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This article is from the In-Depth Report The Science of Beauty

Green hair bleach?

The new blond is bound to be green—that is if chemists at a Japanese beauty company have their way. New research, presented today at the American Chemical Society meeting in Salt Lake City, has uncovered an enzyme that can remove dark pigment from hair.

The bold beauty work, led by Kenzo Koike, a researcher at the Kao Corporation in Tokyo, aims to take some of the bite out of bleaching, which is accomplished these days by using harsh hydrogen peroxide to break down the dark pigment melanin. The possible alternative should be easier on the environment, the body and the hair, Koike noted in a statement.

But beauty buffs beware, the find is très natural: it's actually an enzyme from a kind of "white rot" fungus known as Basidiomycete ceriporiopsis found in forest soil. And it can't quite fly solo. The enzyme still needs a bit of peroxide to do its job, but the quantities promise to be far less than what's in most bleaches now. But eco- and health-conscious bottle blonds shouldn't hold their breath (except perhaps to dampen that stinky bleach smell)—a consumer version of the stuff is still likely a ways off. Koike and his team are planning more tests to better understand just how the enzyme works—and make sure it's as safe as it seems.

Update from Scientific American's Davide Castelvecchi in Salt Lake City (6:30 p.m. EST): Producing enough of the enzyme to road test it on hair—or do safety tests on humans—has been a challenge, Koike said at a press conference in Salt Lake City today. Harvesting it from the fungus, "we could get just one milligram of it," he said. The team isolated the gene that codes for the enzyme, and tried inserting it into Escherichia coli, an oft-used bacterial protein factory, but that didn't do much good. Koike said his team is looking for the right bug. "That is our next target."

Image courtesy of whiteafrican via Flickr

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