BALD IS BEAU­TI­FUL

But if you dis­agree, help is here for a shiny mane

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It is a con­di­tion to which dif­fer­ent men have re­acted dif­fer­ently down the years – and not all of them with great grace.

Hair loss and bald­ing has re­sulted in some of the stranger per­sonal choices of the rich and fa­mous through the ages. For Bobby Charl­ton, the English foot­ball legend, the so­lu­tion was to grow his re­main­ing locks and comb them over his naked scalp – a look that couldn’t fool a spec­ta­tor sitting in row Z, let alone any­one else. Pop star El­ton John went for a ginger toupee to cover his dis­ap­pear­ing mane, while ac­tor John Tra­volta has sought so­lace in a trans­plant that is even less con­vinc­ing than his widely panned per­for­mance in Bat­tle­field Earth.

The re­ac­tion of Ro­man em­peror Julius Cae­sar, mean­while, was even more dras­tic: he gave him­self an ul­tra-short crew cut and is said to have con­sid­ered order­ing ev­ery man in Rome to do the same so he wouldn’t look out of place.

All these re­sponses are in­spired by one com­mon emo­tion: ut­ter de­spair at go­ing bald. And now, re­search ap­pears to prove what many men have long in­sisted on – that such de­spair is not just a vain over­re­ac­tion, but a real and des­per­ate psy­cho­log­i­cal sen­sa­tion to a con­di­tion, which, in many cases, is ir­re­versible.

A study car­ried out by Char­ité Univer­sitätsmedi­zin Ber­lin, a teach­ing hospi­tal, sug­gests that bald­ing, and the per­ceived loss of viril­ity and youth it is as­so­ci­ated with, reg­u­larly leads to de­pres­sion, stress and anx­i­ety. Be­cause it has been shown to re­duce feel­ings of self­worth, it has been linked to obe­sity and in­som­nia.

A sep­a­rate sur­vey by Hair­line In­ter­na­tional is said to have found mor­bid­ity rates in­crease by 14 per cent in men suf­fer­ing hair loss. All of which is par­tic­u­larly bad news for us in the UAE.

Hair loss rates in the coun­try are among the worst in the world, ac­cord­ing to a YouGov re­search. Around 67 per cent of men have ex­pe­ri­enced it, com­pared to an es­ti­mated 40 per cent world­wide.

Fac­tors in­clud­ing the harsh cli­mate, big city stress, poor di­ets as­so­ci­ated with ex­pat liv­ing and heavy high­way pol­lu­tion all cause ex­ces­sive hair shed­ding. Con­trary to the popular ur­ban myth, there is no ev­i­dence the wa­ter does.

‘I think it would be sen­sa­tion­al­ist to say this is a men­tal health time bomb,’ says Dr Michael Ryan, Dubai-based tri­chol­o­gist who works at the hair loss clinic Hair Spa Dubai. ‘But nei­ther should we un­der­play its sig­nif­i­cance. The med­i­cal in­dus­try had tended not to give cre­dence to the de­struc­tive psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact that los­ing hair has on men. That’s wrong. It may not be a life-threat­en­ing ill­ness, but the fact is that there are large num­bers of men in this coun­try whose self-es­teem, hap­pi­ness and well-be­ing are dev­as­tated be­cause of this con­di­tion. That should be a ma­jor con­cern for us as a so­ci­ety.’

If that’s a worry, how­ever, it leads to one dif­fi­cult ques­tion: given that a cure for hair loss re­mains largely the stuff of wish­ful

think­ing, is there re­ally any­thing that can ac­tu­ally be done?

Eight years ago, Omar* started los­ing his hair. At first, he no­ticed it com­ing out in the shower, then on his pil­low. He didn’t give it much thought un­til one day, while shav­ing, he turned slightly in front of the mir­ror and saw that his hair­line was no­tably thin­ning around his tem­ples. He was 21.

‘I know this will sound ridicu­lous, but it was like be­ing phys­i­cally hit by a train,’ he says. ‘I was reel­ing. I sat on the loo with a mir­ror, star­ing at my­self, hold­ing it in dif­fer­ent ways, try­ing to fig­ure out if it was a trick of light, but it was just un­mis­tak­able. It was thin­ning.’ The ini­tial shock didn’t wear off. ‘I spent two or three years para­noid that peo­ple could see my hair­line was re­ced­ing,’ he re­calls. ‘I felt like a lesser man be­cause of it. I felt in­fe­rior; like part of my fu­ture had been pulled away from me. You know, “for­get my 20s, I’m an old man al­ready”. And ev­ery time I thought, “OK, maybe this doesn’t look so bad”, it seemed to re­cede a lit­tle more.

‘When my friend first no­ticed it, I wanted to die. I sound melo­dra­matic, but I stopped go­ing out, my per­for­mance at work dipped, even my diet changed. I would just stay at home, com­fort eat­ing.’

Omar, an elec­tron­ics dis­trib­u­tor in Oud Metha, who is orig­i­nally from Al­ge­ria, is to­day rec­on­ciled to his fate. He wears his re­main­ing hair ul­tra-short and grew a trim beard to give him­self a kind of Hol­ly­wood hard man look.

‘I looked into all sorts of cures,’ he says. ‘I couldn’t af­ford a trans­plant and I wasn’t con­vinced it would work, but you name an old myth and I went for it. I toured half the in­de­pen­dent shops in Al Karama buy­ing var­i­ous lo­tions and po­tions, rubbed caf­feine on my scalp, ap­plied co­conut oil and even tried some pre­scrip­tion medicines.

‘Some­one told me I should hang up­side down to get more blood to my head, and I did that a cou­ple of times as well.’

One day, he was flick­ing through a mag­a­zine when he saw a pic­ture of Prince Wil­liam, who was clearly fac­ing his own fol­li­cle dif­fi­cul­ties, and some­thing clicked.

‘I re­mem­ber think­ing, “If the fu­ture king of Eng­land can’t stop hair loss, what chance do I have?’’’ re­calls Omar. ‘That made me re­alise I’d only stop wor­ry­ing when it was ac­tu­ally all gone. So I shaved it off. And that was it. I still wish ev­ery day I had hair, but what else can I do?’

Omar is far from alone in what he ex­pe­ri­enced. Ac­cord­ing to the YouGov re­search, some 35 per cent of men in the UAE who have lost

‘When we EX­PE­RI­ENCE bald­ing, even though our RA­TIO­NAL selves say that this does not CHANGE who we are, there’s a deep SENSE in our DNAs that this is our YOUTH and VI­TAL­ITY dis­ap­pear­ing’

hair say they ex­pe­ri­enced se­vere anx­i­ety or de­pres­sion as a re­sult. For those with hair who were ques­tioned, it is the num­ber one phys­i­cal con­di­tion they want to avoid.

‘In terms of evo­lu­tion, we have hair on our heads to at­tract a mate,’ says Dr Ryan. ‘When we ex­pe­ri­ence bald­ing, even though our ra­tio­nal selves say that this does not change who we are, there’s a deep sense in our DNAs that this is our youth and vi­tal­ity dis­ap­pear­ing.

‘Of course, it’s noth­ing of the sort. But that is pre­cisely what makes body dys­mor­phia is­sues so dif­fi­cult to re­solve: they’re not nec­es­sar­ily log­i­cal. The re­sult is a deeply painful and dis­turb­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tion.’

So, what can be done to mit­i­gate the ef­fects of bald­ing?

The an­swers are re­ally down to the in­di­vid­ual, and fall into two cat­e­gories: preven­tion where pos­si­ble, and ac­cep­tance where not.

The first thing to un­der­stand, how­ever, is that not all bald­ing is equal. There are two dis­tinct kinds of hair loss. The first is hair shed­ding, caused by ex­ter­nal con­di­tions such as a bad diet, stress, too lit­tle sun (and the vi­ta­min D it pro­vides), not enough sleep and en­vi­ron­men­tal changes like mov­ing to a new place. This is not only stop­pable, but rev­ersible too.

With shed­ding, sim­ply tweak­ing your lifestyle can work won­ders, says Dr Ryan. ‘Adding more pro­tein to your diet, get­ting more ex­er­cise, cut­ting out smok­ing and find­ing ways to re­duce ev­ery­day stress can all help to im­prove your hair’s thick­ness.’

Male pat­tern bald­ing, how­ever, is more dif­fi­cult to pre­vent. This is the sec­ond cat­e­gory of hair loss and it’s ge­netic, passed on through your mother’s side of the fam­ily. No amount of ex­ter­nal changes can stop it.

‘These are the peo­ple who, if they find it ap­pro­pri­ate, need med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion,’ says Dr Ryan.

This in­cludes pre­scrip­tion drugs such as fi­nas­teride (sold un­der the brand name Prope­cia) and mi­nox­i­dil (sold as Re­gaine), laser ther­apy and di­etary sup­ple­ments, which block the testos­terone DHT from caus­ing thin­ning. Yet none of these are fool-proof or per­fect.

Most hair loss preven­tion drugs have po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing side ef­fects such as loss of li­bido, while laser ther­apy re­mains some­what hit-and-miss. DHT block­ers have been shown to work in only 70 per cent of cases, and even then, its suc­cess is lim­ited.

More per­ti­nently, none of these treat­ments ac­tu­ally cure the prob­lem.

‘They just keep it at bay,’ Adam Pen­stein, one of New York’s most renowned der­ma­tol­o­gists,

says. ‘The mo­ment you stop ap­ply­ing them, you start los­ing hair again, some­times faster than be­fore.’

Trans­plants are an­other op­tion, es­pe­cially as prices con­tinue to be driven down.

Tech­niques and meth­ods vary but, broadly, such op­er­a­tions will ex­tract hair from the back of the head and then graft the strands, one by one, on to the bald patch. Cost de­pends on the skill of the sur­geon and the ex­tent of loss but, in Dubai, a good trans­plant will set you back be­tween Dh15,000 and Dh50,000.

‘Op­er­a­tions are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated and a vi­able op­tion,’ says Dr Ryan. ‘Of course, it’s up to the in­di­vid­ual, but I’d say, get the in­for­ma­tion, think about how you feel and con­sider this as a pos­si­bil­ity. You very rarely hear a guy say they are un­happy with the re­sults.’

But re­mem­ber that this is not a one-stop so­lu­tion. Once the trans­plant is done, the pa­tient needs to take hair loss preven­tion drugs for the rest of their life or the fol­li­cles will dis­ap­pear once again.

For those of us with­out that kind of cash to spare, or the will­ing­ness to use daily drugs, there’s one so­lu­tion. And it’s far eas­ier said than done. Ac­cep­tance. Find­ing a style that suits your hair­line is one way of slowly com­ing to terms with the con­di­tion. Stylists and on­line ad­vice can help. There are lit­er­ally thou­sands of cuts – the buzz, power dough­nut, the Cae­sar, et al – that give the im­pres­sion of more hair with­out hint­ing that you’re try­ing to cover any­thing up. Plus, a good sham­poo will thicken and vo­lu­mise what locks you do have.

Bear in mind that most men who suf­fer male pat­tern bald­ing take up to 15 years to lose their hair. It rarely hap­pens much quicker.

If that’s not enough, find sup­port. This is im­por­tant, says Dr Asim Shah­malak, the celebrity Bri­tish hair trans­plant sur­geon and broad­caster.

‘Psy­chotri­cho­log­i­cal dis­or­ders are ac­com­pa­nied by feel­ings of dis­fig­ure­ment, and de­pres­sive and anx­i­ety dis­or­ders in­clud­ing so­cial avoid­ance. There is no shame in seek­ing help for these feel­ings.’

Fam­ily, friends, life coun­sel­lors and even doc­tors can all as­sist. It’s what they are there for. Most im­por­tantly, though, keep in mind that you are far from alone.

Look around you. In the world of sport, movies or mu­sic, for ex­am­ple, thou­sands of men are all ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the same thing. Be­ing fol­li­cally chal­lenged never stopped Bruce Wil­lis, Win­ston Churchill, Michael Jor­dan, Sean Con­nery and mil­lions of oth­ers from achiev­ing great­ness and fame.

‘The key for me,’ says Omar, ‘was un­der­stand­ing that this is ab­so­lutely nat­u­ral. No one in the world judges you on the amount of hair you have on your head.’

If the fu­ture king of Eng­land has been un­able to re­verse a re­ced­ing hair­line, you’ve lit­tle choice but to ac­cept it

Bald­ing can never take the shine off your achieve­ments, as Sean Con­nery, Michael Jor­dan and Bruce Wil­lis prove

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