What Causes Cowlicks?

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Cowlicks, or hair whorls, are natural growth patterns in human hair that affect men and women alike. Most people have at least one hair whorl.

Hair whorls have been called cowlicks since approximately the 16th century. The name comes from the spiral pattern left in calf hair after it had been groomed by a cow. They are identified by a spot in the hair where growth seems to be contrary to the pattern of the other hairs around it. Some cowlicks stick straight up while others follow the circular pattern that gave the phenomenon its name.

Cowlicks form in utero, meaning they exist before birth and affect both males and females. Not everyone has hair whorls, but people who do had them at birth. Cowlicks do not disappear unless the individual loses his or her hair. They are not evident on some people, particularly those people who wear longer hair styles since the weight of the hair pulls each strand in a more uniform direction.

Cowlicks typically form at the top of the head, but may be located in the back at the neckline or in the front where the hair parts. Scientists have also found that the direction in which the cowlick turns may be related to hand dominance. In their findings, nearly 90 percent of right-handed individuals had a cowlick with a clockwise rotation.