Social – Religious – Cultural Perceptions of Hair & Baldness

Man is not really a naked Ape.

The skin is largely hair covered (except palms, soles, lips, parts of the external genitalia, eyelids, backs of the distal phalanges and nipples). This natural coating has various functions and can provide useful symptoms of bodily health.

The purpose of this brief paper is to present a review of some of the sociological and cultural aspects of hair in general, and hair loss in particular. (It is not the authors remit to discuss its numerous diseases/treatment regimes herein, as each is the subject of a specific paper elsewhere on this website – please go to Scalp & Hair diseases/conditions.

Humans have held a deep fascination with hair since man first walked the planet Earth some 200,000 years ago. Whereas it may not be a pre-requisite to human survival, its excesses and losses have become synonymous with religious, cultural, social and psychological issues. Even the human penal system has sought to impose judicial head shaving to invoke humiliation. 20th Century European women were so punished for co-habiting with enemy soldiers.

Baldness (androgen related) may be currently affecting up to 65% of the worlds male population and a significant number of its females.
Male victims quote their principlel concerns as: self-consiousness, lowered self-esteem, fear of social intimidation, depression.
In females the effects may be devastating.

The hair industry has become a major global necessity serving the related needs of an ever increasing obsession by means of research, manufacture, and services industries ranging from the hairdresser to the hair restoration surgeon.

The dilemma of lost scalp hair has been well documented throughout the history of modern man. His endless endeavor to ‘cure baldness’ has given rise to the most extraordinary treatments pre-dating the Egyptian civilization (4000 BC). Recent years have witnessed a revolution in scientific/medical research focused on the understanding and treatment of baldness – with limited success. Many ‘cures’ come and go but the elixir is as yet ‘elusive’.
Other body hair has also become a focus of attention with procedures for follicular destruction (e.g. Radio-diathermic current and Low-level Laser epilation).

Scalp Hair

Religious & Cultural Symbolism
The act of voluntarily shaving the head hair symbolises celibacy, chastity or purity.

Christian Monks have shaven heads.

Hindu Priests have shaven heads. The temple at Madras which houses the massive Vishnu – a blue-skinned, four-armed deity image, has 500,000 + annual visitors. Pilgrims pay homage by removing their hair. 600 barbers are employed.

Buddhist Monks have hairless heads and bodies.

Islamic children (male and female) have their heads ritually shaven around the 3rd – 10th day of life.

Hindu Widows have shaven heads.

Hindu Women are expected to shave their heads ay least once in their lifetime.

Muslim Women but must not remove scalp hair or eyebrows.

Muslim Men must remove pubic and axillary hair.

Muslim Men should not wear tonsures.

Orthodox Jewish Females – Some ultra-orthodox women are shorn and bewigged immediately prior to and throughout marriage. Some keep their natural hair covered when out of the house.

Orthodox Jewish Males – do not have their hair cut before their third birthday. The Pagan custom of shaving the sideburns is forbidden by the Torah. The Jewish males who accede to this mandate may curl this hair or shave it – but below the jaw bone.

Rastafarianism – identified by uncut dreadlocked hair.

Mohicanism – in which the head was shaved except for a narrow ridge running centrally from front to back.

Sampson (the Biblical character) apparently remained strong only whist his scalp hair remained long.

Sikhs – In theory do not cut scalp hair.

Athletes (terrestrial and aquatic) – shave the head in a attempt to improve performance by reducing drag.


Sacrificial Offering

The Temple at Tirupati (S. India) continues the once widespread practice of the ritual sacrifice of scalp hair in religious and fertility rituals as an alternative to human sacrifice.



Historical reviews suggest a correlation between beard hair and maturity, masculinity etc.

Orthodox Jewish Men – retain beards and moustaches.

Devout Muslim Men trim their moustaches but not their beards.

Devout Sikh Men- retain their beards and moustaches.


Socio-cultural symbolism:

Long hair in the female – perceived by some as feminine and ‘sexual’.

Long hair in males once popular is perceived by many as ‘interesting’ in modern times.

Short (cropped) hair in males is normal when fashion dictates, but in the military context is perceived as a component of authority and associated discipline.

Pubic and Axillary Hair

Korean Women without pubic hair are less likely to find a husband.

Muslim Women are expected to remove pubic and axillary hair.

Muslim Men must remove pubic and axillary hair.


Baldness may effect its victims in various ways viz: choice of sexual partner, career, self esteem, happiness. Understandably many seek to avoid, remedy, or conceal this adverse condition.
This has initiated much charlatanism


Plica – superstition has suggested that plaited scalp hair will protect the wearer from severe illness, furthermore a patient raising a plica would recover from such disease. .

© 2004 – B Stevens FTTS 

 The Trichological Society