Before I start ranting about this and that, here's the take-home message. Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), the now-famous hair-growth chemical which is all over the headlines is not some miracle compound that magically causes hair to sprout from your head. The headlines are a bit hyperbolic. Here's USA Today:
In fact, the miracle chemical is not acting like a chemical at all. It's much more like a "glue," which holds hair-producing skin cells together in a matrix that allows them to do their job. More on that later. Now, the rant.
OK, let's get this out of the way first. We are all hypocrites.
Women who flock to Whole Foods to buy "chemical-free" produce stop on the way home to get their foreheads injected with botulinum toxin, the most poisonous chemical on earth. And guys, you pretend not to be vain, but you aren't fooling anyone. You're just a bunch of phonies. Just admit it. We would cheerfully join Al Qaeda if it meant keeping a full head of hair (1,2).
Women are free to make peace with their own chemical demons (3), but maybe we guys might have a better option. Of course, it will still require admitting that we are vain hypocrites, but why become a terrorist when you can just eat McDonald's fries instead? Those bad boys aren't half bad either.
Think about it. If we aging men could become less hideous-looking simply by eating fries, there's a game changer! Men are especially vulnerable here since we tend to let ourselves go as time goes by, while at the same time, desperately clinging to any glimmer of hope that females will still find us in any way desirable (Figure 1). If we have a head of hair (4).
Figure 1. Men's diligence in caring for their appearance as a function of age.
Alas, it's not so simple, guys. Eating a bunch of Mickey D fries will make you more hideous looking, not less. You sure won't grow hair and your already grotesque pot belly will continue its relentless expansion. There is absolutely no way that consuming polydimethylsiloxane will make you grow hair. Zero.
It can't possibly do so, which becomes obvious should you care to wade through one seriously technical paper by Japanese researchers. Since trying to read it will make your hair fall out - counterproductive by any measure - your hirsute author has done this for you.
First, what is polydimethylsiloxane (Figure 2) and what does it do?
Figure 2. Polydimethylsiloxanes, a class of silicone oils (black box) - polymers of dimethylsilanol groups (red box), which is made by reacting dichlorodimehtylsilane (blue box) with water. The lower case n refers to the number of repeating dimethylsilanol units. When n is a low number, the product is a pourable liquid. When n is a high number PDMS is a rubbery solid, e.g., Silly Putty. PDMS has high stability and low toxicity, which is why it has been used in medications, food, cosmetics, and breast implants. (5)
On the other hand, its chemical precursor, dichlorodimethylsilane is neither safe nor stable:
Materials safety data sheet warnings about dichlorodimethylsilane. Thanks, but no thanks.
Other facts about polydimethylsiloxane:
- It's not something you're going to find in a carrot. Try an automobile. It's in brake fluid. And it has many other industrial uses. It exists nowhere in nature.
- When PDMS is mixed with silicon dioxide (ground up sand) it is called dimethicone. Dimethicone is an anti-gas component of Maalox.
- PDMS and Maalox work because of their anti-foaming properties. They keep bubbles from forming or break up bubbles that have already formed by destabilizing the bubble surface.
- This is also why MacDonald's uses it. It also stops cooking oil from bubbling and splattering.
- But, most importantly, the PDMS don't really "do" anything.
- True. The PDMS only provides a matrix on which certain cells can grow.
- The function of the PDMS is essentially a sophisticated "adhesive," which holds hair producing cells together and provides them with enough oxygen to grow. It is the physical, not the chemical properties of PDMS which do the trick.
Here's a little bit about how the process works.
- Skin cells, which are derived from mouse embryos, are put into non-adhesive microwells containing a cell growth medium plus polydimethylsiloxane.
- Under these conditions, clumps of hair follicle germ cells grow and coalesce into a blob (6).
- The clumps migrate to the outside of the blob where they can be removed.
- Then they get transplanted into nude mice. (7,8)
- Hair grows on the mice.
Hair growth in nude mice from implanted PDMS-treated hair follicle germ cells Photo: J.Biomaterials 2017.10.056
Will this work in people? Many potential drugs have met their maker on the long path from the back of a nude mouse to the pharmacy. But this one does make sense, provided that human follicle producing cells can be grown in large quantities and will take in your scalp.
In the meantime, guys, hold the fries and hit the salad bar. No sense in making yourselves look any worse.
(1) Due to a superior genetic makeup, this author has nothing to worry about.
(2) Bald guys, I don't want to hear it. No, you are NOT comfortable in your own skin. You're f#######ing bald.
(3) This is a lie. If this stuff works, it should work just as well for female baldness.
(4) Women, I don't want to hear it from you either. "It's the person, not the looks." PUHHHHLEEEEAZE. Standard (but patently false) verbiage from online dating sites. Well, it's a load of crap. Baldness is roughly equivalent to leprosy on dating sites.
(5) Polydimethylsiloxane is one type of silicone oil. The stuff that was used in breast implant and allegedly caused autoimmune disease in women when the implants ruptured. It did not. American Council trustee Dr. Jack Fisher, a retired surgeon, wrote a book about how science was woefully distorted at the expense of Dow Corning. See "Silicone On Trial: Bastardization Of Justice."
(6) "Blob" is not technically correct. Since I've already exhausted my knowledge of materials science it will have to do.
(7) Nude mice are bred to have missing or defective thymus glands. This is why they do not have a functioning immune system. a strain of mouse, a common breed which is used in cancer research, etc. because it has no immune system. This enables tumors, other foreign tissue, etc. to be injected into the mouse without generating an immune response (implant rejection).
(8) Ask an oncology researcher about nude mice as models for cancer and you'll get more or less the same answer: "If nude mice were people cancer would have been cured long ago."