My uncle has the balding problem. My aunt calls him the “Mediterranean Sea” – the middle of his top of head is hardly covered by hair, but the surroundings are quite thick. My poor aunt once said to me, “All I wanted for life was a man who’s not bald, and I failed.”
He literally has tried everything for his hair. Ginger, essential oil, hair thicken products, massage – you name it. The hair, however, just won’t come out.
So I really hope the research I just read about can help him, and, of course, my poor aunt.
The research is mainly about a previously unknown smooth muscle surrounding hair follicles which is called the dermal sheath.
Facts about baldness
Those hair thicken products in market are mainly about two things: prevent hair from losing, or promote new hair to grow. The principle is easy to understand: old hair leaves, and new hair grows. Stop any one of these two processes, then you stop baldness.
But why does the new hair have to wait until the old fair leave?
For human, a new hair shaft is created by dermal papilla cells. These cells are originally at the base of growing hair follicles, but they can move upward to the stem cells at the follicle’s tip.
Then dermal papilla cells send signals to the stem cells, ordering them to start the next growth phase and make a new hair shaft, and at the same time the previous hair shaft is shed. This is how your hair keep thick: there is always a new one out when the old one leaves.
Interrupted cell-to-cell partnership
However, sometimes this cell-to-cell partnership get interrupted, which can lead to hair loss.
According to what we’ve learned just now, there are several steps of the hair-growth cycle:
1. Dermal papilla cells move upwards to the follicle’s tip.
2. Stem cells receive signals to grow new hair.
3. The old hair leaves and is replaced by the new hair.
To avoid hair loss, both promoting step 1 or 2, or stopping step 3, can work. This leads to another question: how do the dermal papilla cells move upwards, and how does the old hair leave?
The new discovery of the dermal sheath muscle has a thing to say. Now scientists have known that this dermal sheath surrounding growing hair follicles is a smooth muscle that can contract and push up the hair shaft, as well as pull up the dermal papilla cells.
"This type of muscle cannot be controlled voluntarily, [it is] similar to the ones in blood vessels," said Dr. Michael Rendl, the lead researcher. "But we can control it by drugs that can block contraction."
When the contraction is blocked, the hair shaft cannot be pushed up and fall off, so the hair is always there, and you don’t have a bald problem.
Rendl admitted that there is a longer way to go because “it needs to be proven effective in human hair follicles in the dish first and proven safe after knowing what happens to the arrested follicles long-term.” Still, “we are excited about exploring this,” Rendl said.
The findings published in the journal Science on Dec 19 have really offered my uncle new hope to get rid of the “Med man” title.