Study Finds Thick Hair Might Actually Break Easier

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant

Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Thick Hair Found To Break More Easily Than Thin Hair In New Study

Image by Treasures & Travels / Stocksy

When it comes to hair health, you'd think the thicker, the better, right? With products boasting improved thickness and volume, the belief seems to be that thick hair is healthier and stronger than its thinner counterparts.

But a new study in the journal Matter has found that may not actually be the case.

In their study of eight different species' hair, including humans, researchers found thinner hair is typically stronger than thicker.

What researchers found.

The study was a collaboration between researchers at the University of California– San Diego, and the University of California–Berkeley. They wanted to compare the hair of different species, collecting samples from bears, horses, boars, capybaras, javelinas, giraffes, elephants, and humans.

They tied strands of the hair samples to a machine, which pulled them until they broke, and observed the thinner hair was actually stronger, requiring more tension to break. This, they found, was due to the way the hair was breaking.

Wen Yang, Ph.D., nanoengineering researcher and first author of the study, says, "We were very surprised by the result [...] Intuitively, we would think thick hair is stronger."

Hair thicker than 200 micrometers breaks in a clean, fine line. Thinner hair, on the other hand, shears.

"Shearing," Yang explains, "is when small zigzag cracks are formed within the material as a result of stress. If a material shears, it means it can withstand greater tension and thus is tougher than a material that experiences a normal fracture."

Because of this, elephants' hair, for example, is half as strong as human hair, even though it's roughly four times thicker.


Why does this matter?

Robert Ritchie, Ph.D., Sc.D., co-author of the study, says, "The notion of thick being weaker than thin is not unusual, and we have found that happening when studying brittle materials like metal wires. This is actually a statistical thing, which is a bigger piece will have a greater possibility of having a defect. It's a bit surprising to see this in hair as hair is not a brittle material, but we think it's because of the same reason."

Because of this, the team hopes to apply the findings to creating stronger synthetic materials.

"If we can create metals that have a hierarchical structure like that of hair, we could produce very strong materials, which could be used as rescue ropes and for constructions," Yang notes.

And additionally, the findings suggest if you want healthier hair, strength, not thickness, should be your objective. Good news is, there are lots of ways you can strengthen your hair from the inside out.

Everything from the food you eat to the products you use can affect the integrity of your hair's strength. Try these techniques for stimulating growth and protecting your hair to get your locks growing in no time.

And if you've lived your life wishing your hair was thicker, fret no more—it may just be better off.

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