Oxygen free radicals play a role in the aging process, and the protective effect of various antioxidants has been intensively studied, in particular for cutaneous aging. Besides hereditary factors, free radical–mediated damage to melanocytes of the hair follicle has been considered as a mechanism for aging of the hair. It was the aim of this study to evaluate the role of photosensitization reactions for hair graying and to demonstrate potential protective effects of superoxide dismutase (SOD). Mice with black hair were depilated with the fingertips on a surface of 6 × 2.5 cm on both sides of the dorsum. The right side received five applications of a SOD-containing gel before exposure to psoralen (concentration 0.5 mg/mL) plus UV-A (365 nm, 4 J/cm2). The left side was pretreated in the same way with a gel free of SOD. When the hair started growing again, the SOD-protected side was covered with black hair, whereas the hair on the vehicle-treated side was gray or white in 27 of the 30 animals studied. The 0.01% SOD concentration was as protective as the 0.1% concentration. Heat-inactivated SOD, applied in another five animals, was not protective. Using fluorescent labeling of the SOD with fluorescein isothiocyanate, epifluorescence microscopy and digital imaging processing, we show that SOD applied to the skin surface penetrates through the follicular appendages, as well as through the unbroken stratum corneum. Our findings suggest that superoxide radicals, generated by interaction of UV-A light with the sensitizer, initiated the formation of secondary products with well-known DNA-damaging effects, such as lipid peroxidation products and tumor necrosis factor alpha. SOD prevented the damage to melanocyte DNA by dismutating superoxide. Photosensitization may be another mechanism for hair graying, which can be influenced by antioxidants. Given the large number of exogenous and endogenous sensitizers, this mechanism deserves further study for human hair graying.
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Vol. 80 • No. 3