Cell biologist Desmond Tobin spends his days harvesting organs from cosmetic surgery patients. But Tobin is not after kidneys or other vital parts. Instead he collects swatches of skin removed from behind the ear during face-lift procedures. Crucially for Tobin, the skin samples contain the miniature organs, known as follicles, that produce hair.

At the Center for Skin Sciences at the University of Bradford in England, Tobin carefully extracts the follicles and uses them to replicate human hair growth in a petri dish.

With the harvested follicles, investigators such as James V. (“Vince”) Gruber, global director of research and development at Lonza Consumer Care, can test the effectiveness of new hair and skin products without relying on laboratory animals. Gruber explained his work at the annual meeting of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists last December.

Two different molecules show promise for potential hair-loss treatments, Gruber said. A yeast peptide appears to reverse senescence—when follicle cells linger in a dormant state and cease to replicate. And an antioxidant called an isoflavone increases collagen and elastin concentrations, which strengthen the skin matrix holding the follicles in place.

Tobin and Gruber have thus far focused on hair that has been chemically forced into senescence. The next step is to determine if follicles naturally heading toward dormancy could be persuaded to return to an active state.