The loss of hair is so frequent in Australia, at least amongst the male population, that it requires a little consideration; and apart altogether from this, the whole subject is one of extreme interest, so that some reference to the actual structure of the hair and the hair-follicles is called for. The roots of the hair are formed in the hair-follicles, which may be described as little pear-shaped bags, formed either in the true skin or in the cellular tissue beneath it. Each hair-follicle, hair-sac, or hair-pit, as it is variously termed, bulges out at its deeper part, contracting to a long narrow neck as it passes to its skin. Near the surface of the latter the follicle widens out again, and it is from this part that the hair emerges. As it has been previously mentioned, a duct from one of the oil glands usually opens into each follicle. At its very bottom, also, is the papilla, or little mound-like elevation. This protrudes into the follicle, and from it the hair is formed.
The blood supply for the hair is very abundant. There is a complete system of blood vessels encircling every one of the follicles, and besides this each papilla has a special distribution of blood to itself. That part of the hair lying within the hair-follicle is called the root. The lower end of the root, which swells out into a knob, named the bulb, is concave in shape underneath, so as to fit on top of the projecting papilla. The shaft is the long stem of the hair, while its extreme end is termed the point.
By the aid of the microscope it may be seen that the hair itself on the outside is covered by a layer of scales - the cuticle - overlapping one another like the tiles on the roof of a house. Beneath the cuticle is the fibrous part, consisting of many cells closely packed together. In many instances the fibrous part takes up the whole interior, but in the centre of the coarser hair there is the medulla or pith, composed of very minute cells. From this it follows that the hair is not a hollow tube, as is commonly supposed. This mistake has arisen from the fact that, when viewed transversely, the colour of the central and outer part of the hair is different.
Having in this way become acquainted with the actual structure of the hair and of the hair-follicles, it will be desirable to consider somewhat briefly the management of the former. We have already seen that the skin requires a good deal of attention in order to ensure the perfection of bodily health. And although the hair does not fulfil such an important function, yet, on the other hand, it must not be neglected. Even on the score of appearance alone, it has much claim for attention. Many people would be vastly improved in this way were they only to visit their hairdresser more frequently. It is very unsightly, to say the least of it, to see the hair straggling all over the back and sides of the neck, and the beard (if a beard be worn) with a wild, untidy look. Besides this, in our semi-tropical climate, a little more care in this respect would be certainly conducive to coolness and comfort.
But in addition to these considerations, there is another very cogent reason why the hair should be more often attended to; and it is the fact that if it be kept of an ordinary length, somewhat frequent cutting promotes its growth. There is more than one reason given as an explanation of this; indeed, there are at least three. In the first place, the shorter the hair the less it is dragged on in its roots; secondly, its roots are prevented from becoming blocked at the mouth of the hair-follicles; and lastly, the weight of the hair is considerably lessened. From this it will be obvious that it is not the actual cutting of the hair in itself which is so beneficial in invigorating its growth, but that, by reason of the cutting, certain results follow which strengthen it greatly.
We have just seen that the accumulations of debris and other material at the roots of the hair are prejudicial to its growth. It must not be inferred from this, however, that incessant washing of the scalp, by removing these collections, is a good thing. Now, it is advised by some that the hair should be wetted daily at the same time the bath is taken. But as a general rule this is a mistake; only those who have a superabundance of natural oil can afford to carry out such a practice. With the great majority of people it is absolutely detrimental to the growth of the hair to wash it oftener than once a week. After washing the head, the hair should be thoroughly dried. Many attacks of neuralgia, especially in the fair sex, are due to the effect of getting into a draught while the hair is still wet.
There are several points to be borne in mind in connection with the growth and preservation of the hair. With many persons the scalp is very tender and will not tolerate vigorous brushing. In such instances the brush should always be a soft one; indeed, a hard brush cannot be recommended under any circumstances. The teeth of the comb, also, should never be so sharp as to irritate the scalp, nor should they be set too closely together. A certain amount of brushing is necessary to keep the scalp and hair in healthy action, but it must never be carried to excess. Singeing the hair is greatly believed in by a number of people, and in some cases it appears to be of benefit. Many believe that singeing seals up the cut ends of the hair, which they affirm bleed when cut. This has no foundation in fact, however, for, as it has already been explained, the hair is not a tube. A hard, unyielding covering for the head is not at all suitable; the lighter and more ventilated the head-gear the better. But, the truth is, a sensible and suitable head-covering for Australian use has yet to be devised. Thinning of the hair, and even actual baldness, are not unfrequently started by the hard rim of the hat employed. This mechanically interferes with the supply of blood to the scalp, and thus it is that the crown suffers most in this respect, since it is the more starved of blood.
As I have previously shown, the hair often suffers from want of natural oil. The investigations of Liebreich have shown that this is closely allied to lanolin, which is the purified fat of sheep's wool. Moreover, it has been found that this lanolin is the very best substitute for the former. It is, however, too sticky to be used alone as a pomade. Accordingly, Dr. Allan Jamieson, of Edinburgh, a very high authority on diseases of the skin and hair, advises that it should be mixed with oil of sesame in the following proportions:
Oil of sesame ....
This may be conveniently perfumed with a few drops of oil of bergamot, oil of orange blossom, or oil of rosemary. For the preservation of the hair, therefore, it should be trimmed short; the scalp kept clean, but not overwashed; and the hair, if naturally dry, lubricated by the foregoing-pomade. These must be supplemented, also, by taking care that the head-covering is not too heating, that the rim of the hat is not too hard, and that irritation of the scalp by hard brushes and fine combs is strictly avoided.
If the thinning of the hair has progressed to a more advanced stage, other measures will have to be adopted. The most useful application which I know of to restore growth is the following. It is a formula given by Messrs. Squire, the well-known chemists of London, and has had an immense sale extending over many years.
Cantharidine (the best) .
Acetic ether ....
These are to be dissolved together; then add,
Rectified spirit ..............
Castor oil ... .
As with the pomade, this is best perfumed by the addition of about 20 or 30 drops of oil of bergamot, oil of lavender, oil of orange flower, or oil of rosemary, as fancy dictates. The bottle should be kept tightly corked, and a little of the preparation rubbed well into the hair-roots daily. If it create any irritation after two or three days' use, it is best to wash the scalp with a little warm water and soap. The pomade which has been recommended may be afterwards employed for two or three days till the irritation has subsided, when the application may be renewed. A better plan still is, from the first, to use the hair restorer on one day, and the pomade on the next, alternately. This foregoing application is of course not infallible, but it will be found to do more good in a greater number of cases than any known preparation.