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If you’ve ever dealt with a stubborn section of hair that sticks out above the rest, it’s probably a cowlick.

This is a section of hair that grows in a different direction than the rest of your hair. While it’s completely harmless, it can give you some serious hair woes by being difficult to style.

Keep reading to learn more about what a cowlick is, whether you can get rid of it, and how to style it.

According to celebrity hairstylist Marshall Lin, almost everyone has a cowlick. Some even have more than one, but it’s not obvious since the weight of the hair pulls it down.

Genetics plays a large role in cowlicks. Research from 2003 has found that right-handed people have cowlicks that are in a clockwise pattern. This stems from a common genetic mechanism.

Cowlicks can also be caused by external factors that cause the hair to grow differently, such as surgery or an injury.

For instance, Fae Norris, a hairstylist at Rock Paper Salon, says that it can be caused by a hair transplant.

“When the hair is moved from one part of the head to another, it’s very challenging and often impossible to choose the direction it takes,” Norris says.

There are several places on the head where cowlicks may appear.

The most common is the back of the head, near the crown area. Following close behind is the front of the hairline, though it’s not to be confused with a widow’s peak.

A cowlick is most obvious when it’s along the hairline or at the front of the hair, explains Tinamarie Possidoni, owner and stylist of Tinamarie Hair.

Additional places where cowlicks might appear include the nape of the neck and along the sides of the head, near the temples.

Norris says that you can even find them in men’s beards, but the curly texture makes them hard to find.

Cowlicks have several different appearances.

The most common is a spiral pattern or a whorl. Its appearance can range from person-to-person, depending on hair texture and style.

“For some, the cowlick will appear as hair sticking straight up, and for others, hair will be completely flat,” says Michaeline Becker, celebrity hair and makeup artist.

“If the hair is very short, almost buzzed, you will be able to see the full spiral pattern. In the middle of the spiral, the hair is parted to expose the scalp.”

The position of the cowlick also determines its appearance. Kerry E. Yates, beauty and hair expert and creator of Colour Collective, says that if a cowlick is positioned in the crown area, it can look like a tufted hair that sticks up, almost like a little bump.

“If positioned along the hairline, it can look like a natural volume,” Yates says.

Since a cowlick can sometimes expose the scalp, it’s often mistaken for balding.

This is usually caused by the location of the cowlick — the closer to the scalp, the more it’s mistaken for balding — and a person’s hair texture, says Possidoni.

“If someone doesn’t have very dense hair, the area of separation may appear empty,” Possidoni adds.

Even so, a cowlick and balding couldn’t be more different. “A cowlick differs from balding because a cowlick is a natural hair growth pattern, whereas balding is loss of hair,” Becker explains.

Upon closer look, how they look is also vastly different. A cowlick will look like your hair is parting in a specific direction, while balding could mean that the hair is sparse from thinning or gone from the scalp entirely.

Unfortunately, there is no way to get rid of a cowlick. It’s simply a natural hair growth pattern that you were born with.

Some people have turned to laser hair treatments for their cowlicks. Yates says that this can’t eliminate the cowlick completely since the follicles are positioned in a way that can’t be moved.

What it can do, though, is eliminate the hair in the offending area.

If you go this route, Norris cautions avoiding the top of the head or crown: “A bald spot there is something to avoid.”

Since you can’t get rid of a cowlick, your next best course of action is to learn how to style it. There are many ways to tame it so that it’s less noticeable.

Tips by hair length and style

  • For super short hair: Norris recommends a messy, spiky look. Simply use saltwater spray to twist the hair and scrunch it slightly. Finish with a hard wax or clay.
  • For bangs: “If you have bangs, go with the split and leave the part that sticks up as long as you’re comfortable,” says Norris. She adds that a very heavy bang can work because the extra hair weighs the cowlick down.
  • For wavy/curly hair: Lin recommends a pre-styling product to add some tension to your strands: “The key is to mix with other pieces of hair so it can blend naturally.”
  • For longer hair: If you have long hair and you’re worried about it looking flat, use this trick: Part the hair on the opposite side of the cowlick to give it some lift.

General tips

  • Use a diffuser: “Blow-dry it with a diffuser, using your fingers to twist and manipulate the hair into place,” explains Norris. “Having the cut tailored to that parting is key.”
  • Grow your hair: Another easy way to camouflage your cowlick is by growing your hair longer. “If your hair is longer, it has more weight and will lessen the tendency for hair to stick straight up or lay completely flat,” says Becker.
  • Get a cut: Alternatively, you could ask your hairstylist for a textured haircut to make the cowlick blend in.
  • Try water: An easy way to style your cowlick, regardless of hair texture or style, is wetting the cowlick with water. Becker explains that this makes it easier to style the hair in the direction you want. From there, use a blow-dryer to set everything in place.

You can shop for and try these stylist-recommend products to tame your cowlick:

A cowlick is a section of hair that grows in a different direction than the rest of your hair. It’s genetic and completely harmless.

While you can’t get rid of it, there are ways you can tame it yourself. Use water and heat to style the cowlick in the preferred direction you want the hair to go, and use products to keep everything in place.

You can also talk to your hairstylist to come up with the best solution for taming your cowlick.