How does anti-aging hair care work? Episode 26

What do anti-aging hair care products do? Can you really make hair younger? Randy and I explain what “youthful hair” really means. Also, tune in to find out if I’ll EVER win a game of Beauty Science or Bull Sh*t. 

Show notes

Beauty Science or Bull Sh*t

This is the game where Randy gives me three beauty science headlines, two of them are true, one is made up. I have to pick the FAKE story. You can try it too, here are the headlines. Can you pick the phony?

1. The first commercial product delivered to the moon could be a Japanese sunscreen.
2. Earwax analysis is as effective as a blood test for detecting toxins in the body.
3. ‘Selfies’, the practice of posting your own picture to social media, is leading to an increase of head lice.

Question of the week: Do anti-aging hair care ingredients really work?

Master Barber Williams asks…How do we know that anti aging ingredients for hair really work

To answer it we need to explain a little bit about the difference between hair and skin biology.

A quick review of hair structure

First and most importantly – hair is dead! It doesn’t “breathe” it doesn’t metabolize so it doesn’t need nutrients or vitamins or anything else. Only the root is alive. The hair itself consists of mostly of protein that is organized into 3 structures.

The outermost part of the hair which we are most familiar with is called the cuticle which consists of 8 to 10 layers of overlapping hard flat cells that resembles the shingles on a roof. They serve the same function as shingles which is to protect what’s underneath.

The inner layer of hair is called cortex and it consists of long bundles of protein fibers which gives hair its strength. This is also where the tiny particles of melanin pigment reside.

The third, and frankly the least important structure of hair, is called the medulla. It is little more than a hollow space in the center of the fiber. It is not even present in all hair fibers and it is thought to be a vestige from when we had hair covering our bodies because the airspace provides additional insulation. Think of the quill of a porcupine that has a large vacuole in the center.

The hair grows out of the follicle which is a little tube-like structure located deep in the dermis. As the root, or the papilla, generates keratin cells, it pushes them upward and they take on the shape of a tube. It’s sort of like squeezing Play Doh through a mold. As this little tube of protein rises up to the surface of the skin it hardens. Pigment granules, oils, and other goodies are added along the way. By the time the hair has exited the skin it has hardened to form the hair structure as we know it. Once the hair grows out to a certain length it stops growing and then a new hair starts growing underneath the old one eventually pushing it out which is what causes your hair to fall out naturally. Of course this is assuming it doesn’t break off before it falls out.

So the key thing to understand is that hair itself is dead and the only living part is buried very deep in the skin. Now, compare that with skin structure…

A quick review of skin structure

Skin is ALIVE. It has blood vessels and sweat glands and hair follicles and it does need nutrients to grow and thrive. It also consists of three layers: The epidermis the dermis and they hypodermis.

The epidermis is the top seven layers the uppermost of which is the stratum corneum –  that’s the layer of dead cells that we can see and touch. That’s a relatively thin layer and below that are 6 other layers all the way down to the basal layer which is where new skin cells are created. This is where the epidermal stem cell live. These stem cells produce new skin cells that travel up through the layers. As they move upward they dry out and die until they become part of the stratum corneum.

Below that is the dermis where the hair follicles are along with oil glands, collagen and elastin fibers and some small blood vessels. And below that is the hypodermis which contains arteries and veins, fat, and other subcutaneous tissue.

Unlike hair, manipulating the outer layer of skin CAN affect how it behaves. For example, if you occlude the top layer with oil the deeper layers will retain more moisture and will be healthier. And if you scrape off the dead cells from the top you can trigger the production of new cells from the basal layer. (That’s called increasing cell turn over.)

So to sum up: skin alive, hair dead but both consist of three layers.

How do hair and skin age?

Given their different structures, it’s not surprising that hair and skin age differently.

For hair…
The follicles atrophy as they age and either stop producing new hair or produce hair that is finer and thinner.
The pigment producing cells stop working which causes hair to turn gray.
There may also be some reduction in oil production so hair feels coarser and drier as you age.

For skin…
Loses some of its ability to retain moisture so it’s drier.
Collagen and elastin production slows which leads to particle collapse of the structure resulting in wrinkles.
Age spots develop and pigment production become uneven.
And of course since skin is alive it’s susceptible to diseases like melanoma and basil cell carcinoma.

What do anti-aging products do?

Let’s talk about skin first…Anti-aging actives SHOULD increase production of new skin cells, increase collagen and elastin, protect from damaging UV rays, and lighten dark spots. These are all realistic to some extent. Ingredients like AHAs, retinol, niacinamide, and skin bleach can help.

For hair: A true anti-aging product SHOULD increase growth of hair cells in the follicle to produce more and thicker hair. Should also increase the amount of pigmentation so hair does’t turn gray. These are NOT realistic expectations for the most part. There are some drugs like Minoxidil that can increase hair growth to some small extent but for the most part you just can NOT anti-age hair in this regard. Why not?

The biochemistry is different for hair and the structures which need to be affected, like the follicle, are buried much deeper in the skin. It’s not easy to deliver active agents to these structures.

Therefore, and this is the key to this whole discussion, “anti-aging” treatments for hair are purely cosmetic. That means meaning they just affect the appearance of the surface of the dead hair. They can improve its appearance and texture, make it shinier, softer, smoother, temporarily thicken it, and strengthen it some some degree.  They can even change its color (after it’s grown out.) But that’s about it.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Hair is dead so you can’t really “anti-age” it. Skin is living and can be treated to reduce some of the signs and symptoms of aging . The ingredients that can impact the “age” of skin don’t do anything for hair because it has different structure and different needs. Also, to the second part of Master Barber Williams question, it doesn’t really matter what type of hair we’re talking about.

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