Hair and Skin Health

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Tom Dawson

Tom Dawson earned his Bachelor’s in Chemistry from West Virginia University in 1986, a Ph.D. in Pharmacology from the University of North Carolina in 1994 and was a Clinical Medical Genetics Fellow in Pediatrics at the Duke University Medical Center 1994-96.  While at UNC Tom identified and patented a novel proto-oncogene, merTK, which is involved in normal retinal function and myloid development.  At Duke, Tom worked with Dr. Y-T Chen on metabolic disease, and was a member of the team that developed Myozyme, a treatment for Glycogen Storage Disease Type II, Pompe Disease.  

From 1998-2015 Tom worked in Procter & Gamble’s Beauty Technology Division, understanding and intervening in hair and scalp disorders including dandruff, male pattern baldness, and age-related hair thinning. 

The dandruff investigations led to Malassezia fungi and included identification of the dandruff causal species (M. globosa and M. restricta), an undiscovered pathogenic mechanism, novel intervention strategies, multiple publications and patents, and a technology currently in market in H&S.  Tom leads a global consortium on Malassezia phylogeny, physiology, and pathogenesis. 

The hair and follicle work led to a novel treatment for age-related women’s hair thinning leveraging increasing hair shaft diameter.  The novel approach of working on hair diameter resulted in multiple publications and patents, as well as a successful new cosmetic product currently in global markets (at >100 million USD/year).  In 2013 Tom relocated from Cincinnati to Singapore to lead development of P&G’s life sciences in the new Singapore Technical Center, SgIC.

In April of 2015 Tom joined the Institute of Medical Biology, A*STAR to develop and lead a translational program in hair and scalp biology, focusing on

  1. understanding how hair shaft is created and how to intervene in hair shaft formation in order to improve hair properties and
  2. the cutaneous eukaryotic microbiome and its effects on normal and abnormal skin, with an emphasis on Malassezia and lipidomics.

Key Achievements:

2015:  Session Chair, “Structure, Biology & Hair Curl, Color & Luster” at the World Congress of Hair Research, Miami Fla, USA.
2013: Platform speaker, “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow” 22nd World Congress of Dermatology, Seoul, KR
2012:  Launch of “Pantene Expert Series” Anti-aging hair treatment, with >$100 million USD/year NOS.
2012-present: Member North American Hair Research Society (2012)
2008: Keynote, 200th Ann. of Netherlands Royal Acad. of Sci., Utrecht, NL, “Human scalp and hair health – an eight year collaboration between KNAW-CBS and P&G reveals the role of a human skin commensal”.
2010:  Addition of new technology discovered by Dr Dawsons team into Head & Shoulders, currently in market.
2006: Invited speaker, European Hair Research Society, London, UK.  Scalp Microflora Throughout Life:  How Physiology Affects Microbes, Which Affect Physiology.
2004-present: Adjunct Assistant Professor of the Miami University (Ohio) Department of Botany
2004: Keynote, Korean Academy of Dermatology, Seoul, KR.  Etiology and Treatment of Dandruff
2002-present: Adjunct Member American Academy of Dermatology
2002 P&G “John Smale” award recipient as P&G’s top technologist.


The Human Hair and Commensal Mycobiome groups works on 2 distinct fronts, both of which continue Dr. Dawson’s previous interests:

  1. The human cutaneous mycobiome, its role in skin health, and development of interventions to improve human skin health; and
  2. Human hair follicle metabolism – understanding energy production in the human hair follicle and developing intervention strategies to improve hair growth, especially associated with normal aging (as opposed to male pattern baldness).

Commensal Mycobiome

There is significant scientific and industrial interest in human-associated micro-organisms, the “human microbiome”, with it being listed by the World Economic Forum among the “Top 10 Emerging Technologies - 2014”. Furthermore, the skin microbiome is increasingly implicated in many common diseases, with global costs estimated as >$20 Billion USD. Understanding the skin microbiome represents both a chance to improve human health and a compelling economic opportunity. 

To date, limitations of sampling skin and the genetic complexity of eukaryotes (including fungi) have limited human microbiome investigations primarily to gut and bacteria, leaving skin eukaryotes poorly understood. This crucial knowledge gap needs addressed, as fungi have key roles in common skin conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis (likely Malassezia) and diaper rash (Candida). Importantly, skin fungi metabolize lipids and considerable data implicate lipids in skin homeostasis and disease.  

From the above, we hypothesize:

  • The human cutaneous fungal community (mycobiome) impacts skin health and disease.
  • Lipids (oxylipins) are the “language” of skin/mycobiome interactions.
  • An “optimally healthy” skin mycobiome exists.

We therefore aim to define the human cutaneous eukaryotic microbiome (mycobiome), compare it in health/disease, and understand skin/mycobiome interactions. We are building a “healthy” baseline map to compare to “unhealthy” states. 

The hair follicle and aging

The vast majority of existing hair research is focused on regulation of the hair cycle in balding men utilizing animal, especially murine, models.  Hence, human hair follicle metabolism and physiology remain poorly understood. Previous work including ours proves in principle that biological intervention in anagen hair follicles is capable of beneficially changing hair growth. 

We are building a comprehensive program investigating anagen hair follicles with the intent to define and validate intervention points to improve hair follicle metabolism.  One of our key internal collaborators is AgResearch NZ, who are also interested in hair biogenesis but for agricultural (ovine) use.  Ovine follicles are the most representative of the human hair long anagen cycle.   We are using these hair follicle models to define follicle metabolism and synthesis of the hair shaft.




Group Members

Research Fellows Li Hao (MEL)
  Lim Yi Shan
  Simon Denil
Postgraduate Student Goh Joleen
Research Officers Antony Sagayaraj Irudayaswamy

Lemasters JJ, Ramshesh VK, Lovelace GL, Lim J, Wright GD, Harland D, Dawson TL Jr. Compartmentation of Mitochondrial and Oxidative Metabolism in Growing Hair Follicles: A Ring of Fire. J Invest Dermatol. 2017 Jul;137(7):1434-1444. doi:10.1016/j.jid.2017.02.983 Link
Wu G, Zhao H, Li C, Rajapakse MP, Wong WC, Xu J, Saunders CW, Reeder NL, Reilman RA, Scheynius A, Sun S, Billmyre BR, Li W, Averette AF, Mieczkowski P, Heitman J, Theelen B, Schröder MS, De Sessions PF, Butler G, Maurer-Stroh S, Boekhout T, Nagarajan N, Dawson TL Jr. Genus-Wide Comparative Genomics of Malassezia Delineates Its Phylogeny, Physiology, and Niche Adaptation on HumanSkin. PLoS Genet. 2015 Nov 5;11(11):e1005614. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1005614. Link
Lewallen R, Francis S, Fisher B, Richards J, Li J, Dawson T, Swett K, McMichael A. Hair care practices and structural evaluation of scalp and hair shaft parameters in African American and Caucasian women. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2015 Sep;14(3):216-23. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12157. Link
White TC, Findley K, Dawson TL Jr, Scheynius A, Boekhout T, Cuomo CA, Xu J, Saunders CW. Fungi on the skin: dermatophytes and Malassezia. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2014 Aug 1;4(8). pii: a019802. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a019802. Link
Gioti A, Nystedt B, Li W, Xu J, Andersson A, Averette AF, Münch K, Wang X, Kappauf C, Kingsbury JM, Kraak B, Walker LA, Johansson HJ, Holm T, Lehtiö J, Stajich JE, Mieczkowski P, Kahmann R, Kennell JC, Cardenas ME, Lundeberg J, Saunders CW, Boekhout T, Dawson TL, Munro CA, de Groot PW, Butler G, Heitman J, Scheynius A. Genomic insights into the atopic eczema-associated skin commensal yeast Malassezia sympodialis. MBio. 2013 Jan 22;4(1):e00572-12. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00572-12. Link
Robbins C, Mirmirani P, Messenger AG, Birch MP, Youngquist RS, Tamura M, Filloon T, Luo F, Dawson TL Jr. What women want - quantifying the perception of hair amount: an analysis of hair diameter and density changes with age in caucasian women. Br J Dermatol. 2012 Aug;167(2):324-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2012.11010.x. Link
Davis MG, Thomas JH, van de Velde S, Boissy Y, Dawson TL Jr, Iveson R, Sutton K. A novel cosmetic approach to treat thinning hair. Br J Dermatol. 2011 Dec;165 Suppl 3:24-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2011.10633.x. Link
Sinclair R, Patel M, Dawson TL Jr, Yazdabadi A, Yip L, Perez A, Rufaut NW. Hair loss in women: medical and cosmetic approaches to increase scalp hair fullness. Br J Dermatol. 2011 Dec;165 Suppl 3:12-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2011.10630.x. Link
Xu J, Saunders CW, Hu P, Grant RA, Boekhout T, Kuramae EE, Kronstad JW, Deangelis YM, Reeder NL, Johnstone KR, Leland M, Fieno AM, Begley WM, Sun Y, Lacey MP, Chaudhary T, Keough T, Chu L, Sears R, Yuan B, Dawson TL Jr. Dandruff-associated Malassezia genomes reveal convergent and divergent virulence traits shared with plant and human fungal pathogens. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Nov 20;104(47):18730-5. Link
Dawson TL Jr. Malassezia globosa and restricta: breakthrough understanding of the etiology and treatment of dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis through whole-genome analysis. J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc. 2007 Dec;12(2):15-9. Link
DeAngelis YM, Saunders CW, Johnstone KR, Reeder NL, Coleman CG, Kaczvinsky JR Jr, Gale C, Walter R, Mekel M, Lacey MP, Keough TW, Fieno A, Grant RA, Begley B, Sun Y, Fuentes G, Youngquist RS, Xu J, Dawson TL Jr. Isolation and expression of a Malassezia globosa lipase gene, LIP1. J Invest Dermatol. 2007 Sep;127(9):2138-46. Link