Do you ever fight with your hair? You wash it and comb it and try to get it to look perfect. Just when you think you’ve succeeded — boing! — an unruly clump of hair stands up as if to shout “Look at me!”

Don’t worry. You’re not alone. Almost everyone has at least one cowlick.

Sometimes they’re barely noticeable, but sometimes they’re a defining feature. Just ask Alfalfa or Dennis the Menace!

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.


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    • Thanks for leaving us this comment today, Wonder Dude! We think it’s awesome that your grandpa works on a farm. It must be fun to get to take care of all the animals that live there! We know lots of Wonder Friends who have cowlicks, too. After watching the video for today’s Wonder, now you know one way to style your cowlick when you do your hair! :-)

  1. Why do you guys do so much research over the littlest things? Why put forth all the effort for someone who is too lazy to do something for themselves? I think you should just tell the people how to find the answer to their question instead of answering it AND making a huge report on it! If the person really wanted to know all that much all that bad, don’t you think they would look it up? They are just mocking you, trying to see how far they can push. This needs to stop! Stand up for yourself! Stop letting everyone take advantage of you and mock you! People are using you guys as a doormat, and you’re letting them. Look at all the unnecessary questions you receive! I think you should probably take my advice and just tell the people how to answer the question, instead of answering it for them. We need more people who DO things, instead of people who have things done FOR them. Please answer back. Thank you. P.S. I do personally like your website, but I just think there should be a limit.

    • Thank you for leaving us this comment today and for sharing your feelings and concerns about Wonderopolis, Alexandrea!

      While we VERY MUCH appreciate different points of view from our Wonder Friends, we’d like you to know that Wonderopolis isn’t only about doing research, answering a question, or people leaving comments about the Wonders they explore each day (even though those are some awesome parts about visiting here). Wonderopolis is a place where all types of creative, inquisitive people (like students, parents, grandparents, teachers) from all over the world can learn TOGETHER. Wonderopolis is about learning new things that lots of people WONDER about! Did you know that many of the Wonders of the Day® are actually suggested by Wonder Friends just like you? We all WONDER about the world around us. Wonderopolis is a place where all people can feel safe to do that. We want to hear from our Wonder Friends, too, so we REALLY like reading their comments! :-)

      Again, thanks so much for letting us know what you think! We’re super glad you like Wonderopolis and hope you’ll visit us again very soon! :-)

  2. I learned that cowlicks mean that you have a swirl going clockwise or counter clockwise because when a mom/dad cow licks their baby, their hair goes up!

    • You’re RIGHT, Josh! Thank you so much for sharing what you learned from exploring today’s Wonder! Have a WONDERful day! :-)

  3. A cowlick is when your hair sticks up and it swirls and it goes diagonal. You use special products to fix your hair to keep your hair from sticking up.

    • Hello, Eric! Thanks so much for hanging out in Wonderopolis today! We’re glad you watched the video for today’s Wonder of the Day® about cowlicks! We know lots of Wonder Friends who will also know what to do now if their hair ever has a cowlick! :-)

  4. We liked the picture of the cow licking the pole, it was very cute and funny. We talked about cowlicks and even got to see some in our friends’ hair. It is nice to know that we are born with cow licks and everyone has at least one. Some of our friends have 2 and even 3 cowlicks! We joked that they must have tasted good to the cow because they kept getting licked again. :) Thanks for the fun wonder!

    • We’re so glad you liked today’s Wonder and found the humor in it, Kerrick Elementary School! Thanks for leaving us another SUPER, AWESOME, GREAT, WONDERful comment! :-)

    • Thanks for letting us know what you thought about the video for this Wonder, Raina! We hope you had a WONDERful day! :-)

    • Thank YOU for visiting Wonderopolis and for leaving us this great comment, Emmy! We’re glad you learned a little more about what a cowlick is by checking out this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  5. Hi, this is Gracie, and I have commented on here MANY times. I just wanted to say wow, and amazing. How did you come up with this wonder???

    • We’re happy you stopped by Wonderopolis today and left us this super cool comment, Gracie! The idea for this Wonder of the Day® came from a Wonder Friend just like YOU! Did you know that you can tell us what you’re WONDERing about anytime you like? Just click on the “nominate” link at the top of every page in Wonderopolis and fill in the boxes to share your ideas for future Wonders of the Day! It’s fun and easy to do! :-)

  6. I thought a cowlick was something with salt that cows lick, but you know they actually have those? I have one for my rabbit. Have you ever gotten licked by a cow in the hair? That would be gross!

    • Hi, Mak! Yes, we have heard of salt licks for different types of animals! They need them to make sure they get enough of certain minerals in their diets. We think you are super smart for guessing that a salt lick might be what a cowlick was. We’re glad you stopped by this Wonder of the Day® so you could learn all about cowlicks! :-)

  7. H,i my name is Nour, and this is only my 2nd comment. I am just flabbergasted at the knowledge and time you have to keep adding replies to all the wonders you posted, and I think you should get a Grahame award for best website ever. I wish I could help you in posting wonders, so if there a chance for me to help, please tell me, because I want generations to see the 8th wonder of the world…!

    • Welcome back, Nour! We’re happy you visited Wonderopolis again and left us another comment! We really enjoy hearing from our Wonder Friends, and really like replying to all the comments we receive from them each day! It’s fun to meet new people (like you!) and hear all the awesome things they learn about when they explore the Wonders of the Day!

      Guess what? You CAN help us with the Wonders of the Day by sharing what YOU wonder about! Anytime you WONDER about something in this great big world of ours, let us know by clicking on the “nominate” link that’s found at the top of every page in Wonderopolis! It’s super fun and super easy to share ideas YOU have for future Wonders of the Day! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What is a cowlick?
  • Why is it called a “cowlick”?
  • How can you tame a cowlick?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to try out a new hairstyle? If your current “do” isn’t doing anything for you, grab a friend or family member, and experiment with some new hairstyles.

You’ll need some hair-care products, combs and brushes, and maybe a few hair bands or clips. And don’t worry about other people seeing you. You don’t have to go out of the house.

Just have fun experimenting in front of the bathroom mirror! You never know when you might discover a new hairdo that’s just right for you.

If you’re struggling for ideas of things to try, check out these fun videos for inspiration:


Still Wondering

Use Illuminations’ Survey of Hair and Eye Colors lesson to learn how to use surveys to focus on the many uses of numbers.


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cowlick  hair  spiral  whorl 

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