Although celebrities like Bruce Willis, Patrick Stewart and Sean Connery may be rocking the bald look, not everyone is at ease with a visible scalp. Yet genetics, illness, stress and drug side-effects may cause significant hair loss in men and women, whether you like it or not.
“The most common cause of hair loss is male-pattern baldness caused by the effects of a hormone (DHT) on the follicles. It causes a process of miniaturization whereby the follicle gets finer and finer until it eventually disappears,” says Dr. Richard Moore, medical director of The Lifestyle Center. He adds that men are not the only ones affected by this form of hair loss. “It’s estimated that more than 20 million women suffer from the same condition. There are a number of other causes of hair loss, including traction alopecia (pulling of the hair), thyroid disorders, medication induced and a few autoimmune causes.”
Regardless of cause, people who want to slow hair loss or regain a full head of hair have several options that go far beyond the ‘plug transplants’ of the past. One of the most common and simplest alternatives is the use of over-the-counter Rogaine or prescription Propecia.
Rogaine is a topical medication applied directly to the scalp, while Propecia is taken orally. Both medicines may have some side-effects and are not a solution for everyone. Other products for thickening hair and encouraging new growth exist, although Rogaine and Propecia are the only medications for hair loss currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
More involved solutions range from special ‘laser caps’ worn at home, to surgical hair transplantation. The best course of action involves analysis of the root—of the problem, that is. Lilibet Iken, a nurse and owner of be Salon, begins by examining the hair follicles under a powerful magnifying scope. “You’re looking for the viability of the hair follicle,” she says. Iken also inquires about the client’s medical conditions, medications and family history.
If Iken finds that hair continues to grow from the follicles but is thinner than it used to be, the client may be a candidate for cold laser hair restoration. “The cold lasers take thinning hair and thicken it up,” she says. This is accomplished by increasing blood flow to the follicle, resulting in thicker, fuller hair.
Those who have thick, existing hair shafts but hair that no longer grows from all the follicles need to consider other options, such as hair transplantation. "We perform a procedure to restore hair with the NeoGraft device,” Moore says. “This harvests individual follicles from the back of the head, which are then re-implanted into the areas of hair loss. These hairs are resistant to the effects of DHT and therefore more permanent.”
Comparing this technique to traditional hair transplants, Moore explains, "The process differs from the more traditional hair restoration process where a strip of skin is removed and the skin is pulled back together and sutured or stapled, resulting in a linear scar across the back of the head. Since we are removing individual follicles, rather than the strip of skin, healing is much faster with less pain and discomfort."
If none of these options appeals to you, modern ‘hair systems’ go far beyond the bad rug appearance of the toupees of yesteryear. Custom-made for the client, hair systems are now designed to be worn continuously for several weeks and treated exactly as natural hair. People who wear hair systems wash, dry and style the hair just as they would before, seeing specially trained technicians for removal and reapplication.
“Now the base of the hair system—what the actual hair is attached to—is so thin, it breathes,” Iken says. “It’s much more livable; it’s not like a bad wig. When somebody tips their head down, you can actually see their scalp and it looks like hair growing out of their head.”
So if the bald look just isn’t for you, take heart. No one needs to know that your hair was ever thin.