Technology is evolving day in and day out. One minute you’re buying an iPhone 4 and the next it’s a 5, and then a day or two later it’s a fully-fledged iPhone 6. It’s the same in the human hair industry – one minute you’re using that dodgy snake oil, the next you’re trying on wigs, and now you might be wearing a series of lasers under your baseball cap.
Whilst we’re usually sharing the greatest new inventions to save your hair from thinning – or spreading our very own Scalp Micro-pigmentation treatment – today we are sharing the more exciting news that neoteric scientists have discovered a completely new and rather remarkable component of human hair.
Human Hair: The Basics
Human hair has undoubtedly been studied extensively for years, and a thorough understanding of its complex structure has come across utterly elusively up until now.
Scientists have recognised that human hair is traditionally constituted of three sections: medulla – the central part of the hair -, cortex – biggest volume fraction of the hair-, and the cuticle – the external part of the hair.
However, at the annual meeting of the American Crystallographic Association in Philadelphia, Vesna Stanic – project leader of the research completed at the Brazilian Synchrotron Light Source Laboratory – announced that they have now discovered a fourth component: the intermediate zone – which is found between the cortex and the cuticle.
The Diffraction Factor
Stanic made the discovery by combining an ultra-powerful submicron X-Ray beam with cross-sectional geometry. Whilst the original goal was to simply study materials used in hair treatments and how they affect hair, Stanic began to consider the diffraction – the bending of waves around obstacles and openings – patterns of hair.
X-Ray diffraction patterns often reveal the local arrangement of molecular and atomic structures. Whilst diffraction patterns have been used to study human hair before, Stanic and her team opted to complete it differently and perform a full diffraction map from a 30-micron thick cross section of hair, with an incident beam parallel to the hair axis and then compared it to a perpendicular axis.
This method resulted in the team’s discovery – beta keratin. Before their research, human hair was thought to be composed of only a fibrous protein known as alpha keratin – a structural protein that makes up the outer layer of the skin. The discovery that there was an absence of alpha keratin between a hair strand’s cortex and cuticle was an extraordinary surprise to Stanic due to beta keratin’s association with reptiles and birds – it is used to structurally make their claws, scales, beaks, and feathers strong.
There is a distinct lack in differences between alpha and beta keratin apart from the basic acknowledgment that alpha is smaller than beta with a helical structure whilst beta is arranged in sheets – essentially a stretched adaption of the alpha.
Whilst this discovery may not seem completely relevant to us here at HIS Hair, it is a significant entry into the annals of human hair research and is significant in the journey to what we all want – healthy hair. The discovery made by the Brazilian Synchrotron Light Source Laboratory will most likely lead to the development of improved hair products.