Having A Bad Hair Day? Copper Pipes May Be The Culprit
June 17, 2013

Having A Bad Hair Day? Copper Pipes May Be The Culprit

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Finding a cure and prevention for damaged hair is a multi-million-dollar business, with hair products manufacturers constantly trying to put out the best shampoos and conditioners to save people everywhere from the wretched bad hair day.

Now, researchers with Proctor & Gamble believe they have found the culprit to most forms of hair damage. In a study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, lead researcher Dr. Jennifer Marsh revealed that copper residue from plumbing is transported through water into the scalp, speeding up damage caused by sunlight. Marsh and colleagues say the effect is even more pronounced with people who use hair dyes.

P&G is now looking into the development of new dyes and shampoos to prevent copper from causing more damage. While the metal is not present in large quantities, Marsh said its presence in any amount “is important as it is catalytically active.”

“The copper comes in from the tap water and the hair acts like a sponge picking it up over time,” explained Marsh. “Coloring hair can create free radicals that damage the protein in the hair and the copper can catalyze that reaction. In the same way, UV exposure from going out in the sun can do the same thing over a longer period of time.”

Furthermore, processes such as brushing, blow drying and washing become less effective and more damaging due to damage already caused by coppers and dyes, causing people to spend more time in front of the mirror trying to undo what has already been done.

For the study, Dr. Marsh and her colleagues analyzed hair from 450 women from around the world. They discovered that these women had varying levels of copper in their hair, most having between 20 and 200 atoms of copper for every million molecules in their hair. Some had as much as 500 parts per million.

While copper is found naturally in low levels in tap water, most comes from the copper pipes used for plumbing, with widespread traditional use in British homes. The researchers note that even homes that use plastic pipes are prone to copper because of their hot water tanks, which use copper piping.

Because a single strand of hair grows for several years before falling out, copper can build up in the cuticle (the outer sheath of the hair), breaking down the natural molecules in hair and causing split ends and other unpleasant hair anomalies.

However, Marsh and her team found that treating hair with chelants, chemicals commonly found in washing powder, can neutralize the copper and reduce damage caused by the metal.

Dr. Jeni Thomas, principal scientist at Pantene, said researchers at her company are now looking into chelants more closely, looking to see how they can incorporate the chemical into hair dyes to reduce the damage caused by copper. She also said researchers hope to produce shampoos using the chemical in the future.

Dr. Thomas said one reason research hasn´t picked up on the copper issue for so long is because you usually do not see the signs of copper damage under a microscope. She said hopefully researchers can produce color formulas that will help minimize the effects of copper damage. In the meantime, she noted, they are continuing to explore how chelants can be used in everyday hair care products.

According to Mail Online, a British poll last year found that women spend the equivalent of 26 years of their life battling bad hair. The survey discovered that women woke up to a bad hair day at least three days a week, or about 156 days per year.

Previously, research from RxISK.org found evidence that bad hair days could be the result of prescription drug use. The implications of such a revelation could not only be a bane to women, but also to criminals who may be unwittingly hiding evidence in their locks.

“Hair accumulates drugs when people take them and laboratory hair sample tests are legally and scientifically recognized as admissible evidence in courts around the world. Long before drug effects on hair are widely known, hair stylists are likely to be the earliest observers. Truth be told, your hairdresser could tell you a lot about you and the drugs you take,” said Dr. David Healy, CEO of RxISK.org.