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What Is a Cowlick and How To Get Rid of It?

by Bridget Reed January 23, 2023 8 min read

What Is a Cowlick and How To Get Rid of It?

Waking up to hair that seems nearly impossible to remedy is the bain of every early-morning, just poured my coffee, mirror moment. It is that moment when you rake your hands through your hair and hope that’ll do the trick. It doesn’t — and hopefully you can giggle at your reflection (we know we do!). 

Now you’re looking for alternatives. A ponytail? No, too sporty. Hat? Too obvious. The only resort is to jump in the shower for a quick five-minute wash, which means you will apply makeup in the office parking lot. Gotta love a little chaotic-good energy.

Anyone with a head of hair has experienced a bad hair day. Cowlicks might be to blame if you find yourself running into more than the norm, but we’ve got the info you need to turn this ship around! 

What Is a Cowlick?

A cowlick, or hair whorl, is a pattern of hair growth that differs from the rest of the hair pattern. The name comes from the cute swirl left behind on a calf when its mother licks it clean. As cute as the name might be, you might feel the whorl is better suited on a baby cow than your hairline. 

This leads to the next question. Where does a cowlick form? Cowlicks often form around the crown of the head or along the hairline, particularly centered in the middle of your forehead. 

They may form clockwise or counterclockwise, which some believe indicates left or right-handedness. Often these whorls result in utterly stubborn hair that refuses to play nice. 

This might cause hair at the front of your head to only part one way or not at all. It’s also the culprit of your Alfalfa-like hair. 

What Causes Cowlicks?

What exactly causes a cowlick? Great question. Anything with hair, mammals included, is highly prone to cowlicks. 

It is believed that biology plays into the placement of hair whorls. Pull out some old pictures of your parents and grandparents, and you might start making a connection. It also may be why your little one’s hair never likes to cooperate in the morning before school. 

If you are wondering if anyone is immune, the answer is no. However, some people have many factors that result in a less pronounced or near-invisible cowlick in their hair. And you can always lean into your whorls with some unique and fun looks — normal is boring, anyways right?

1. Curly Hair

Curly hair tends to be coarser, therefore, allowing the hair to weigh down more cowlick-prone areas. Not only that, but the pure nature of curly strands camouflage cowlicks among the volume of the hair. So while curly hair is most certainly not immune to cowlicks, the cowlicks that do occur will be far less troublesome and may just blend in with the wildness of the curls. 

2. Thick Hair

Similar to curly hair, the thickness of the hair will cause cowlicks to cooperate and be much more manageable than someone with thin, fine hair. It is important to distinguish the difference between thick hair, thin hair, fine hair, and coarse hair. 

Thick and thin hair refers to the amount of hair present. Fine and coarse hair are terms to describe the individual density of each strand. Those with fine, thick hair may find their cowlicks are still rather pronounced. 

3. Long Hair

Longer styles allow for more control and weight to tame and mask the intensity of the cowlicks. This may be a simple solution if you find yourself gravitating towards longer locks. 

Why Would I Address a Cowlick?

This discussion would be incomplete without mentioning the benefits of cowlicks. Cowlicks provide volume that can be incredibly challenging to replicate without using products and time. When located at the front of the hairline, this volume can allow for naturally defined parts and body in a hairstyle.

The unfortunate trade-off of the natural volume and body cowlicks create is control. When styling hair with products and tools, the volume and body are strategically created in optimal places. 

You will unlikely want a defined part at your hairline if sporting straight-across bangs. You are also unlikely to desire stray hairs and unintentional parts in the back of your head each morning. This is particularly true for those with beautiful short cuts. 

The four most common reasons for wanting control over your cowlick hair are centered around the following: 

1. Changing Styles

If you want to opt for a middle part or bangs, cowlick hair is likely standing in your way. Making a transition to shorter hair can also be limited. Shorter hair has less weight and coverage to disguise whorls in one's hair. 

This can be particularly frustrating if you choose a shorter cut to reduce maintenance. But, shags are in and mess is the name of the game. Lean in with a fun and wild short cut this season.

2. Thinning Hair

Thinning hair is a part of aging. For many, this can be a frustrating transition as the styles that used to be flattering are no longer so. The increase in cowlicks can cause part of this. 

While these were always present, thinner hair reduces your control over them. The beauty in aging is that you are so familiar with your face and hair that you already know what flatters you best. If wayward strands thwart your desired style, you may be looking for solutions. 

3. Unmanageable body 

Waking up looking like you fought with a wild animal in your sleep is never anyone’s goal (if it is, we support you). Yet an unmanageable head of hair can leave you looking just like that. Learning to address or incorporate your cowlick hair can be a major game-changer if you want to leverage the beauty of your volume. 

How Can I Manage Cowlicks?

Before discussing this further, let's talk about expectations and goals. If you are looking for complete removal or compliance of your cowlick, daily styling or permanent chemical treatments will be your best chance at experiencing a permanent, long-lasting change. 

Discuss perms and chemical straightening treatments with your stylist to see which method is best for you. However, there are many other ways to address your cowlick in a way that enhances your hair's natural beauty and character without these methods.

1. Learn Your Hair Type

Did you know that there are over eight different hair types? Understanding your hair type will allow you to effectively and efficiently address your strands. If unsure of yours, discuss your hair type with your hairdresser during your next visit. This will allow you to tackle the remainder of this checklist with ease. 

Cuts, styling, products, and tools are all customizable to the type of hair you find yourself with. Simple adjustments to the type of shampoo or cut will revolutionize your hair. You may even find yourself appreciating your cowlick hair by the end of it!

2. Find Your Perfect Cut

Depending on your hair type and goals, your cowlicks may lay best with the proper cut. Understanding how a cut can enhance the naturally beautiful features of your hair is important. 

Just like clothing, certain cuts are more flattering on some individuals than others. Unlike clothing, you have more than just your shape to keep in mind. There are three factors to consider when identifying the proper cut. 

These include face shape, lifestyle, and hair type. If you have a cowlick at the front of your hairline, short bangs across your face will be incredibly challenging to manage without products and styling. This might be a tough cut for a wash-and-go queen. 

Alternatively, a lovely long bang or layers that frame your face, such as curtain bangs or a side part, will only harness the power of your stubborn locks, leaving you with effortlessly stunning hair. A shag cut with curtain bangs is all the rage, and we are here for it.

Longer hair can suit every person when cut with their unique features in mind. As previously mentioned, it can also reduce the prominence of cowlicks. Browse several different types of cuts with short and long layers. There may be a look that you find works wonderfully with your hair.

Consider the pattern of your hair and its characteristics when finding the cut that suits you best. Research images of celebrity cuts. Now that you know what a cowlick is and how to spot it, you may be surprised when you see cowlicks in celebrity hair. 

This is particularly true for front hair whorls. Find a celebrity with one similar to yours. Chances are that what flatters them will flatter you. Who knows, your cowlick may become your best friend in the process. 

3. Styling the Right Way

When the morning allows, take the time to pamper yourself and your hair. Using the right products and tools can work wonders for any hair woes you might be facing. Thickening and high-hold products are great products for taming unruly spots. 

Prep your hair before using products. Consider washing your hair less and conditioning hair more. Nourished, hydrated hair will be more cooperative throughout the styling process. 

Regardless of how often you wash it, dampen your hair before styling. Apply the products you choose and use mild heat to set the hair. You may want to finish the look with a setting spray. 

Over time you can change how your hair falls. If you want to keep your straight-across bangs, take the time to style them as described above. Over time your hair will adapt to this new placement and require less and less effort. 

Another great way to reduce the appearance of cowlicks is by curling your hair. Curling your hair gives you greater control over how your hair falls. It also disguises unwanted volume by enhancing the volume throughout your hair. 

4. Treasure the Health of Your Hair

When it comes to beautiful hair, there is nothing more beautiful than health. Take the time to ensure that you nourish your hair and body with the right food and nutrients. Avoid using too much heat or overwashing your hair. 

In Conclusion

If you struggle to get ready each morning, give some of these tips a try. You may find your new favorite look in the process. 

Ultimately, you will look the most beautiful when you are the healthiest, most comfortable version of you. Embrace your hair’s uniqueness and enjoy exploring new styles along the way. 

Sources: 

Hair Whorl | OMIM.org

Thinning Hair In Women: Why it Happens and What Helps | Health.Harvard.edu

Let’s Talk About our Hair | Rochester.edu




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