Oct. 4, 2011 at 5:50 PM ET
George Clooney may be able to rock the sexy salt-and-pepper look, but most non-famous people want to avoid gray hair as long as possible. That's why cosmetic giant L'Oreal's recent claim that it's developing a pill to prevent gray hair is getting so much attention.
But don't get too excited yet about keeping your luxurious dark locks — or blond or red — forever. Some doctors say the anti-gray supplement, which the company has been experimenting with for more than a decade, could pose risks.
The pill, scheduled to become available in 2015, contains an undisclosed fruit extract that mimics the chemical tyrosinase-related protein or TRP-2, an enzyme that protects pigmentation production, the company has said. The goal of the fruit extract pill is to prevent oxidative stress, a process that occurs when hair cells succumb to antioxidants and turn gray, L’Oreal officials say.
If you’re already fighting those coarse gray strands, the pill won’t help. According to L'Oreal, patients will have to take it every day for at least 10 years before hair starts turning gray and it will have to be taken for life — or until you decide to embrace the silver fox style.
However, most people don’t know when they’re going to go gray, especially not 10 years in advance, experts note. People can start turning gray anywhere from the mid-30s to their 40s. Some can begin to go prematurely gray in their early 20s. Then there are the lucky ones.
“There are some people who never go gray,” says Dr. Maria Colavincenzo, assistant professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “What’s the point of taking a pill 10 years before you need and take it forever if you’re never going to turn gray? “It’s probably going to be a long time before this is going to become a reality in this country.”
Still, given the expense and tedium of regularly hiding gray hair, there could be plenty of people who will want the medication, even if it means popping a pill for the rest of their lives, says Dr. Hillary Johnson, director of dermatologic surgery at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “Lots of men take Propecia tablets to prevent balding and they take that for the rest of their lives,” Johnson says. “They would have to be a highly-motivated group of people, but broadly, that motivation is going to be hard to come by.”
The dermatologists say there are a number of safety concerns with the drug.
“How is it going to affect the skin and the organs?” Colavincenzo wonders. “You can put anything in a capsule and market it as making your hair grow back and someone will buy it. I get upset about a vulnerable market — and people worried about going gray are going to go for this.”
“It would make me warn patients to be extra careful [about taking it],” Johnson says. “Anything for cosmetic purposes goes with extra caution because it’s not something a person has to have, and it’s not worth the risk.”