Got a Cowlick? Hair Styling Doesn't Have to Be Impossible

By: Zach Taras  | 
You're stuck with the cowlick you're born with, but sometimes you can style it into behaving. MrLeestudio / Shutterstock

It's the rare person indeed who is always pleased with how their hair looks. Most of us have to fight it a little bit (or a lot) to get it the way we want it. If you have a cowlick, hair management is even more of a struggle.

If you're not familiar, cowlicks are those little whorls of rebellious hair that just want to go against the grain. But worry not! There are ways of dealing with these stubborn 'do ruiners.


What Is a Cowlick?

A cowlick is a small portion of hair that grows in the opposite direction of the hair around it.

Often taking the appearance of a small spiral pattern, this hair whorl gets its name from the way that mother cows lick the coats of their young. The result is a calf with a distinctive set of spiral-shaped tufts where they've been licked: endearing in the barnyard, yes, but not something you want to deal with in your daily life as a human.


Unfortunately, cowlicks are often found at the front hairline, especially near the middle of the forehead. This means they're likely to be visible, especially to you when you look in the mirror and inspect your coiffure. They are also commonly found near the crown area of the head. Sometimes the hair stands straight up, which can drive the owner of the hair a little crazy.

Cowlicks are incredibly common, although many factors influence their prominence, their visibility and your ability to disguise or tame them. If you have a cowlick, you're far from being alone, both today and throughout human history.


What Causes Cowlicks?

The precise cause of cowlicks isn't certain, but genetics are believed to play a significant role. There's even an interesting possibility that the direction of a cowlick matches your dominant hand; it seems that right handed people usually have a clockwise cowlick, while left handed people's cowlicks grow in a counter-clockwise direction.

Cowlicks form very early in the development of a human being. If you are born with hair on your head — and about 30 percent babies are — your cowlicks will be visible from your first moments out of the womb.


Cowlicks and Different Types of Hair

Cowlicks vary with different hair types. Some of these differences are, like the cowlicks in general, simply a matter of luck. Others, like length, are changeable.

  • Hair thickness: If you've got thick hair, meaning a higher natural volume of hair overall, you've got more hair to work with, and it can be easier to get the cowlick to obey your desires. Thin hair, on the other hand, can accentuate cowlicks.
  • Hair coarseness: Coarse hair (meaning thicker individual strands) is easier to handle because it weighs more. The opposite type — fine hair — is associated with cowlicks that are harder to tame.
  • Hair straightness: Straight hair is more likely to have visible cowlicks. On the other hand, wavy or curly hair, because it naturally goes in different directions, can disguise a cowlick, or at least make it less noticeable.
  • Hair length: Here's one that you have a fairly high degree of control over: whether you have short hair or longer hair. Long hair is easier for taming cowlicks, since you can use weight and gravity to keep the hair going the way you want it to go.


Can I Get Rid of a Cowlick?

Unfortunately, no — cowlicks are one of those things that you're stuck with.

The cowlick itself can't be entirely eliminated, but there are other ways to temporarily hide it. Below are some styling tips to get your cowlick to behave the way you want it to; note that they are best used together, rather than separate.


  • Blow dryer: When taming a cowlick, the blow dryer is your best friend. While your hair is wet, blow dry it to move it in a different direction. Be gentle but persistent, and use a round brush to help it along in the direction you want.
  • Brushing and combing: Best used in conjunction with a blow dryer, you can also use a brush or comb to defy the direction of a cowlick, at least temporarily. If the cowlick hair sticks straight up, try brushing it down repeatedly while wet, and apply some heat via blow drying. A round brush is good for this purpose.
  • Hair products: You can use everything — texture paste, pomade, gel, mousse, hairspray, what have you — to get your cowlick in line. It's a good idea to get things started with wet hair and a hair dryer, which will make the hair in the cowlick more compliant, and therefore more likely to cooperate and stay put when you apply the hair product.

How to Manage a Cowlick

Beyond some blow drying, elbow grease and product, there are other ways to deal with cowlick hair. These hairstyle methods involve working with the cowlick, at least to some degree. It's always a good idea to consult with a hairdresser, who can offer expert advice and skill in this area.

  1. Alter your part: Where you part your hair can make a big difference when it comes to cowlicks. Unless it's sticking straight up, a cowlick at the hairline can determine which direction makes the most sense to part your hair. Simply follow the direction of the cowlick to decide whether you want a middle part or a side part.
  2. Try bangs: Hairstyles with bangs can do two things for you and your cowlick: They can conceal it outright, and they can weigh it down so it does what you want. Longer bangs will often do the job better, but even short bangs can have an effect.
  3. Layers: Layers are a styling classic that can help to hide a cowlick. And the long layers are particularly good at doing this, since the extra weight can force the cowlick to go the way you want it to.
  4. Hair and scalp care: There are specific shampoo options that can make your hair more amenable to instruction. Beyond that, having the right hair care routine can also make your hair healthier and more vibrant, which can make even a cowlick look attractive.