Hair Biology Workshop

A review by Gill Westgate

Developments in the hair category are very much influenced by the prevailing trends in the marketplace and the increasing sophistication of the scientific approaches to study hair growth and the hair fibre in its natural and cosmetically treated state. We are in an age where consumer expectations are high, underpinned by the recent changes to the cosmetic legislation (at least in Europe) which demand both honesty and veracity in supporting claims for new product benefits. Both of these require cosmetic scientist to have an excellent understanding of the hair follicle and fibre and the Hair Biology Workshops of the proDERM Academy aim to provide this with more focus on the hair follicle.

So, in designing the 3rd proDERM academy Hair Biology workshop, we kept in mind that while technical understanding of hair growth, diversity and diseases is the subject of much scientific research, new areas of research and product opportunity are emerging – building from the trends in technical and consumer innovation. These include use of light both to study hair fibre surfaces and properties and as a therapy to influence hair at the molecular level; rapid development of lab-based models to avoid animal research; the importance of healthy scalp for healthy hair and the many supplement-type products for holistic hair health benefits.

Dr Erik Schulze zur Wiesche from Henkel described the structure and properties of hair but also showed the class ways in which hair fibres can be examined in great detail using confocal laser scanning, scanning force microscopy and video analysis with a fascinating demonstration of the ways in which hair treatments affect how a ‘ponytail’ swings. Then we learned about the new discoveries on the optical (visible light) impacts on cellular processes in the hair follicle and skin, described by Dr Natallia Uzunbajakava from Philips. Home-use energy-based devices for hair removal, anti-ageing and hair growth form an expanding product category and it is amazing to find out that blue light, for example, can help maintain hair growth in vitro; both Erik and Natallia were new to the proDERM Academy this year and their talks were very much appreciated by the class.

We welcomed back Prof Desmond Tobin (University of Bradford) to talk again about hair colour and greying and asked him also to give a perspective on the rising trend in nutraceuticals for hair benefits. He revealed that the first human gene linked to hair greying was recently discovered in a genetic study of hair traits, that also revealed genes for straight hair. He also shared some news that preliminary evidence links the gut disorder, celiac disease, with the hair disease Alopecia Areata and suggested that micronutritional deficiency is something that could be considered as relevant for hair given an otherwise healthy diet.

One further trend emerging in the field of hair biology research is the development of sophisticated models to study the molecular processes governing hair growth and to evaluate new treatments whilst limiting animal research. To review this, we invited back Dr Claire Higgins from Imperial College, London, to bring us up to date with this fast moving area; while complex (and we do appreciate it is a difficult area to understand for non-biologists), this research area is now recognised by the industry as crucial for the avoidance of animal research. We even read recently in the news that companies are coming together to ‘bio-print’ hair follicles in 4D! Such tools will eventually lead to more predictive models for testing new actives for hair benefits via action at the cellular level; both for healthy hair growth, anti-ageing and treating diseases that cause distressing hair loss. Under the title ‘healthy scalp = healthy hair?’ Prof Klaus-Peter Wilhelm reviewed the types of hair and scalp disorders keeping in mind the growing trend for healthy scalp products being seen as vital for healthy hair these days and to acknowledge that pollution and cosmetic ingredients can cause problems. We did learn that head lice are making a come-back! Which, in our more hygiene conscious society, suggests something else is driving this resurgent problem. Dr Gill Westgate presented lectures to cover many of the hair biology basics, such as the hair cycle, the causes of hair loss and how we think curly hair evolved and is made by the follicle. The classroom sessions were concluded by Dr Chris Gummer, a frequent contributor to the proDERM academy, giving the class lessons in the rights and wrongs of generating claims support for the hair categories many and diverse products with a message that the regulatory definitions for claims need to be understood by those generating the claims, such as permanent hair removal does not necessary mean permanently for ever!.

Thanks very much to the proDERM team on site, especially to Birte Wehr for all the arrangements before and on the day. We received great feedback from the participants and we will be learning from these when developing the next Hair Biology workshop in 2018.