We refer to the stuff that grows from our heads as hair, and the material that covers our pets as fur, but have you ever wondered if there’s really a difference? The answer is, not really. In most ways, hair and fur are the same. They’re both made of the same protein (keratin) but so are skin and nails. The differences have to do with the microstructures of which hair/fur is composed. Some animals have a protective coating that is nearly impenetrable. This is why it’s so hard to dye some types of fur. Some kinds of fur are more coarse or fine, but human hair falls within the middle of the spectrum. There’s a range of variation among fur, and human hair is simply one of these variants. See photographic proof in the notes. –– Laura Martin
The image on the right is a cross section of human hair magnified 400 times. On the left, a wolf hair (top) and polar bear hair (bottom). The structures are extremely similar. The wolf hair has a thicker medula—a structure made of tightly packed protein in the center of the strand—but otherwise the hair/fur is practically identical.
These images show different cuticle structures. Cuticles are the protective coating on the outside of a hair strand. On the left is a human hair strand. On the top right is a strand of mink fur which has a very different structure. On the bottom is a strand of chinchilla fur which is almost identical to the human hair strand.
Special thanks to Laura Martin for this post. Laura is a professional hair stylist, former senior educator at ARROJO cosmetology school, and a creative non-fiction MFA student at Georgia College, Milledgeville, GA. Follow her inspirations on twitter.