Another possible cure for hair loss on the horizon — and this one happens to smell really good! Synthetic sandalwood might have a stimulating effect on our hair follicles, which could lead to a boost in hair growth, researchers found.
The study titled “Olfactory receptor OR2AT4 regulates human hair growth” was published in the journal Nature Communications on Sept. 18. It was partly sponsored by Giuliani Pharma S.p.A., a pharmaceutical company which sells synthetic sandalwood treatments.
Hair follicles refer to the sac or the part of the skin from which hair grows. Baldness and hair loss occurs when these follicles start weakening, eventually losing their ability to anchor hair to our skin.
The new finding is largely based on an important feature of our follicles — the fact that they contain an olfactory receptor known as OR2AT4. In simple terms, olfactory receptors are clusters of cells which help us detect smells.
Previous research has shown that OR2AT4 can help induce the healing of wounds in our skin. Given the “intimate connections between hair growth and wound healing,” the research team wanted to explore whether there was a way for it to facilitate hair growth as well.
First, they gathered human scalp samples donated by volunteers who underwent facelift procedures. Next, the synthetic sandalwood compound (i.e. Sandalore) was applied on the scalp samples in their laboratory.
“Anyway, the synthetic sandalwood-like odorant, Sandalore, is the one that is usually used in cosmetics and perfumes, since natural sandalwood is more expensive and is more sensitizing (i.e. can induce allergy),” said co-author Dr. Ralf Paus, professor of cutaneous medicine at the University of Manchester, England.
Being exposed to synthetic sandalwood appeared to stimulate the growth of cells, the team found. This not only slowed down the death of hair follicles but also prolonged the “growth phase” of a hair cycle.
“This is actually a rather amazing finding,” Paus noted. “This is the first time ever that it has been shown that the remodeling of a normal human mini-organ (hair) can be regulated by a simple, cosmetically widely used odorant. And this is a strictly receptor-dependent manner.”
Now, the big question is an obvious one: Could this finding be the key to designing treatment to reverse hair loss?
While the potential seems immense, this is not yet a sign for people to start spraying sandalwood fragrances over their scalp. The boost in hair growth was only observed over a six-day period, which does not indicate whether these effects are permanent or capable of reversing baldness.
Also keep in mind the experiment was performed on scalp samples rather than actual, living people. Paus explained larger clinical trials are being planned after a preliminary clinical pilot study featuring twenty female volunteers showed promise. The results of the ongoing trial are expected to be published in 2019, he added.