The slow creep of hair loss as we age can be one of the scariest and humiliating events in a man’s life. So much emphasis is put on having a full head of healthy hair long into middle age—it’s seen as a measure of a virile man—that when it starts to go we panic, putting all sorts of strange goop on our scalp or having our head surgically excavated to relocate strong follicles to the bare spots.

New advances in getting to the root of hair loss have been coming every few months, and a recent study from the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA has found how to make the stem cells in hair follicles become active again and stimulate new hair growth. Researchers discovered that they could affect stem cell metabolism in mice hair by manipulating the compounds they need to thrive, in this case increasing levels of a metabolite called lactate, which causes hair to grow faster.

"Before this, no one knew that increasing or decreasing the lactate would have an effect on hair follicle stem cells," said study co-author William Lowry, Ph.D., a professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology at UCLA. "Once we saw how altering lactate production in the mice influenced hair growth, it led us to look for potential drugs that could be applied to the skin and have the same effect."

The authors also say that the study gave them more insights into novel ways to turn on stem cells. "The idea of using drugs to stimulate hair growth through hair follicle stem cells is very promising given how many millions of people, both men and women, deal with hair loss,” said co-author Aimee Flores, a predoctoral trainee at UCLA. “I think we've only just begun to understand the critical role metabolism plays in hair growth and stem cells in general."