Scientists reverse hair loss by making scalp "smell" sandalwood

It turns out the human scalp has an olfactory receptor that seems to play a crucial role in regulating hair follicle growth and death.

  • Scientists treated scalp tissue with a chemical that mimics the odor of sandalwood.
  • This chemical bound to an olfactory receptor in the scalp and stimulated hair growth.
  • The treatment could soon be available to the public.

A synthetic chemical that mimics the odor of sandalwood could be the key to reversing hair loss, new research suggests. In a paper published in Nature on September 18, scientists describe how they were able to stimulate hair follicle growth and slow cell death by essentially getting scalp tissue to "smell" a sandalwood odorant called Sandalore. The unusual finding is explained by the existence of a particular olfactory receptor in the scalp, OR2AT4, to which Sandalore binds and promotes hair growth.

"This is actually a rather amazing finding," senior researcher and dermatologist Ralf Paus from the University of Manchester in the U.K. told The Independent. "This is the first time ever that it has been shown that the remodelling of a normal human mini-organ [a hair] can be regulated by a simple, cosmetically widely-used odorant."

A possible "olfactotherapy" treatment

Sandalore, which is used in perfumes and skin cleaners, is known to have unusually effective wound-healing properties because it interacts with certain kinds of olfactory receptors in the skin. With this in mind, the researchers hypothesized that the chemical could have similar effects on hair follicles.

To find out, the team treated samples of human scalp skin with Sandalore and found that it stimulated a hair-growth factor called IGF-1 when it bound to the olfactory receptor OR2AT4. As further evidence that OR2AT4 plays a key role in hair growth, the researchers showed that hair follicles died more quickly when they "silenced" the receptor.

While it's still unclear whether Sandalore could continuously stimulate hair growth over a long-term period, Paus said the chemical could soon be offered as an "olfactotherapy" treatment for hair loss, a condition that affects about 80 million men and women in the U.S.

"Sandalore is already offered as a cosmetic product in Italy by the company that has co-sponsored the current study," Paus told The Independent. "A very small, short and preliminary clinical pilot study performed by an independent CRO [contract research organization] in 20 female volunteers with topical Sandalore has already suggested a reduction of daily hair loss."

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

What’s behind our appetite for self-destruction?

Is it "perverseness," the "death drive," or something else?

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Each new year, people vow to put an end to self-destructive habits like smoking, overeating or overspending.

Keep reading Show less

Physicists puzzled by strange numbers that could explain reality

Eight-dimensional octonions may hold the clues to solve fundamental mysteries.

Surprising Science
  • Physicists discover complex numbers called octonions that work in 8 dimensions.
  • The numbers have been found linked to fundamental forces of reality.
  • Understanding octonions can lead to a new model of physics.
Keep reading Show less

Douglas Rushkoff – It’s not the technology’s fault

It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.

Think Again Podcasts
  • It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
  • Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
Keep reading Show less