Scientists believe they have discovered the reason why stress can make hair turn white. They’ve also found a potential way of preventing it from happening which doesn’t involve hair dye. In a chance finding while studying mice, the scientists noticed that dark-furred mice turned completely white within weeks after experiencing stress. The reason for this, the scientists say, is because the stress damaged stem cells that control hair and skin colour. The US and Brazilian researchers say their discovery is significant as it could lead to new treatments being developed that can protect hair colour from the effects of stress and ageing. Publishing their findings in the journal Nature, the researchers Universities of Sao Paulo and Harvard say the effects are linked to melanocyte stem cells, which produce melanin and are responsible for hair and skin colour. In a separate experiment, the researchers found they could prevent stress from affecting hair colour by giving the mice an anti-hypertensive, which treats high blood pressure. They were also able to identify the specific protein that causes damage to the stem cells. When this protein, cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK), was suppressed, mice that were subjected to stress did not experience the same fur colour change. It’s a breakthrough that could lead to drugs being developed which suppress CDK and delay the onset of grey/white hair.
A new drug developed by scientists that mimic sunlight could revolutionise the way in which people tan themselves. The drug tricks the skin into producing the brown form of the pigment melanin, with no damaging UV radiation involved. It’s hoped the drug – which can even work on redheads (who normally just burn when exposed to direct sunlight – could prevent skin cancer and perhaps even slow the appearance of ageing. Our skin gets tanned when it is exposed to UV light and becomes damaged. Our bodies then compensate by producing melanin, which acts as a natural sunblock. The drug, which was developed by a team at Massachusetts General Hospital, is rubbed into the skin to kick-start the melanin production process, effectively skipping the damage to the skin. Dr David Fisher, one of the researchers, told the BBC News website: "It has a potent darkening effect. "Under the microscope it's the real melanin, it really is activating the production of pigment in a UV-independent fashion." Dr Fisher also said that the team’s biggest motivation was not to create a new cosmetic, but instead to help protect people’s skin from skin cancer – the most common type of cancer. He went on to say that dark pigment is actually associated with a lower risk of all cancers – a fact that highlights just how ground-breaking the new drug could be in the future. More testing will now be conducted to fully check the drug’s safety, although the researchers say that so far there has been “no hint of problems.”