Generation and suppression of singlet oxygen in hair by photosensitization of melanin

Free Radic Biol Med. 2011 Sep 15;51(6):1195-202. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2011.06.013. Epub 2011 Jun 15.


We have studied the spectroscopic properties of hair (white, blond, red, brown, and black) under illumination with visible light, giving special emphasis to the photoinduced generation of singlet oxygen ((1)O(2)). Irradiation of hair shafts (λ(ex)>400 nm) changed their properties by degrading the melanin. Formation of C3 hydroperoxides in the melanin indol groups was proven by (1)H NMR. After 532-nm excitation, all hair shafts presented the characteristic (1)O(2) emission (λ(em)=1270 nm), whose intensity varied inversely with the melanin content. (1)O(2) lifetime was also shown to vary with hair type, being five times shorter in black hair than in blond hair, indicating the role of melanin as a (1)O(2) suppressor. Lifetime ranged from tenths of a nanosecond to a few microseconds, which is much shorter than the lifetime expected for (1)O(2) in the solvents in which the hair shafts were suspended, indicating that (1)O(2) is generated and suppressed inside the hair structure. Both eumelanin and pheomelanin were shown to produce and to suppress (1)O(2), with similar efficiencies. The higher amount of (1)O(2) generated in blond hair and its longer lifetime is compatible with the stronger damage that light exposure causes in blond hair. We propose a model to explain the formation and suppression of (1)O(2) in hair by photosensitization of melanin with visible light and the deleterious effects that an excess of visible light may cause in hair and skin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Hair / chemistry
  • Hair / metabolism
  • Hair / pathology
  • Hair / radiation effects*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / chemistry
  • Light / adverse effects*
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Melanins / chemistry
  • Melanins / metabolism*
  • Photosensitivity Disorders
  • Proteolysis* / radiation effects
  • Singlet Oxygen / chemistry
  • Singlet Oxygen / metabolism*


  • Melanins
  • pheomelanin
  • eumelanin
  • Singlet Oxygen
  • Hydrogen Peroxide