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JLeslie's avatar

Is curly hair considered to be a trait that developed through evolution due to climate?

Asked by JLeslie (47552 points ) March 1st, 2014

Do certain nationalities have more curly haired people? Or, certain parts of the world? Is it considered to be similar to skin color and has some sort of evolutionary explanation? I was telling my husband how curly his hair looked today. His hair is curly always, but he let it dry without any styling lotion and it was especially tight curls today. For whatever reason I said something about his genes from the desert. His father’s side is from the middle east.

It would make sense from an evolutionary standpoint. He never has to worry about a sunburn on the top of his head. My thin straight hair gets me plenty of burn, especially where my hair parts. His hair has no part. A few of my other friends who are curly are red heads with very fair skin. My husband has olive skin.

I have no idea if curly occurs more in some parts of the world or if there is an evolutionary explanation or theory. If you know anything about what science thinks on the subject I’m interested.

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9 Answers

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, of course Africans and the Irish come to mind. I’m not sure what additional benefit curly hair would give under certain circumstances. I think it’s just one of those random mutations.

bea2345's avatar

Whether hair is curly, straight or wavy is genetically determined. There is a theory that curly hair, as found in Africans, is an adaptation to living in hot climates. The follicle is curved so the hair is tightly curled, resulting in a structure that blocks harmful UV rays and does not cling to the skin when the scalp is sweating. As humans migrated to colder climates, straight hair proved a better insulator of heat. You will have to Google why is hair curly to get the details. Wikipedia gives much information, and it is a good idea to consult other sources to confirm its accuracy.

This is an interesting question. In addition to genetic factors, hair quality may be altered by various factors such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals (e.g. certain cancer drugs) and personal health.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I would think tight, curly hair would hold the heat in better, so it would be more suited to colder climes. Straight hair would allow more head out and would be more suited to hotter climates.
I’ve only known one person to have a sun burn on their scalp and it was where the part was.

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III My husband’s hair can get much longer and still be “short” because it is basically a fro (think Greg Brady) until it gets very very long. So, it is off his neck and I think cooler. He has had his hair very long, sometimes I permed it so it would be straighter, and he notices how much warmer he is in the winter when he has hair over his ears and neck.

bea2345's avatar

Apparently straight hair traps heat better than curly hair. An interesting detail: one researcher says that tightly curled hair is an efficient protection from heat (for the brain).

Cupcake's avatar

If the earliest humans were African, why would the assumption be that curly hair is a mutation? Wouldn’t you assume that straight hair is the mutation??

Dutchess_III's avatar

I assume hair is a mutation, period. Just happened to be a good one.

bea2345's avatar

My hair grew back straight instead of curly after chemotherapy. Next time I go to the doctor I will ask if it means that my follicles are now straight instead of curved.

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