While granny gray hair might be having a major style moment, finding grays that have spouted on their own can be a totally different matter for some folks. If you’re the type to panic over a few surprise grays, don’t worry you’re not alone — the compulsion to cover them has helped buoy the hair dye industry. But science just got one big step closer to ditching the need to cover by actually curing grays.
Last year, researchers in London identified the gene that causes grays. While that proved rogue hairs and high maintenance roots are at least in part genetic, there wasn’t a whole lot of practical application that might be able to save you a salon visit. In a new study published this week in the journal Genes and Development, researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center actually identified the cells that cause our grays and could potentially cure them.
The researchers found that in our scalp cells, a futuristic-sounding protein called KROX20 turns on in cells that become the actual hair shaft (called progenitor cells), producing another protein called stem cell factor (SCF) in the process, which is essential for actually creating the pigment in your hair color. When researchers removed the SCF protein from cells in mice, their hair turned white (deleting the KROX20 protein made them go bald). Eeek.
So why do we lose this pigment promoting SCF as we age? “Most biological functions have a backup system, but not hair pigmentation,” says Lu Le, M.D., associate professor of dermatology at UT Southwestern, one of the study’s authors, tells Allure. “We believe that in humans, as we age, the expression of SCF in these cells begins fluctuating, and when the level falls below a certain threshold, there is no backup source of SCF to rescue it.” Hello, white hair!
The good news is, this knowledge could mean that scientists will eventually be able to get rid of your grays and save you a trip to the salon – researchers say they could potentially create a topical solution that would stimulate SCF and thereby cast grays out of your coif. Though that might take awhile, says Le. “It is hard to know [how long it will take]. However, with new technology in the lab, the time from a scientific discovery to clinical application keeps getting shorter,” he says.
For more on how to deal with gray hair, check out:
- How This 64-Year-Old Woman Learned to Love Her Gray
- How To Grow Out Gray Hair—The Experts Weigh
- Three Easy And Low Maintenance Ways to Cover Gray
How This 64-Year-Old Woman Learned to Love Her Gray Hair: