Will grey hair be a thing of the past? Scientists discover protein that keeps colour in strands
Scientists have got to the root of grey hair – paving the way for locks that retain the lustre of their youth well into old age.
In a series of experiments, they have identified a protein called ‘wnt’ found to be vital to the production of colour in hairs.
The breakthrough raises the prospects of drugs, lotions or shampoos that raise levels of wnt – and restore white or grey hair to its natural colour.
Such a treatment would save women of a certain age the need to make endless expensive trips to the hair salon to have their greying roots covered up.
It would also doubtless be popular with middle-aged men keen to recapture their youthful looks.
The U.S. researchers describe a series of experiments which reveal wnt to be key to hair retaining its colour.
Recapturing youth: The breakthrough will be of interest to men who want to relive their glory days
Writing in the journal Cell, they show that the protein kick-starts a chain of reactions which lead to stem or ‘mother’ cells in the scalp maturing and producing the pigment that gives hair its colour.
A similar chain of reactions takes place in the human scalp, but the researchers, from New York University’s Langone Medical Centre, have yet to prove that faults in the system turn people’s hair grey.
Wnt is also vital for hair growth, suggesting that a treatment that keeps hair dark would have the added advantage of also stopping it from thinning.
Previous research showed that wnt is also responsible for the production of new hair follicles.
It had been thought that follicles, the tiny structures responsible for hair growth, were always formed before birth, with their gradual death leading to baldness.
But wnt may not be solely to blame for greying locks, with British research pointing the finger at too much bleach.
The Bradford University study found that wear and tear on our bodies leads to dangerously high levels of hydrogen peroxide building up in the roots of our hair, blocking the production of pigment.
The researchers said that young women who use hydrogen peroxide-based dyes to lighten their hair should not necessarily worry.
In older women though, going blonde may speed up the greying process.
It is thought that genetics control if and when a person will go grey, although stress, alcohol, smoking and poor diet are all thought to accelerate the process.
Most Britons spot their first grey hairs around the age of 25.