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'Chemistry Behind Hair' concludes downtown lecture series

March 14, 2013

Hair is so much more than just follicles on top of your head. It can be a fashion statement, a benchmark of the times, a sign of marital status or an indicator of health and age.

“You can tell a lot about a person from their hair and how they wear it,” said Susan Boucher, a general chemistry instructor with ASU’s School of Letters and Sciences. “It can be a cultural signaler, telling to the observer the social, financial and political status of the wearer. Hair may also reveal a person’s characteristics such as attention to detail or laziness, or it can indicate if a person has poor hygiene or nutrition.”

Boucher’s “What’s So Sexy About Hair: The Chemistry Behind Hair?” will conclude the spring 2013 Humanities Lecture Series, which is hosted by the School of Letters and Sciences on the Downtown Phoenix campus. The lecture is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., March 21 at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, CRONK-128, 555 N. Central Ave., Phoenix.

The lecture series is open to the general public and is free.

"Throughout human history, hair has been at the forefront of symbolism,” said Mirna Lattouf, lecture series organizer. “Do we cover it, cut it, not touch it, color it? Our obsession about hair has a multitude of meanings from religious to rebellious to sexual ones; but it can also tell us about our state of mental and physical health. It is essential for us to make these connections and realize the influence of hair on our daily lives and our humanity." 

Boucher is a biochemist and worked at Stanford University in 1987 when the Department of Dermatology requested local community volunteers for a study on baldness prevention formula called minoxidil, later known as Rogaine.

“The news hit the pre-Internet community like a bolt of lightning and traveled the word by telephone in less than 24 hours. When Stanford announced the study, we had grown men begging to be a part of the study,” Boucher said. “Ever since then I’ve studied the desire for beautiful hair from ancient Egypt to modern cosmetic science. It’s a subject that continually fascinates those who follow history and pop culture.”

On March 25, 1958, Elvis Presley made international headlines when he famously quipped, “Hair today, gone tomorrow” when a barber sheared his trademark locks for his military induction. It remains the most photographed haircut in the world. Decades later, astronaut Sunita Williams drew worldwide attention by getting a haircut in space and donating her ponytail to Locks of Love, a nonprofit organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children suffering from long-term medical hair loss.

The lecture also will touch on hairstyles in history, wigs and ornaments and a multi-billion dollar industry dedicated to hair care products and chemicals.

For more information on the spring 2013 Humanities Lecture Series, call Mirna Lattouf at 602-496-0638 or email her at