According to a new study, a chemical designed to mimic the smell of sandalwood also has the power to stimulate hair growth. Though the research was undertaken using scalp tissue in a laboratory, the scientists behind the discovery say they could be on the cusp of effectively treating hair loss.
Scientists describe how they were able to stimulate hair follicle growth and slow cell death by essentially getting scalp tissue to "smell" a sandalwood odorant called Sandalore. The unusual finding is explained by the existence of a particular olfactory receptor in the scalp, OR2AT4, to which Sandalore binds and promotes hair growth.
Hair follicles, the small cluster of cells that surround the root of every hair, contain a molecule sensor called OR2AT4, which is found all over the body but is best known for its role in the nose. Usually, it gets stimulated by scent molecules in the nose and goes on to trigger a chain reaction that results in the perception of smell. But as it turns out, OR2AT4 receptors still get excited by scent even when they’re on your head
"This is actually a rather amazing finding," senior researcher and dermatologist Ralf Paus from the University of Manchester in the U.K. told The Independent. "This is the first time ever that it has been shown that the remodelling of a normal human mini-organ [a hair] can be regulated by a simple, cosmetically widely-used odorant."
Sandalore, which is used in perfumes and skin cleaners, is known to have unusually effective wound-healing properties because it interacts with certain kinds of olfactory receptors in the skin. With this in mind, the researchers hypothesized that the chemical could have similar effects on hair follicles.