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Is There Such Thing as Black Hair in Humans?
Black is a truly fascinating color. Or, rather, a ‘non-color’ if we’re being technical. We can find it all around us, both near and far – from that sleek biker jacket on your coat hanger, to the mesmerizing fur of a wild-gazed panther from the Asian rainforests.
It leaves so much space to fully gaze into it, and yet it is so overpowering that it occupies that space with grace and power. No matter where you find it, it never ceases to amaze.
And this is just as true for black hair. A rarity and a rather mysterious physical trait, natural ‘black’ hair has an interesting geographical spread, with a history to match. Let’s take an extensive scientific look at the nature of black hair, how it works in the grand scheme of hair color science, and finally, answer the question “Is anyone born with jet black hair?”
Table of Contents:
- The Science of Hair Color
- Black Hair – A Brief Overview of Its Nature
The Science of Hair Color
What we perceive as hair color is determined by pigmentation produced by two types of melanin: eumelanin (brown and black pigments) and pheomelanin (red and yellow pigments).
Where there is an abundance of eumelanin, the hair is darker. Shades, hues, and the color of the hair overall are given by a combination of eumelanin and pheomelanin. It’s red hair that has the least amount of eumelanin and an abundance of pheomelanin.
Usually, one person's hair does not display a single color but rather a variation of colors and shades that give its general appearance. This can be best observed in good lighting.
To simplify everything:
- Black hair – large amounts of eumelanin;
- Brown hair – moderate eumelanin;
- Blond hair – very little eumelanin;
- Red hair – a large amount of pheomelanin in combination with little eumelanin.
The ratio of pigments varies with time, so many people might find that their hair darkened with age. Especially for European people, lighter hair usually turns to a brown shade around puberty.
The explanation is not entirely clear, although researchers believe that, as children grow, because of puberty, there is some change in proteins that control hair pigment. And, of course, everyone’s hair turns grey at one point because the melanin-producing molecules slowly die, and there is no color in the hair follicle anymore. Therefore, the question of when hair turns grey is really a matter of genetics.
Black Hair – A Brief Overview of Its Nature
The most common hair color is black, making it a dominant trait found everywhere in the world, no matter the background or ethnicity. Here’s what we know about its spread on various continents, how it has been affected by the course of history, and how it ties into the age-old curiosity of natural jet black hair.
Around the World and Throughout History
We explained before that black hair is obtained due to a large amount of eumelanin, the brown to black pigment-producing factor. While black hair can be found in all people, there are skin colors and regions where black hair is or is not expected. For example, black-haired people are mostly found in the southern hemisphere, where the sun is harsher, while in the northern hemisphere, people tend to have lighter, blonde hair.
An explanation for this may be that dark hair absorbs warmth, protecting individuals from the discomfort that the sun may cause. It’s mostly the Asian and African continents where there is a ‘concentration’ of black-colored hair, though it can be found in the southern parts of Europe as well.
Did you know that people with Celtic heritage in Ireland that have black hair and black eyes are called the 'Black Irish’? The origin of the term is not quite clear yet, but it might have something to do with massive immigrations to Ireland in the mid-1800s, causing mixed marriages and children that inherited the dark hair of Spaniards and other nationalities.
Does Jet Black Hair Actually Exist?
Perhaps the most important and interesting fact about black hair is that it is not pure black, and it can’t be so by nature. Truly jet-black hair can only be achieved through a dye job.
Hair is very reflective, so in bright light, it can be seen that it’s actually deep brown, and it might even reflect reddish tones with cool blue(ish) roots, as they tend to be cooler, while the mid-section of the hair sports warmer colors.
These reddish or just warm tones are usually best revealed through bleaching. Usually, really dark-haired people can’t get to platinum blonde in one sitting, because there is a lot of bleaching and toning to do, so they require two, three, or even four, salon appointments to get that platinum look they desire.
When bleached, the ‘black’ cool pigments strip out first because they have smaller molecules, revealing the hidden, more stubborn shades – those being the oranges and reds. That is how you can truly notice the fact that there is no such thing as natural black hair. It’s just deep brown, which in turn has orange undertones that are made up ultimately from yellow and red pigments. And that’s color theory in action!
Back to Black
No matter what cultural background we find ourselves coming from, black seems to fascinate all of us equally. Given the fact that it is often represented by the complete absence of light, that it is the best way to make words on a paper stick out, and that it has such a complementary relationship with 'white,' the fact that it elicits such a strong reaction is only fitting for the cultural power it holds over our society.
You've now learned all you needed to put your mind at ease – no one is born with jet black hair, and if you want your hair to gain the color of blackened sea ink, you'll have to book that hair appointment you've been eyeing for a while. But before you do that, make sure that your hair can stand the heavy chemicals that the process requires, and that you're ready for the after-care of such a serious dye job.
Otherwise, enjoy sporting the classiest of (non)colors on your beautiful mane!