Researchers in China are investigating if the gluten found in wheat protein could repair split ends or have restorative properties for your hair.
Often maligned, gluten may be making a comeback—this time for your hair. Found in wheat and in products containing wheat and cereals, gluten is responsible for the chewy or springy consistency in dough and baked bread. Some people have an adverse reaction to the proteins that make up gluten, and gluten insensitivity and intolerance have been implicated in serious conditions like celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome.
This has led to the recent backlash on gluten. Many dietitians, however, are now saying that these bad effects may be overblown. Nevertheless, as the dietary debate rages on, scientists may have discovered another use for wheat protein—as a treatment for damaged hair.
As detailed in an online February article in Science, researchers in China are studying how wheat protein can have beneficial effects on split ends and damaged hair. The protein keratin accounts for the shape and structure of our hair follicles; constant exposure to sunlight or chemical treatments like dyes or straighteners leads to keratin damage. Hair loses its shine, becoming dry and brittle, and ultimately breaking into split ends.
Finding the right restorative environment is crucial. Hair needs the right acidity (pH) for keratin bonds to reform. To achieve this, the scientists created a chemical soup that incorporated gluten broken down into its component proteins and washed damaged hair in it. The research claims that the presence of the wheat proteins helps reach this optimal acidity level. They used electron microscopy to demonstrate evidence of repair of the washed follicles.
Countless products, from shampoos to more exotic concoctions, promise to repair and restore damaged hair. What these researchers foresee is that gluten, a cheap and accessible product worldwide, when incorporated into hair treatment, can provide the remedy that people with split ends all over the world have been yearning for.
Written by Jay Martin, M.D.
(1) Wang, et al. “Modification of wheat gluten for improvement of binding capacity with keratin in hair.” Soc. Open sci. 5: 171216. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.171216.