Researchers develop a simple, green process to extract keratin and melanin from human hair

The way we style our hair can be a powerful tool for self-expression, from bold updos to intricate braids and vibrant colors. But hair is more than just a reflection of our personality – it also contains compounds that could potentially be used in a variety of products, such as bandages and sunscreens. However, current methods of extracting these compounds involve harsh chemicals and generate a lot of waste, which is not ideal for sustainability.

To address this issue, a group of researchers recently developed a new, more environmentally-friendly method for extracting both keratin and melanin from human hair. Keratin is a protein found in hair, as well as in other structures like nails, feathers, and horns, while melanin is a pigment that gives hair its color and also provides protection against UV light.

The researchers collected hair samples from local salons and then washed and sliced them into small pieces. They then mixed the hair with an ionic liquid, which broke apart the hydrogen bonds holding the keratin proteins together. When the mixture was heated and poured into a hydrochloric acid solution, the melanin pigments precipitated out and were collected. The keratin proteins were then collected using a process called dialysis. The ionic liquid was recycled and used again in subsequent reactions.

The recovered keratin was found to be compatible with blood, suggesting that it could be used in hemostatic bandages. The melanin maintained its natural structure during the extraction process, which is important for its antioxidative and UV-shielding properties. As a result, the researchers believe that it could be used in sun-protective products and films.

Overall, this new method could provide a more sustainable and efficient way to extract useful biopolymers from discarded hair.

Source: American Chemical Society

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