The science behind why hair turns grey

Some of us embrace the idea of becoming a ‘silver fox’, while others will do literally anything to hide the 50 shades of grey sneaking into our hair. However we feel about it, the reality is we will all go grey as we age, so I was wondering – why does this happen? And could we use science to prevent us from going grey?

For some people turning grey is not a problem at all....
For some people turning grey is not a problem at all….

To explain how our hair loses colour, we have to think of hair growing in cycles. There is a ‘growth phase’, where hair grows in length, and a ‘rest phase’ where hair stops growing and eventually falls out of the follicle. In this cycle the hair pigment is produced in the growth phase, and turns off in the rest phase, then production resumes again as we go back in to the growth phase. When the pigment production stays switched off after the rest phase and fails to turn back on in growth, we grow a grey hair (with no pigment).

With every hair cycle we have, some of the melanocytes (cells that produce pigment) in our hair become damaged.This isn’t a problem as we can replace the damaged/dead pigment producing cells with others from a little stash of them that we have, but when this store of melanocytes becomes depleted as we age and have used all of them up, we no longer have any cells to produce pigment – so our hair grows grey.

How would we stop hair going grey?

We would have to make the melanocytes live longer and be less susceptible to damage, or increase the amount of them we have in our stash. Sounds difficult but some scientists in France have identified a chemical that can protect the melanocytes from damage – so our hair can stay coloured for longer. If you’re already grey this won’t help you, but for those of us yet to turn grey there is hope!

Can we re-pigment hair?

Those of us who are bored of the chore that is hair dyeing, there may be a more permanent solution on the horizon to permanently turn grey hair back into pigmented hair! A study found particular antioxidants can reverse the greying of hair – although this was intended to help those with the genetic condition ‘vitilligo’, this could also work on those who no longer want the salt and pepper look.

So, ladies and gents, do not stress about turning grey (by the way, stress won’t make you turn grey, so even if you are stressed about it, doesn’t matter!), there is hope on the horizon that we can prevent and reverse all 50 shades of grey, white and silver (if you insist on calling it that).

Till next time,

Lucy

xxx

Raspberry Ketones – Weight loss miracle or just another fad?

The internet is full of people claiming that raspberry ketones have helped them to lose weight. On Instagram alone #raspberryketones has been tagged nearly 27,000 times. All this fuss surely can’t be based on nothing? I looked into the real evidence to see if the claims behind raspberry ketones live up to the hype.

Holland and Barrett have joined in on the raspberry ketone bandwagon
Holland and Barrett have joined in on the raspberry ketone bandwagon

How they work:

Raspberry ketones are the main aromatic compound present in raspberries

The chemical structure of raspberry ketones.
The chemical structure of raspberry ketones.

They are thought to cause weight loss by lipid metabolism and lipolysis (essentially – burning fat). They are also thought to increase weight loss by elevating the levels of adiponectin- which is a hormone that increases fatty acid breakdown.

The evidence:

What makes me sceptical about the claims of raspberry ketones is that the evidence is very limited. There are no human clinical trials providing back up for the thousands of anecdotal claims on the internet, and part of me thinks that some of the success reports are from people promoting the sale of these somewhat pricey supplements.

However, there are some interesting animal model studies that have shown raspberry ketones to increase lipolysis and alter lipid metabolism. The rodents in the studies that were fed raspberry ketones stored less fat and lost weight. This shows promise for its use in humans for weight loss, but a controlled trial on humans needs to be done to see the full effects this would have on people, particularly to see if the supplements work better than actual raspberries and if they have an effect only if combined with a particular diet.

Safety?

Because there are no studies in humans, this means there isn’t much safety data. I can’t imagine them being dangerous because they are a natural substance, but like any supplement they can be addictive. I think everybody that decides to take raspberry ketones should do so with caution because nobody knows the correct dosage for safe long term use.

My verdict:

I think there really isn’t enough evidence for the claims that raspberry ketones make. Sure, eat some raspberries, that’s always a good shout, but there isn’t enough scientific backup for me to part with my cash for these supplements. As much as I would love to believe all the success stories on the internet, I think a lot of it is a big placebo effect and I’m afraid it could be just another fad!

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Till next time,

Lucy

xxx

The science behind IPL hair removal

Intense Pulsed Light aka IPL hair removal is an increasingly popular method of DIY hair removal. Several friends of mine swear by it, so I was wondering how it actually works, and if it really is as effective as they say it is?

An at home IPL machine
An at home IPL machine

How it works?

IPL is light at a wavelength of 590-1200nm, which includes all visible light colours and also some infrared light. This is shown in the diagram below. These particular wavelengths of light means it can be absorbed by the hair follicles in the skin, damaging them. This process is called selective thermophotolysis. Other laser hair removal is different as it only uses one wavelength of light at a time (one colour), whereas IPL can use loads of different wavelengths at the same time. Being able to use a range of light wavelengths in IPL allows it to be absorbed by different layers of skin, so it can penetrate deeper into the skin without damaging the melanin in darker skin.

The wavelengths in IPL hair removal are circled in this diagram.
The wavelengths in IPL hair removal are circled in this diagram.

How effective is it?

Several clinical trials have found IPL hair removal to be very effective, with one trial noting a staggering 95% of users having significant hair count reduction.  However, because it works by selective thermophotolysis, it is selective in which skin and hair types it works best on. Melanin is the main protein that absorbs the IPL wavelengths, and lighter hair, grey hair and red hair doesn’t contain much melanin, which explains why IPL doesn’t really work for these people (unlucky blondies!) For people with darker hair, and those with a big contrast between their skin colour and hair colour (lighter skin with dark hair, like me!) will find that IPL works really well for them.

Don’t use IPL over tattooed skin though, when the melanin absorbs the light it heats up, and this has been reported to cause second degree burns on tattooed skin, ouch!

 

Better than laser hair removal?

Research concludes that diode laser hair removal is slightly more effective, but it is more painful than IPL (which doesn’t really hurt!) They are both effective though, and are both safe to use. Personally I would prefer to try IPL, as it can be done at home and I can’t be dealing with the pain of lasers!

Other uses of IPL?

It’s not just hair removal that IPL is useful for, the wavelengths in IPL can be absorbed by blood vessels, which means it can treat vascular lesions such as angiomas (common red skin growths). It is also used to treat spider veins and sun spots/age spots.

So, the hype around IPL is founded on real research, and can be explained by physics, which also explains why it is discriminatory against blondes and gingers.

Till next time,

Lucy

xxx

Using Cheerleading to get people interested in science!

Did you know, many NFL cheerleaders are also scientists?

New England Patriots cheerleader Kelly is pursuing a PhD in neuroscience! Photo credit: www.sciencecheerleader.com
New England Patriots cheerleader Kelly is pursuing a PhD in neuroscience! Photo credit: http://www.sciencecheerleader.com

Those who know me will know that I LOVE cheerleading, as well as science, which is why headlines about NFL cheerleaders doing PhDs and ‘The Science Cheerleaders’ program have caught my attention. Founded by Darlene Cavalier (ex 76’ers cheerleader), The Science Cheerleader (www.sciencecheerleader.com) aims to use cheer to get young girls interested in science and challenge the stereotype of both scientists and cheerleaders. I was lucky enough to get an interview with Darlene and I am excited to share it with you!

Darlene cheering for the Philadelphia 76ers
Darlene cheering for the Philadelphia 76ers. Photo credit http://www.sciencecheerleader.com

Thank you so much Darlene for chatting to me, I am so excited to have you here!

Why don’t you start by telling us what the Science Cheerleader is all about and what gave you the idea for the Science Cheerleader?

We enlisted the help of professional cheerleaders to recruit people for an adult science literacy campaign several years ago. That caught the eye of the media and, as a result, we started hearing from real science cheerleaders (professional cheerleaders pursuing science careers). We interviewed them online to learn more about them and share their stories. Then, in 2010, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund gave us a grant to bring 11 of them together to participate in the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. They performed routines to science-themed songs, led science cheers with a LOT of young girls, talked about their careers and signed autographs/posed for pictures.  
How would you describe the current stereotype of scientists?
I, personally, don’t have a particular stereotype of scientists but we know that kids do. 
Here’s something I copied from the National Science Foundation’s website:
 A recent study of fourth graders showed that 66 percent of girls and 68 percent of boys reported liking science. But something else starts happening in elementary school. By second grade, when students (both boys and girls) are asked to draw a scientist, most portray a white male in a lab coat. The drawings generally show an isolated person with a beaker or test tube. Any woman scientist they draw looks severe and not very happy. The persistence of the stereotypes start to turn girls off, and by eighth grade, boys are twice as interested in STEM careers as girls are.
The science cheerleaders certainly challenge those stereotypes! 
As a bonus, we are also able to challenge conventional thinking about what it means to be a cheerleaders. There are an estimated 3 million young cheerleaders in the United States. Empowering them by showing them current and former cheerleaders who’ve made science and engineering their career, is powerful. Reminding them that the same skills that make them a good cheerleader will make them a great scientist and engineer, is important (time management skills, public speaking, confidence, team-building, optimism, determination, persistence, etc).
 What do you think is the most effective way to encourage young girls to pursue science?
I think it’s important to try to connect to them where they. Not just geographically where they are (which is also important) but where they are in life (what are their current interests? how are they receiving messages?). And approaching outreach with the understanding that most young kids don’t quite know what they want to be when they get older. We try to engage them in doing science through projects on SciStarter so they can see that science *is* for everyone (scientists, cheerleaders, parents, everyone).

What is the most exciting thing you have done with Science Cheerleader?

SpaceMicrobes, Guinness World Record, and our forth-coming Science of Cheerleading ebook (free). 

Where would you love to take Science Cheerleader in the future?

Global (now that I know you exist!). And we’re going to seek financial support to expand and sustain the organization and related activities.  
To find out more visit www.sciencecheerleader.com and if you are a UK cheerleader in a science career and want to get involved, drop me an email 🙂
Till next time,
Lucy
xxx

The science behind lip plumpers

It’s funny, we worry about being stung by a bee, but it seems we totally love the post sting look on our lips. A study has shown that the more plump women’s lips were, the younger their age was guessed as! This makes it no surprise that so many of us use lip plumpers to achieve that ‘just kicked in the mouth’ look. But how do they actually work? I looked into the science behind the pout

Lips like Angelina Jolie please?!?
Lips like Angelina Jolie please?!?
  • Irritation – When our skin is irritated by something it can swell up, and this is the basis behind many lip plumpers. They cause irritation of the delicate skin on the lips, which causes blood vessels in the lips to dilate, so more blood and tissue fluid flows to lips and they swell, giving you the daffy duck look. Ingredients that can annoy our lips so they puff up nicely include ginger, menthol, niacin and even chemicals such as capsacin which is found in chilli peppers! No wonder lip plumpers can often feel weird when we apply them! This also might explain why some women find that eating spicy food puffs up their lips just as well as a fancy lip plumper.
  •  They reflect light– A more simple way that lip plumpers work is by reflecting the light, giving the visual illusion of fuller lips. They contain ingredients that reflect light well such as glitter or mica (a silicate mineral present in many make-up products including mascara and foundation). 
  • They can increase collagen and elastin production – recently some more expensive lip plumping products claim to have a lasting effect, by increasing the amount of collagen and elastin fibres produced in your lips. They claim to do this using special oligopeptides, but to be honest I’m not that convinced on the effectiveness of this.
  • Or you could just use a shot glass… a more simple solution could be to place a shot glass over your lips and suck. Sounds weird, but it creates a vacuum seal and physically draws fluid to your lips, making them swollen. It has been found to work, but it can bruise your upper lip and give you a weird line around your mouth, so it isn’t the best idea!

So there we have it, lip plumpers give us a perfect pout mainly from irritating us, so don’t over use them as lips can get too irritated and start to peel!

Till next time,

Lucy

xxx

Finding Mr Right

This post is a take over by my best friend Abi! 

  mr right

Hi!

So I’m not your usual intelligent, sassy Lucy and I know very little about science, but I do know a lot about blogging. I have my own blog (ramblingsofablonde.co.uk) and know a bit about psychology as I’m currently doing a masters in forensic psychology at the University of Kent. As it’s nearly February (the month of luuurve) single lads and ladies are hunting high and low for that special someone to celebrate the very commercialised valentine’s day with. Often people claim that they’re single because they’re waiting for ‘Mr (Mrs) Right’, but is there really a ‘Mr Right’ out there and what causes us to be attracted to some people, but not to others? This is a topic that has fascinated psychologists for years and often debates in the literature are conflicting, but what is it that attracts us to each other?

1similarity

Although the saying, ‘opposites attract’ is often branded around, psychological evidence claims that in fact, it’s similarity that draws two people together. Byrne, Clore and Smeaton (1986) created a model that suggested that the similarity of personality and of attitudes is what attracts one individual to another. However, similarities could also lie in age, ethnicity, religion, culture, intelligence, social class etc, all of which can make an individual more attractive to a similar other.

2proximity 

You are more likely to be friends with and be attracted to, those who are physically close to you. This is referred to as the mere exposure effect, in which people like novel stimuli when they encounter them repeatedly. Festinger, Schachter & Back (1950) tested this and found that participants were more likely to be friends with those who lived closer to them compared with those who live further away. Therefore, your potential partner lives/works very close to you – creepy eh?

 3phys

There’s no escaping it and it’s probably the most obvious, but we are attracted to one another purely on the basis of how we look (what a shallow society we live in!) One of the reasons this is so powerful, is because it’s immediately apparent, it’s the first thing we’re drawn to. Physical attractiveness is evident from birth, Langlois, Ritter, Casey & Sawin (1995) found that good looking babies received more affectionate interactions than less good looking babies, they are also seen as less interfering in later life. With the development of online dating, physical attractiveness can also play a role. The qualities of a profile picture are the strongest predictors of whole profile attractiveness (Fiore, Shaw Taylor, Mendelsohn, Hearst, 2008).

 4association

Not only are we attracted to those with whom we share a pleasant experience, but we also like people who are associated with pleasant events. This may be meeting someone whilst in a happy mood or having a favourable memory of the day you met each other, but whatever it is, the individual becomes positively valued because they are associated with that positive event and thus appear more attractive.

So if you’re looking for Mr Right this February, these are the qualities you need to exploit in order to promote your attractiveness. One last thing, if you’re female, wear red! Researchers have found that wearing red, leads men to view women as more attractive and more sexually desirable (Elliot & Niesta, 2008). The best thing is, men don’t even realise this happens, so you’ll be making them more attracted to you without them thinking you’re putting a lot of effort in!

If you get a chance, don’t forget to check out my blog – ramblingsofablonde.co.uk, for fashion, beauty and ramblings.

abi sig 

The 5:2 diet: Scientifically proven benefits, or just another diet fad?

The 5:2 diet, also known as the ‘intermittent fasting diet’ is becoming a popular choice of diet, with celebrities like Miranda Kerr and Jennifer Anniston leading by example. It consists of consuming no more than 600 calories a day (500 for women) for 2 days a week (these are known as the fasting days), then eating whatever you like the rest of the week. I know many people who swear by this diet, saying it helps them lose weight, maintain a healthy weight and even aid digestive problems. It has also been said to speed up metabolism and even slow down ageing. But I wondered, is there any scientific support for its wonderful claims? Or is it just another fad?

Books on the 5:2 diet have become top sellers!
Books on the 5:2 diet have become top sellers!

The Scientific backup:

One way that this diet is said to work is by activating a gene, SIRT1, which has been found to stop fat being stored. SIRT1 has also been found to repair DNA and cells during fasting and was found to have anti-ageing affects, (Interestingly, Some of this was discovered in yeast cells!).

In experiments on mice doing the 5:2 diet, higher levels of BDNF were produced (it’s a fancy brain protein). This was found to improve learning and memory – suggesting that it may even help prevent Alzheimer’s disease (though this has not been studied in humans yet!!).

This diet has been found to increase the effectiveness of Insulin. Insulin is produced when we eat and stores excess glucose in the liver, this process is said to become more effective during intermittent fasting, which can reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Intermittent fasting has also been associated with a drop in levels of a hormone, IGF-1. Lower IGF-1 levels have been found to reduce risks of age related diseases such as cancer. This was tested on mice that were genetically engineered to not respond to IGF-1, and they lived twice as long! I doubt humans on the 5:2 will live twice as long, but there seems to be some decent backup for various health benefits that could potentially make us live longer.

The Problems:

  • Although there are some studies that have found this diet to be effective, this evidence is limited! Many of the claims of 5:2 rely on animal models, and only a few human studies have been done. This means that why it all seems at first like the answer to all of life’s problems, more studies need to be done to give it a bit more cred.
  • The subjects in studies where 5:2 has been effective didn’t binge eat and drink on the normal calorie days. It doesn’t look like you can have complete diet freedom on the 5 days you aren’t fasting; sadly it looks like you still have to show some level of restraint.
  • Finally, here’s a tip, if you know someone on the 5:2 diet and need to ask them a favour, don’t ask them on their low calorie days, you may not get a good result. Although there seems to be long-term benefits, the short term reality is that people can become cranky and easily annoyed on their fasting days, particularly when they first begin the diet.

So there we have it, the 5:2 is based on sound scientific ideas, but it needs a few more studies in humans until we can take all of its benefits as gospel.

Till next time,

Lucy

xxx