The bald truth: There is help out there for hair loss

If you take ac­tion quickly enough while hair fol­li­cles are still in­tact then it is pos­si­ble to re­grow hair

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Hair Loss - Maria McHale

As any­one who’s ever tried to clear the clogged bath or shower drain knows, we all lose our hair. Hair shed­ding is a part of ev­ery­day life and is to­tally nor­mal.

On av­er­age, we all lose around 80 strands a day, but if you’re los­ing sig­nif­i­cantly more than that, or you no­tice they aren’t grow­ing back, well, that’s when things start to get a bit wor­ry­ing.

Con­sul­tant der­ma­tol­o­gist Caitríona Ryan says most men, by the time they are 50, will have ex­pe­ri­enced some form of male pat­tern bald­ness or an­dro­genic alope­cia – hair loss that pri­mar­ily af­fects the top and front of the scalp.

“I think there’s this idea that men are not so both­ered about their hair com­pared to women, but that’s just not true. It’s a sig­nif­i­cant is­sue for men and is very psy­cho­log­i­cally dam­ag­ing for some of them and very dis­tress­ing.

“It’s re­ally im­por­tant that you tackle hair loss quickly. A lot of the time, men panic and sit it out but if we get in early enough while the hair fol­li­cle is still in­tact, then yes, it is pos­si­ble to re­grow the hair – or to im­prove the health of the ex­ist­ing thin­ner hairs.”

As a first port of call, Ryan sug­gests Mi­nox­i­dil, also known as Ro­gaine, which can be bought over the counter in phar­ma­cies. She says it works on the scalp to re­ac­ti­vate shrunken hair fol­li­cles and is “very ef­fec­tive if your hair fol­li­cles are still ac­tive”.

An­other pos­si­ble op­tion is the drug Fi­nas­teride, com­monly branded as Prope­cia, a pre­scrip­tion tablet taken once a day. It stops the body from con­vert­ing testos­terone into di­hy­drotestos­terone (DHT). While ex­act causes of male pat­tern bald­ness are still be­ing stud­ied, low­er­ing DHT lev­els has been proven to help. “A third of pa­tients main­tain the hair that they have on this drug, but be­ing proac­tive is key,” Ryan stresses.

Patches of hair

If you are los­ing patches of hair in an ap­par­ently ran­dom man­ner you may have alope­cia areata and, in ex­treme cases, this may af­fect all of the hair on your body. Alope­cia is thought to have hered­i­tary and au­toim­mune fac­tors (where the body mis­tak­enly at­tacks it­self).

Con­sul­tant der­ma­tol­o­gist Rose­mary Cole­man says at least one in three women will suf­fer from hair loss or re­duced hair vol­ume at some point, but that peo­ple with alope­cia areata need ex­pert med­i­cal help. “It is par­tic­u­larly dis­tress­ing to lose all your hair and it’s hard to even imag­ine it hap­pen­ing. It is a huge psy­cho­log­i­cal bur­den on pa­tients who just want to find the an­swer.”

Eilish Bairéad’s hair-loss started when she was 13-years-old. “I was in sec­ondary school and it was only ever small patches that started to fill in af­ter a while and I learned to cope and it al­ways went away.”

How­ever, three years ago it started again but this time it spread – she lost all her body hair and de­scribes feel­ing like “an alien”. “It was mad, peo­ple ask me if it was stress but I was in a great place – new job, new boyfriend (who she is mar­ry­ing at the end of this year) and I was very happy.”

“Who knew eye­lashes were so use­ful?” she says. On the up­side, she had su­per-soft skin but it was a very de­press­ing time for her. “I tried ev­ery­thing and that’s one of the big things to un­der­stand. It’s not one ap­proach for ev­ery­one. You have to find out what works for you.”

The 33-year-old is cur­rently be­ing treated with a JAK in­hibitor , a drug nor­mally used for bone mar­row con­di­tions which can re­verse the bald­ness caused by alope­cia.

“It is the worst place to be, but I was so lucky that I had a re­ally great beau­ti­cian who helped me with mi­crob­lad­ing [a make-up pro­ce­dure] for my eye­brows so that at least I looked more nor­mal. It’s re­ally hard to de­scribe look­ing in the mir­ror when you don’t have one bit of hair on your head or body but my der­ma­tol­o­gist Caitríona kept me go­ing’.

Newer ap­proaches

Bairéad ac­knowl­edges that she may have to come off the treat­ment if she wants to get preg­nant in the fu­ture, but, for now, she has a full head of hair.

In March, she went to a wed­ding with her boyfriend with­out a wig. “There’s just no awareness of the con­di­tion in Ire­land, it’s very lonely and iso­lat­ing, but I think there are more new drugs and treat­ments com­ing on to the mar­ket now, mak­ing it eas­ier to find op­tions you can use to get your hair back.”

Cole­man be­lieves th­ese newer ap­proaches have some merit but she cau­tions against “spend­ing thou­sands of eu­ros on shampoos and ‘fixes’ with­out ex­pert ad­vice”.

“We see peo­ple who have been suf­fer­ing for a very long time and in­creas­ingly there are treat­ments which can help peo­ple deal with dev­as­tat­ing hair loss.”

Cole­man has had suc­cess with platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections, which ini­tially were de­scribed in the press as “vam­pire fa­cials”, a skin treat­ment that uses your own blood to help get a youth­ful com­plex­ion. PRP is “a great treat­ment op­tion for hair loss be­cause it has a num­ber of sci­en­tif­i­cally-based ar­ti­cles show­ing its ef­fi­cacy in in­creas­ing hair count, hair thick­ness, and the growth phase of the hair cy­cle,” says Cole­man who ex­plains that the plasma con­tains growth fac­tors which help stim­u­late the ac­tiv­ity of the hair fol­li­cles and pro­mote new hair growth.

It is not the an­swer for ev­ery­one, she says.

“In­ves­ti­gat­ing the cause of hair loss is a process, it can be ex­tremely de­press­ing for peo­ple – for both men and women – their hair can be their crown­ing glory, so we are al­ways look­ing at how we can help this per­son re­gain their hair while be­ing re­al­is­tic about what we can change.”

I think there’s this idea that men are not so both­ered about their hair com­pared to women, but that’s just not true. It’s a sig­nif­i­cant is­sue for men and is very psy­cho­log­i­cally dam­ag­ing for some of them

PHO­TOGRAPHS: ISTOCK/GETTY IM­AGES

In­creas­ingly there are treat­ments which can help peo­ple deal with hair loss. Peo­ple who are los­ing patches of hair in an ap­par­ently ran­dom man­ner may have alope­cia areata (left).

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