not so regular.  I skipped this past month completely). I know we have house guests from time to time, some with impressive manes.  And a semi-permanent guest.  But really?  Hair is amazing! It’s everywhere … and long hairs, too.  How can there be so much? It’s in the house corners, in the drains, clogs the vacuum cleaner brushes, and shows up – quite frankly – in the most unimaginable (and sometimes disgusting) places. Kitchen items, salads, countertops, laundry, my bathroom mirror, and in some rather extraordinary anatomical locations (careful with your imagination, but, yes, some places the sun don’t shine).  I mean  … what … the … frigging… heck???? As Archie Bunker said on All in the Family when he found a hair on his bar of soap while showering: “You know where it came from, but you don’t know how it got there.” (Sorry, Norman).  Please, please, tell me I’m not the only one these hair-raising things happen to.

Summary. Hair that is no longer connected to the body is kinda gross. Especially if it’s long. It goes any-damn-where it feels.  Sometimes it finds its fellow hair friends and makes hair balls.  Sometimes it goes off and sticks to anything it can.  It likes to stay stuck, until it’s not.  Then it will go anywhere it wants again, and get stuck again.  But hey, it’s protein, so if you accidentally eat some, you’re probably better off.

Anyhow, New Years is coming up.  Maybe take some party

How not to be boring

balloons, rub them on your shirt (or carpet) for 20 seconds, then put them next to your hair and see if you get this party effect.

[5 imaginary kewpie dolls to those of you who related to each of the “sorry” asides]

Be well,

Joe Girard © 2022

Thank you for reading. As always, you can add yourself to the notification list for newly published material by clicking here . Or emailing

Note: much of this science-y stuff about hair written here has not been validated by research or any science-y persons.  Just observations (yes, hair IS everywhere) and guesses educated by my experience and background.

5 thoughts on “The [not so] Secret Life of Hair”

  1. Lee

    Terrific as always, Joe. And WELCOME HOME! Glad you had a wonderful, and, I’m sure, educational experience — you probably have lots of stories to tell in future years. Keep up the GREAT work, we always enjoy your essays, what an insight to life you have!

    1. Joe Post Author

      Lee, once again I have to ask. Where do I send the check? Thanks for your comment. I miss you.

  2. Jon Payne

    You just got me by the hair……hair…….
    This is a wonderful read, somewhere between Dr Seus and Hemingway or their abouts and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
    So their
    Remember to hair is human (mamillian)
    Jon P.

  3. Peggy Gutmann

    Very funny Joe! And everything you wrote is so true. Those damn hairs are everywhere, lol!

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