If you were condemned to a life sentence in solitary confinement, it's fair to say you'd need to think of ways to occupy your mind. Counting the hairs on your body could be just the thing. From scalp down to genitals and everywhere else in between, you'll get to around 5,000,000.
A man spends more than a month of his life shaving his beard, while according to a 2013 survey by grooming experts Remington, British women invest £8000 in a lifetime of defuzzing themselves by various methods.
Wouldn't it be so much simpler to be an animal, content with whatever coat Mother Nature dished out at birth? A sea otter is our hairiest creature, with an impressive billion-haired pelt, and you don't see one of those paying good money to be tortured by threading or hot wax.
Compared to most mammals, humans are relatively bald, yet we have the same density of hair follicles as other primates.
Fur and hair are both made of keratin and have the same chemical composition. We have the same hairless parts as a chimpanzee, our closest cousin, (lips, palms, soles of feet), so how come evolution has made us shed our thick coats and hairy faces?
One theory is that it enabled eye contact and face-to-face communication, one of our top survival skills. Another is that early man was a water-dwelling ape and less hair was better suited to his environment. Or possibly, it helped prevent the spread of parasites, or was unnecessary given we have two feet not four, and didn't need full coverage to protect us from the sun. Whatever, we've been left with sporadic hair patterns, which make us stand apart from our extended animal family.
Although some of us look scarily similar to our pets as shown in this video:
As humans evolved, males with less body hair became more capable of survival, making them desirable to females.
Yet body hair plays a large role in sexual attraction. Underarm and genital hairs trap the scents that attract potential mates, so it's ironic that these days we spend so much time and effort denuding those areas. Primitive man would have been most unimpressed by a Brazilian bikini wax.
- The core of the hair follicle. With animals, this allows the coating of the hair to provide excellent insulation from heat and cold, and protection from rain. Human hair lacks this ability (which is why we invented hats and umbrellas).
- Growth pattern. Human hair strands grow independently, while animals' hair growth tends to synchronise with the weather. While we cut our hair, theirs grows to a certain point, then falls out to be replaced when the time is right.
- Composition. Fur is much thicker and tends to include a double composition, whereas human hair has the same texture all over.
- Uses. Human hair is used in making wigs and hair extensions, which is a booming business in Britain, with annual sales of £60 million plus. It is also a common ingredient in bread ? a gruesome thought, so check labels for 'dough conditioner' or 'l-cysteine'. Animal fur remains a favourite with the fashion industry and is also used for knitting yarn and brooms.