In recent years, literature has acknowledged that race and ethnicity are important factors to consider in the clinical presentation, management and treatment of skin and hair disorders. Following a survey of the literature on the racial differences of hair, this article will focus on the curly hair of blacks, the grooming practices of blacks, and the relation of those practices to common hair and scalp disorders unique to this population.
Racial Variations of Hair Shape: There are no biochemical differences in hair between racial groups, however morphological differences have been documented. Caucasian hair is typically straight or wavy, round/oval on cross-section and the hair follicle is straight. Asian hair is straight, round on cross-section, contains a straight follicle and the diameter tends to be greater than in the other groups. The hair of blacks tends to be curly, elliptical on cross-section and emanates from a curved hair follicle. Lindelof et al determined that the shape of the hair follicle is what produces the shape of the hair.
Breakage: Breakage is a frequent problem with the hair of blacks. Khumalo et al examined hair samples from African, Caucasian and Asian volunteers and compared the damage caused by normal hair grooming. Light and scanning electron microscopic examination revealed 10-16% of black African hairs exhibited knots and were intertwining, interlocking and appeared broken. Repeated breaks of the hair shaft with no attached roots were present in the African hairs, and the hair was shorter than in the other two groups.