You may have seen headlines suggesting that there’s a new cure for baldness in town. Sorry to say, but we’re not quite there just yet. A new study, however, does give us some insight into how hair growth is both interrupted and encouraged, and reveals that synthetic sandalwood, of all things, might play a role.
Even weirder, it appears that olfactory receptors – those that primarily deal with smell – also factor into things too. So, scientifically speaking, what the hell is going on here?
Writing in Nature Communications, a team from the University of Manchester and Monasterium Laboratory’s Skin and Hair Research Solutions explain that olfactory receptors aren’t just found in the nose. They are expressed by a wide range of cells throughout the body, and perform functions unrelated to smell.
One receptor, OR2AT4, has been previously shown to boost the production of cells, named keratinocytes, in the skin. These cells manufacture keratin, a strong, fiber-like protein that forms a major structural component of, among other things, hair.
This receptor can be found in cells around hair follicles on the skin. Could this, perhaps, be influenced in some way to stimulate hair growth?
In order to find out, the team looked at human scalp sample donations. Don’t worry, people weren’t just willingly removing bits of their head; as spotted by New Scientist, they had undergone facelift surgeries and had leftover scalp bits they no longer needed.
Then, for six days, they immersed them in a solution containing synthetic sandalwood.
Now, sandalwood is sourced from a specific genus of tree, but synthetic variations are often used in fragrances and perfumes. The team noticed that its chemical structure meant that it was likely to attach itself to the OR2AT4 receptor.
In fact, Sandalore, the brand name for the synthetic, is the specific chemical that activates OR2AT4 in order to produce a biological response. Natural sandalwood doesn’t have the same effect. So what does it do?