Melanin is derived from the Greek word melas, meaning “black,” and it is a pigment found in most organisms. It is a derivative of the amino acid tyrosine. The most common form of biological melanin is eumelanin, a brown-black polymer of dihydroxyindole carboxylic acids. Another form of melanin is pheomelanin, a cysteine containing red-brown polymer of benzothiazine units largely responsible for red hair and freckles. These two types of melanin blend together to make up a wide range of hair color. Some humans or animals have very little or no melanin in their bodies; that is a condition called albinism.
Production of melanin in human skin is called melanogenesis and is induced by UVB radiation. Melanin efficiently absorbs harmful UV radiation (more than 99.9% of them) and transforms the energy into harmless heat. This makes it an excellent photo-protectant against malignant melanoma and other skin cancers. Unfortunately, as we age, there is a reduction in melanin production. The hair turns gray and eventually white. The chance of going gray increases 10-20% every decade after the age of 30. It is not fully understood why the pigment production shuts down.
A Colorful History
The modern hair color era really got underway in the 1950s when Clairol asked “Does She or Doesn’t She? Hair color so natural that only her hairdresser knows for sure.”
But according to a recent article in the Tampa Bay Times, the slogan might be “Should I or Shouldn’t I?”
With the Baby Boomer generation (born between 1945 and 1964) in their 50s and 60s, the hair coloring market should be busier than ever. The article gives both sides of the story. First they show photographs of Hollywood stars of both sexes who are not dyeing their hair as they age. The youngest men they show are Eric Dane (who I never heard of) at age 40, Anderson Cooper at 45, Jon Stewart at 50, George Clooney and Barack Obama (he might be too busy) at 51 each.
I noticed that of the 16 photos shown, only six are women—and not all of them are Boomers! The youngest woman is Jamie Lee Curtis, 52, the next four are in their mid-60s, and the oldest is Olympia Dukakis at 82. This apparently indicates that men are more willing to go gray at an earlier age.
A hairdresser is quoted that only about 25% of her clients who are gray, actually stay gray, and those are usually her older clients. This has not changed in the 52 years that she has been a hairdresser.
Actually, she might be displaced by a dietary supplement if L’Oréal is successful. The company, which created modern hair dye nearly a century ago, is developing a gray prevention pill expected to come out in 2015. It will contain a fruit extract that mimics the tyrosine-related protein that protects pigmentation production. It will not be an immediate panacea, because the pill must be taken for 10 years prior to going gray in order to reap the benefits. The company does not believe it can reverse the graying procedure once it has started.
L’Oréal isn’t alone in its supplement research. GetAwayGrey is billed as a new breakthrough anti-aging supplement consisting of an all-natural blend of super premium vitamins and herbs that reverses gray hair by replenishing the natural color from the inside out. GetAwayGrey Super Premium vitamin was created based on 2009 research findings by The University of Bradford proving that the Catalase enzyme can successfully reverse gray hair. Catalase is naturally produced in our cells and is the primary ingredient of GetAwayGrey. Just take two of the vitamins a day and as the catalase enzyme increases, the natural color of your hair will increase as well, restoring itself from the roots. Most users see their natural hair color returning significantly within 8-12 weeks, noted the company.
Supplements may show promise, but the technology is still years away. Some consumers prefer the temporary fix that hair dye offers. That’s why I’m confident that the hair color industry will continue to thrive.
The following is a starting formula for an oxidative dye that is hydrogen peroxide-free:
Procedure: Mix powders until evenly dispersed. Results: Gives good viscosity and warm brown color.
Harvey M. Fishman
Harvey Fishman has a consulting firm in Wanaque, NJ, specializing in cosmetic formulations and new product ideas, offering tested finished products. He has more than 30 years of experience and has been director of research at Bonat, Nestlé LeMur and Turner Hall. He welcomes descriptive literature from suppliers and bench chemists and others in the field.