You might blame your mum for your baby fine hair and oily scalp, or dear great Aunt Mildred for your unruly curls, but the odds are the responsibility lies even further back, with ancestors known only to archaeologists and palaeontologists. There are three global hair ‘tribes’ – collections of hair types with commonalities that go back deep into the past and are coded in our DNA. These are: ‘The Tribe of the Round Follicle’ (TRF), ‘The Tribe of the Oval Follicle’ (TOF) and ‘The Tribe of the Elliptical Follicle’ (TEF). And guess what? A lot of the challenges our manes face stem right back to our tribal identities.
Every tribe has a creation myth, and the story of the three global hair tribes begins with a migration of modern humans (Homo sapiens) out of Africa somewhere between a 200,000 and 60,000 years ago (the researchers can’t all agree). The first tribe turned right out of Africa, becoming the Tribe of the Round Follicle (TRF), populating Asia and then on south through the Pacific Islands and Australia some 50,000 years ago. Eventually, members of this tribe migrate over a land bridge into the Americas, ending up at the southernmost tip of modern Argentina about 15,000 years ago. The second tribe, the Tribe of the Oval Follicle (TOF), entered southeastern Europe about 50,000 years ago, quickly moving west and north. Those that remain behind retain different characteristics, becoming the Tribe of the Elliptical Follicle (TEF).
Isolated by distance and physical obstacles, the hair of each tribe began to evolve differences while remaining biochemically identical. Here are the characteristics of the hair of each tribe:
The Tribe of the Round Follicle
- Hair shape: straight to wavy
- Colour: black to dark brown shades that are very consistent in colour
- Volume: lots of hair which is fast-growing
- When you pull an individual strand until it breaks, it breaks into large pieces
The Tribe of the Oval Follicle
- Hair shape: straight, wavy or curly
- Colour: blonde, red, brown, black
- Volume: varies depending on colour
- When you pull an individual strand until it breaks, it breaks into small pieces
The Tribe of the Elliptical Follicle
- Hair shape: curly to coiled
- Colour: brown to black, colour pools in specific areas appearing less consistent
- Volume: fewer hairs per square inch, slow growing
- When you pull an individual strand until it breaks, it makes lots of small pieces, many at the apex of a curl
Besides a nearly perfectly round follicle, the members of the TRF share thicker cuticles, unbroken medulla and almost always very straight, dark hair that grows quickly. The TOF has the most variation in colour (from blonde to red to brunette) and habit (from poker straight to tight curls and every wave between). The pigment levels are very even, but the density of follicles varies depending on the colour. Oval follicles and a thinner layer of cuticles characterise members of the TOF. The TEF have the thinnest layer of cuticle, the finest hair of the three tribes, and the ellipsoid follicle shapes hair that twists and curves. Where the hair shaft curls, the dark pigment pools, making for hair that is less uniform than the other tribes’.
Almost as soon as the tribes settled and our hair types evolved, the tribes began to trade with one another. Contact accelerated over the last two millennia, hitting warp speed with the steamship and the aeroplane. Exploration, invasion, settlement, climate change, religious persecution and even slavery have played a large role in how hair looks today across the globe. As first peoples mixed with conquerors and settlers, DNA and differences began to mingle, characteristics of one hair family mixed with another, creating an overlapping and blending of characteristics that we see today.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll share strategies, tips and techniques for living with hair challenges that have their roots in our tribal origins. Understanding the difference between the things we can change (dryness and damage from heat styling, the environment or over-processing) and the things we have to accept (the speed at which our hair grows, the number of follicles in our scalp) brings a certain serenity, the confidence to do us, and the wisdom to know what is possible with Noughty and good habits.