The Bald Truth
Updated: Jan 6, 2019
Fifty percent of men over 50 suffer from it. It's more common in white men than other ethnicities, and the UK has one of the highest rates in the world.
I am referring to male pattern baldness or androgenic alopecia. This scourge of the UK male can happen as early as your teenage years or you could be blessed not to be affected at all.
What causes androgenic alopecia? First, I'll dispell some myths. It is not inherited from your mother's father. It is genetic, but can be inherited from either parent. It is not related to hair products like gel. Lifting heavy weights or engaging in strenuous exercise does not predispose you to going bald. In fact, testosterone isn't linked to going bald, or at least not directly.
Androgenic alopecia is due to the effect of a metabolite of testosterone, called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT attaches itself to hair follicles and limits the amount of nutrients that the follicles receive. Gradually the hair follicle is weakened and the quality of the hair it produces deteriorates. In time the follice stops making hair. Not every hair follicle in the body is sensitive to DHT, in fact it mostly affects the follicles in the temple area and on the crown. This is why there is usually a pattern to male baldness, a U-shaped pattern of hair loss that we are all too familiar with.
For some people, DHT doesn't have this effect at all, and they maintain a full head of hair. However, for others they inherit specific genes, from either parent, which makes them susceptible to hair loss.
People spend over 1 billion pounds each year to treat male pattern baldness, and the industry is booming. But which treatments are worth the dough?
Full Head of Hair: The trick here is to maintain a healthy scalp. Look out for dry scalp conditions such as dandruff and treat them when they happen. Avoid really hot showers which are traumatic to skin everywhere. Excessively tight hairstyles such as cane/cornrows should be avoided. Eat a balanced diet, take a biotin supplement and get enough shut eye. Growth hormone levels peak at night, and you want to give your hair follicles the best chance.
Mild Thinning: If you have even the slightest inclination that your hair may be thinning, now is the time to act. This is one instance when prevention is better than cure. Once hair follicles have stopped producing hair, it is very unlikely that they will again. Catch them when they begin to deteriorate and there is a good chance you could boost them back into normal function.
There are two ways to do this, and both have substantial evidence to support them, not to mention FDA approval.
1. Finasteride: This tablet works by preventing the production of DHT, the hormone by-product that is responsible for weakening the hair follicle. Studies have shown that over 80% of men maintained or increased their hair count whilst taking the pill. Only 2% of people taking finaesteride report any side effects, but the side effects are no joke: reduced libido, difficulty mainitaing erections and mood changes. Finasteride is also used to treat enlarged prostates, but at five times the dose used to treat hair loss. It was during a trial of finasteride for prostate disease that its hair regrowth potential was discovered.
2. Minoxidil: commonly known as Rogaine. Minoxidil is a vasodilator, and whilst the exact mechanism for increasing hair growth isn't known, most scientists believe that increased blood flow to the scalp supplies the follicles with more nutrients and hence they make better quality hair. Minoxidil is applied to the scalp every day, and studies have shown a response in 40% of men who use it. Side effects include a dry itchy scalp and palpitations.
Significant Baldness: In cases when the hair loss is too advanced, or did not respond to medical treatments, a hair transplant should be considered. In Follicular Unit Transplantation, a surgeon harvests naturally occurring groups of 1-4 hair follicles, along with their sebaceous gland, blood supply and nerves. The surgeon takes these follicles from areas of the scalp that are not sensitive to DHT, so that once transplanted they are not susceptible to further hair loss. The new hair grows normally and can be cut and styled like native hair. Whilst giving excellent results, hair transplantation is expensive and time consuming, which means not everyone can access it.
For men that are happy to rock a buzz cut, there is scalp micropigmentation. In this procedure, hair follicles are tattooed on the scalp to give the appearance of a full head of hair, just cut very short. This may not be for everyone, but its less expensive than a hair transplant and as the ink does eventually fade, a man doesn't have to live with the look forever.
As ever, the march of science continues and there is a lot of research into other drugs and procedures to treat hair loss. Only one caught my eye: Hair cloning. The idea here is that follicle cells are extracted from areas of the scalp that are not balding, cloned and then the cloned hair follicles are transplanted into the balding scalp. Whilst research is still in the preliminary phase, in 2016, scientists in Japan successfully grew human skin on a mouse... skin that grew hair.
If you are worried about hair loss, contact us at Cosmetic Beauty Secrets for advice. Watch out for our next blog: Cosmetic Treatments for the Modern Man.