The color, texture, and style of someone’s hair makes them who they are; it is a physical statement of identity and sense of self of that particular. “The Science, Marketing and Health of Hair” — a panel in celebration of “Hair in the Classical World, the current exhibition at the Bellarmine Museum of Art — highlighted how interdisciplinary hair really is, extending to fields like forensic science, oncology, marketing and chemistry.

Looking at hair through an interdisciplinary manner was a new approach for many of the students in attendance. Junior Maddy Conley said, “The panel was different because many people don’t think of hair in terms of science and marketing. Each speaker had a very unique take on the science and marketing of hair which is what made this panel particularly interesting.”

Among the panel’s audience of students, professors and community members was Elizabeth Benedict, editor of the book, “Me, My Hair, And I,which came out this fall. Benedict said, “Ask a woman about her hair and she just might tell you the story of her life. Ask a bunch of women about their hair and they may tell you the story of the world.”

Dr. Amanda Harper-Leatherman, associate professor of chemistry at Fairfield, opened up the panel with a discussion on the use of hair in forensic science. Contrary to what is seen in most crime shows, Harper-Leatherman explained that the hair itself cannot provide enough individualizing characteristics to identify who it belonged to. Tissue is needed from the root of the hair or from attached skin cells in order to take a DNA sample.

It is interesting to note that although you may not be able to be identified by your hair, you can be drug tested with it. Contrasting to blood and urine samples which show the effects of drugs for up to 24 and 72 hours respectively, remnants of drugs become entrapped in the protein structure of the hair. Evidence of exposure to drugs remains in the hair shaft until the hair is cut or falls out.

Someone quite familiar of the effects of hair falling out is Dr. Catherine Sumpio, assistant professor of nursing at Fairfield, who spoke on hair in illness based off her extensive work in oncology. With anyone who has been affected by cancer, whether it be themselves or a loved one, hair loss is one of the side effects of chemotherapy treatment. This is due to the chemotherapy’s effectiveness at targeting rapidly growing cells in the body like cancer cells, but also hair cells.

Hair loss is one of the most outwardly noticeable symbols of chemotherapy treatment, taking a large emotional and psychological toll on cancer patients. For many, hair stands as a symbol of attractiveness, femininity, sexuality and health. In explaining the emotional importance of hair, Sumpio said, “Everybody has their own sense of self and everyone has their own sense of hair.”

The products that target toward the care of hair are seen constantly. To talk about this marketing phenomenon was Mousumi Bose Godbole, an associate professor of marketing. She spoke on how hair care advertising has changed over the years from being mostly text-based and highlighting the attributes of the product to the ads we see today with giant photos of beautiful women sporting gorgeous hair, promoting an entire lifestyle.

Last to speak was special guest Eric Spengler, chief commercialization officer at the haircare brand Living Proof, who provided attendees with samples of their products. What sets Living Proof apart from other brands is their unique technologies which shield hair from the damaging qualities of the weather, the environment, styling and time. Spengler said that what originally drew him to the brand was their goal to “create a difference you can see from across the room.”

If hair really does tell the story of the world, then Living Proof’s mission to “change lives by creating the healthiest looking and feeling hair possible,” is all the more important.

In an effort to further continue discussion about topics concerning hair, the next event in correspondence with Hair in the Classical World is an Interdisciplinary Symposium, this Friday from 12:30 to 4:45 p.m. in the Diffley Board Room at Bellarmine Hall.

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