Split ends? You need more gluten

By Ilona Cabral

A recent study by the School of Food Science and Technology at Jiangnan University has found a rather unexpected use for the meat substitute, wheat flour. Findings published in the study have revealed that a protein found in wheat flour could be a possible cure for split ends.

The human hair is composed by fibrous proteins called keratin and are held together by proteins called disulphide bridges. In soft, healthy hair these bridges link between the keratin proteins and hold the hair’s outer surface together. However, due to the daily wear and tear of life, these bonds can become fragile. Excessive exposure to UV light, over application of damaging products like bleaches, dyes and styling tools such as straighteners breakdown the disulphide bridges and can make hair brittle.

Scientists have experimented widely with plant and animal proteins which could replace broken bonds in hair keratin but, until now, have been unable to find a substance which matches the pH of hair keratin. It is a difficult goal to achieve, as proteins exist in nature at a pH where they are neutral in charge, and this has to match the pH of keratin, in order to be effective in ‘curing’ split ends.

In this recent study scientists believe that they have been able to overcome this pH problem. Soaking the gluten from the Wheat flour in a solution of water and Alcalase, an enzyme that helps breakdown proteins, reduces the gluten to its base peptides. EDDAC is then added, which raises the isoelectric point of the peptides to match the keratin pH in hair. Researchers then observed the results by applying the solution mixed with shampoo to freshly trimmed hair samples.

Research methods used in the study included running a comb through treated hair samples and measuring the friction as a gage for the degree of hair damage. According to the report in Royal Society Open Science, findings showed that application of the shampoo containing gluten resulted in 21 percent less friction in dry hair and 50 percent less in wet hair.

The effect of the mixture was also noted by viewing treated samples under scanning electron microscopes and findings showed that newly formed bonds could be seen in gluten shampoo treated samples – the hair appeared smoother and healthier.

However, despite these initially promising results some are calling for further testing. Sarah Miller, a dermatologist who studies hair at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, states that statistical analyses are “inadequate” and that the study omits key details such as, what type of hair was tested and how consistency was enforced throughout the study.

However, she maintains that “If properly conducted and controlled … this research can be of great benefit to consumers in ensuring that they are purchasing products that are scientifically proven to perform as advertised.”

More testing is definitely required before this product potentially become available to consumers but, for now, the researchers are confident that we are all one step close to perfect tresses.

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