Update: March 2022 — Related new study from Junji Fukuda titled “Electrical stimulation to human dermal papilla cells for hair regeneration”.
Update: April 2021 — South Korean scientists find that micro-current stimulation can promote hair growth.
No matter how many years I research hair loss, virtually every month still brings a major surprise. The latest eyebrow-raising story concerns electricity stimulating hair growth, and comes to us from UW Madison.
Baseball Cap to Zap your Scalp and Stop Hair Loss
Yesterday, an article in Futurism discussed a new baseball cap invention that mildly electrocutes your scalp and leads to hair growth. Moreover, the cap is powered by small head movements from whoever is wearing it. i.e., no battery or electricity needed. Of course I initially laughed off this whole concept. However, upon further examination, there is some logic to this story.
The scientist who made this invention is Dr. Xudong Wang from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He leads the nanoscience and nanotechnology group at this university. His lab has done an especially large amount of work in the bioelectronic and energy harvesting sectors. This particular invention makes use of something called the triboelectric effect.
In this particular cap, small nanogenerators passively gather energy from day-to-day body movements. These nanogenerators then transmit low-frequency pulses of electricity to the scalp skin. This electric stimulation and electrostatic field causes dormant (or telogen) hair follicles to wake up.
Note that there are already battery powered devices such as the Hairmax laser combs for hair loss on the market.
Dr. Wang is a world leading expert in the design of energy-harvesting devices. Among the inventions that his lab is most famous for include electric bandages that stimulate wound healing; and a weight loss implant that uses electricity to trick the brain into thinking that the stomach is full.
Note that this work was only proven in mice, and supposedly in one human (Dr. Wang’s father). The cap will not regrow hair in completely bald men, but it may regrow recently lost hair as in the case of Mr. Wang’s lucky father.
This work was published in ACS Nano. It was also covered in New Scientist magazine and Science Daily, all fairly reputable magazines as far as I can tell. Dr. Wang’s team aims to conduct human clinical trials in the near future.
Prior Work on Electricity and Hair Growth
Moreover, all the way back in 1990, Canadian scientists discovered that they can help restore thinning hair by stimulating the scalps of balding men with a pulsed electrical field. The lead research was a Dr. Stuart Maddin. Their theory on how this works was that:
The turning on and off of the electrical stimulus at the electrodes causes the alternate polarising and depolarising of the (root and follicle) cell. This opens electrically sensitive calcium channels in the cell membrane, allowing calcium and other positively charged ions to enter the cell where they will stimulate the production of DNA and, from there, protein (and hair) synthesis.
Interestingly, reader “bw” found the following page on an electrical scalp stimulator for hair follicle regrowth. The article cites Dr. Maddin’s work.
This phenomenon of electrical stimulation of scalp for hair growth is known as electrotrichogenesis (ETG).