By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
The health dangers using hair dye year after year has driven many a woman to just let it all go gray. That has to be the reason that over 5 million people have watched the youtube re-run of the Rachel Ray Show where a doctor guest used potato skins to turn a woman hair from gray to its natural color.
At least that's what I hoped to see when I watched the show. But that's not what I saw. Try as I might to see a real change in the woman's hair color from gray to natural, I just didn't see it. All I saw was that the strands of hair that used to be gray looked just wet after they were painted with the brown potato skin soup.
Oh well, it must be my eyes, right? So I searched around for other convincing before-and-after pictures showing a change of gray hair into natural color after using potato skins: No luck. Again, lots of wet hair but no color change in sight.
All of which is the reason I started to take a closer look at the science behind this phenomenon of using potato skins to reverse gray hair. After looking closely at the science, it became clear that the doctor on Rachel Ray and the others on youtube have been making a simple mistake in how they are using the potato skins which could explain why they're not getting convincing results.
But first, let's look at how the Rachel Ray doctor prepared the potato skin concoction and what the actual science says about this natural cure for gray hair.
How the Potato Skins Were Prepared on Rachel Ray
The doctor assembled what appeared to be ordinary brown-skinned potatoes peels in a beeker. These were pre-measured. He then added the beaker to hot water and boiled the potato skins, then let them col down of course before painting the potato skin soup on the woman's gray hair.
This is the same way potato skins are prepared for gray hair reversal in several other youtube videos.
Potato Skins Are Rich in Catalase
Catalase is an enzyme that our bodies use to reduce hydrogen peroxide to water and oxygen. Catalase is extraordinarily effective. A single molecule of catalase can breakdown 5.6 million molecules of hydrogen peroxide.
We care about catalase's ability to breakdown hydrogen peroxide because our bodies naturally produce hydrogen peroxide as a by-product of many different chemical reactions. For example, even Vitamin C produces hydrogen peroxide as it s consumed by your body.
Hydrogen peroxide is a bleach. In some areas of your body, it helps to rid the body of germs. But hydrogen peroxide in other areas, such as near your hair follicles, actually turns your hair gray. You turn gray because the hydrogen peroxide bleaches your hair follicles from the inside out, scientists from the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom learned in 2009.
Adding more catalase to your hair should reduce the hydrogen peroxide present and keep you from turning gray, in theory. Eating foods rich in catalase can help. But it takes time and the pathway to your hair roots is indirect because the catalase you eat will be used to neutralize hydrogen peroxide throughout your body, rather than just on your head.
Applying catalase directly to the scalp would have a better chance of working for reasons having to do with the hair growth and coloration cycle. Your head contains between 100,000 and 150,000 strands of hair. Your hair growth cycle has three stages:
Each individual hair is at different stages of the growth cycle. Some are near the end of the androgen phase; others are maybe 1 year along or 3 years along.
When a new hair starts to grow, melanocyte cells color the hair by donating melanin to the hair cortex which starts at the root and runs up the middle of the hair shaft. There are two types of melanin: eumelanin which makes your hair black or brown and pheomelanin which turns the hair red or blond. There are no other colors to start with. The reason some of us end up with shades of brown or auburn is that the mix of the two basic melanin paints if different.
Until you are in your late thirties (or forties if you are of African or Caribbean descent or early thirties if you are Asian), the melanocyte cells work fine. Then, as you age, you begin to run low on catalase. As a result, when the melanocyte on the surface of your scalp get ready to donate melanin, the melanin is bleached by the presence of too much hydrogen peroxide. So instead of donating brown color to the cortex, the melanocyte donates a clear pigment which shows up as gray hair.
The Right Way to Do The Potato Skin Treatment to Reverse Gray Hair
Catalase is present in potato skins: Numerous studies have proven that by just adding hydrogen peroxide to a beeker of potato skins. Immediately, the concoction starts to bubble up; signalling the occurrence of a chemical reaction in which catalase breaks down the hydrogen peroxide into water molecules and oxygen. I did the experiment at home using 3% hydrogen peroxide solution and confirmed that potato peels do in fact have catalase.
But here's the tricky part. Catalase disappears at high temperatures. Heating a potato up to about 55 degrees Celsius destroys Catalase's ability to breakdown hydrogen peroxide.
In fact, catalase starts to lose its ability to break down hydrogen peroxide at around 30 degrees Celsius.
When you boil a potato skin, as the doctor on Rachel Ray did, you destroy the effectiveness of the catalase.
That's why those experiments just don't work.
Here is the right way to use potato skins to reverse gray hair. Put the potato peels in a bender or juicer or mash them up annually in a pest and mortar.
Once you have created a paste or a juice of the cold potato skins, then apply it directly to your scalp. Masse it in. Wrap your head in cellophane and leave it in for at least an hour.
This technique will not turn all your strands back to their original color all at once because, as we've seen, hair strands are at different stages of the growth cycle. But it will help to turn them back to their natural color in many cases over time.