The hair care industry has been stunned by new claims that there is more to human hair than was previously thought. Hair, says new research, has four distinct layers to it, and not the universally-accepted three.
As Brazilian scientist Vesna Stanic, who made the discovery, pointed out: “It is important to know the structure of hair in order to understand how this structure will change with different hair products.”
New layer just under hair’s cuticle
According to Discovery News, the Brazilian team used an ultra powerful submicron X-ray beam to make their discovery, and say that the microscopic newly-discovered layer sits between the cuticle (the external part of the hair) and the cortex (the bulk of the hair, which itself surrounds the narrow “medulla” at the hair’s core).
It was found when studying diffraction patterns of the hair.
Prior to the study, it was widely understood that human hair was made up primarily of alpha keratin, but the discovery of what looked more like beta keratin in the new layer opens up a whole new world of insight.
Stanic told Discovery News: “The basic difference between alpha and beta keratin is the molecule conformations. We can say that beta keratin is essentially stretched alpha keratin. Alpha keratin has a helical structure, while beta is typically arranged in sheets.”
What is especially interesting is that the beta keratin is protein most often seen in reptiles and birds. It is what makes beaks, claws and feathers strong.
Hair loss possibilities
Where the findings will take future studies into hair loss conditions remains to be seen, as the Brazilian team’s findings were only announced at the end of July.
It is, of course, possible that it turns out to be of little significance, especially as most current hair loss treatments are based around products who concentrate their resources on the hair follicle.
However, could something which penetrated the hair shaft and encouraged it to remain firmly implanted within the scalp occupy the world’s medical researchers in the future? Belgravia senior trichologist, Leonora Doclis is not convinced. “This discovery may have the potential to influence the formulation of hair products such as shampoos and conditioners but how it helps in the management of hair loss, particularly hereditary hair loss, remains to be seen,” she says. “The main reason for hair loss is the fact that the follicles miniaturise. The structure of the hair shaft does not play a role in the development of genetic hair loss as it attacks by DHT which binds itself to the follicles which cause the hair to thin. Hence, the discovery of a fourth layer is unlikely to impact on current products – which target the follicle – or future treatments.“
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