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Grey Hair Pill Creates Questions

Kathy Bates With Grey Hair

Grey Hair Pill Creates Questions

L'Oreal made headlines around the world this week when they announced that they were working on a pill which could prevent grey hair.  At least on heads that had not yet turned grey.

Bruno Bernard, head of the Hair Care, Quality and Color team at L'Oreal said that the pill would be based on a fruit extract which mimics and enzyme called TRP-2, which isn't normally present in hair follicles.

Although the pill is not yet in existence or available to the public, there are lots of questions about the advantages and disadvantages of taking a pill for the rest of your life to prevent grey hair.

What Is TRP-2?

TRP-2 helps make pigment-producing cells called melanocytes.  The presence of TRP-2 is thought to prevent hair from going gray.

The concept behind L'Oreal's new gray hair pill is that you would start taking the pill before your hair turned grey.  L'Oreal admits that they don't think they could reverse the gray hair once it started to appear.

Kathy Bates With Gray Hair

Difficult To Prove?

Dr. Jonathan Zippin, a dermatologist at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, told this kind of preventative solution to grey hair is "really difficult to prove" because some people never go grey, and others only grey a little bit. If researchers gave the pill to someone who never got grey hair, there would be no way to know if it was because of the pill or not.

This is a great point.  Would you want to take a pill before you turned grey just in case your hair might turn at some point?  Not only would there be the expense of adding a daily grey prevention pill, but how might it alter other organs in the body?

Dr. Zippin pointed out that one possible side effect of a grey prevention pill is that it might alter pigment on moles or similar skin marking which could affect the diagnosis of melanona by making moles look atypical.

In a statement released yesterday, L'Oreal briefly described its research efforts, but made no mention of a pill or the alleged 2015 release date widely reported by several media outlets.

"L'Oreal has demonstrated and published in peer-reviewed journals the protective role of the enzyme TRP-2. Its absence in hair follicle melanocytes is likely linked to progressive greying," the statement reads. "Experts in the field confirm that substances mimicking TRP-2 activity might be of value to fight hair greying."

But at this point, reports of a pill to prevent grey hair seem "a little premature," according to L'Oreal spokesman Jonathan Maher.   "We're still very much in the research phase," he said, adding that he cannot go into further detail.

Scientists at the Ito Lab at New York University's Langone Medical Center are also researching grey hair, and recently identified the proteins responsible for pigment. In June they published a paper in the journal Cell, announcing that a network of proteins called the wnt signaling pathway are responsible for preventing grey hair in mice.  When they inhibited the wnt pathway, the hair on the mice turned grey.

"Mouse and the human hairs are very similar in the way that they are structured and the way they contain melanocyte stem cells. We found that the wnt signaling pathway is activated the same way," said Piul Rabbani, a grad student in NYU's Langone Medical Center who led the study, told ABC News in June.


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