In April 2015 the UK media exploded with news of a ‘cure’ for baldness discovered by researchers, which simply involved plucking the remaining hair in a specific way to make lots more NEW hair grow back.
Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?
Yet, like many miraculous baldness ‘cures’, there was a little bit more to this one than the headlines would have you believe.
What were these claims of a baldness cure based on?
The research referred to in these reports was published in a peer-reviewed journal called ‘Cell’.
It was carried out by researchers from the University of Southern California, plus colleagues from Scotland, Taiwan and China.
During the study, researchers plucked hairs from the backs of mice. They plucked some hairs close together and some far apart, to investigate whether plucking at different densities would lead to different responses from the hair.
They saw some interesting results.
If they plucked less than a certain amount (under 10 hairs per square mm), then nothing happened. But when they plucked 200 hairs from a 3 mm diameter, not only did hairs grow back, but there were even MORE hairs than before – 450 in total.
When they plucked 200 hairs from a 5 mm diameter, 1300 hairs grew back.
Why did this happen?
Researchers credit these findings to something called ‘quorum sensing’.
On this occasion, this means that the follicles from which the hairs were plucked sent a ‘distress signal’ to other hair follicles nearby. This then prompted the body to respond to the change in the ‘population’ of the hairs by signalling the follicles to grow MORE hairs.
And because the follicles seemed to act as sensors for a wider area of skin, MORE hairs were regenerated then were there in the first place.
So why isn’t this research something to get excited about just yet?
The biggest reason – and the one the media chose not to highlight as it rather lessens the impact of their headlines – is that NO ONE SAID THIS WOULD WORK IN HUMANS.
And that, of course, is significant!
Hair growth in mice is fundamentally different to that in people – their hair grows much more densely (which effectively means they are about 10 times hairier).
The research does not mention human hair at all – and whilst the studies were interesting, experts acknowledge that it would be a ‘leap of faith’ to assume this is going to work equally well in people.
There are a couple of other factors that give pause for thought too…
- Sufferers of the hair-pulling condition trichotillomania end up with bald patches, despite plucking their hair regularly (although the UK’s NHS acknowledges there might be stress-related conditions that explain this).
- Many hair loss sufferers already have very sparse hair – so there may not be enough to pluck it at the density this research seems to say is necessary.
So should you start plucking out hairs to see if this works for you?
My advice is no – you may end up doing more harm than good!
Nevertheless, this IS an intriguing bit of research. It will be interesting to see if it leads to studies on humans and just what effect this specific type plucking may have on them.
Sources – and for More Information