There is one aesthetic affliction that cuts to the core of all grown men – hair loss that has the power to elicit responses ranging from steadfast denial to a televangelist-style comb-over. But acceptance is increasingly inconceivable in a world where there are so many viable options to tackle follicular shortcomings.
It doesn’t take a psychotherapist to see why hair loss can break a man. For centuries, a full head of hair has been a symbol of masculinity, an expression of youth, strength and virility. For many men, hair loss is emasculating, a brutal blow to their self-esteem, a depressing reminder that time is passing.
This seems doubly cruel considering that balding strikes 25 per cent of men in their 20s. Some 40 per cent will have noticeable loss by age 35, according to a study by the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery, which also found that 47 per cent of men said they would “spend their life savings to regain a full head of hair”.
Non-invasive solutions run the gamut from plausible to preposterous. There are bulking shampoos and supplements, Travolta toupees and cosmetic camouflage, low-level lasers designed to jump start follicles, and innumerable snake oils. Market researchers Mintel report that the anti-hair-loss claim accounted for 13 per cent of new product launches in 2013, up 4 per cent on 2012.
Effective medications that slow the shedding process, such as finasteride (Propecia) or minxoidil (contained in Regaine), aren’t much help if chronic loss has already taken place. And the very idea of a strengthening shampoo is a laughable proposal for a man faced with male pattern baldness, a condition caused by dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone that ruthlessly interferes with follicular activity. Transplants, therefore, are the only real option.
“Before, people used to laugh about transplants,” says surgeon Dr Bessam Farjo. “These days they’re taken seriously because people understand how natural the results are.”
He attributes the boom in interest in celebrities, said to have benefited from hair transplants, such as footballer Wayne Rooney, former X Factor judge Louis Walsh and actor James Nesbitt, who apparently turned to follicular unit extraction (FUE), a minimally invasive procedure that yields dramatic results in a relatively short time with no shaving, scarring or redness – a quantum leap when compared to the dodgy plugs of yesteryear.
The procedure involves the extraction of individual hairs from a donor area, such as the back of the head. The grafts are then implanted one by one into balding areas, where they grow naturally over the following months. It is a painstakingly laborious process that requires a certain amount of artistry, not to mention patience, on the part of the surgeon.
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This story was featured in today’s edition of The Times.