What Is a Cowlick and Why Is It Called So?
A cowlick — sometimes called a “hair whorl” — is a small group of hair that either stands straight up or lies in the opposite direction of the way a person wants to comb his or her hair. You can recognize a cowlick by the spiral pattern the hair forms. This characteristic spiral pattern explains how cowlicks got their name.
If you’ve ever spent much time on a cattle farm, you may have noticed that cows have a habit of licking their young. When they do this, their tongues leave a swirling spiral pattern in their hair. The same spiral pattern in human hair has been called a “cowlick” since at least the late 16th century.
So do you need to get licked by a cow to have trouble with a cowlick? Nope! Would you believe cowlicks form before you’re even born? It’s true.
And once you’re born with a cowlick, you’re pretty much stuck with it…unless you lose your hair! Scientists who have studied cowlicks believe your genes play a big role in determining how many cowlicks you have and where they are on your head.
Usually, the most visible cowlick can be found at the top of the head. Other cowlicks might also be located at the front hairline where the hair is parted or in the back close to the neckline. Whether you’re right-handed or left-handed might also be associated with whether your cowlicks swirl in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. Scientists have found an interesting connection between cowlicks and handedness.
Right-handed people tend to have cowlicks that have a clockwise spiral pattern. On the other hand (pun totally intended!), left-handed people are more likely to have counterclockwise cowlicks. This curious connection has led some scientists to believe that handedness and cowlick patterns may both come from a common genetic source.
Many people find cowlicks very annoying because they often make it hard to style their hair the way they prefer. With patience and the right products, however, cowlicks can be tamed. One way to tame cowlicks is to grow your hair longer. Cowlicks are much more noticeable in short hair. Cowlicks also tend to be more noticeable in straight hair, so growing your hair longer and curling it might solve your cowlick problems.
If you have short, straight hair and want to keep it that way, you can use a variety of hair-care products to help tame your cowlicks. Using products like mousse and gel — and combing your hair in the direction of a cowlick’s swirl — can help make cowlicks less noticeable.