Having a “good hair day”? Few of us can pass a mirror without having a quick glance to check. We’re choosy about who cuts our hair, picky about shampoos, conditioners, sprays and colorants, and devastated if we find extra strands coming out on the brush.
The average person has about 100,000 hairs on his or her head. Each hair should stay there for two to six years, growing about 1.25 centimeters per month. A resting phase follows in which a hair remains in place but does not lengthen.
After some time it falls out, amounting to about 50-100 hairs normally shed each day. If the system works properly, in about six months a new hair will appear in its place. But what if it does not?
General thinning or loss of hair (alopecia, in medical terminology) can be quite distressing. It can even signal an underlying illness such as hypothyroidism, especially in women, who are less affected than men by hereditary baldness.
Many women, however, are unnecessarily alarmed by excessive hair loss in the first few weeks after giving birth. Changes in hormones during pregnancy disrupt the growth/resting phase cycle of the hair follicles, often giving a woman great hair for several months before the baby arrives and then a thin and straggly look for two to six months after, especially if breast-feeding. No treatment is necessary.
There are many other non-hereditary causes of thinning or balding–stress (including illness or major surgery), iron or protein deficiency, fungal infection (ringworm), crash dieting, and medications such as chemotherapy drugs for cancer, “blood thinners,” antidepressants, and pills to reduce blood pressure. The patchy bald spots of alopecia areata may appear in one or two places on the scalp or over the body, including beard, eyelashes and eyebrows. Its cause is uncertain but it most often resolves spontaneously with complete regrowth of hair.
What most men REALLY dread is so-called “male pattern baldness,” or androgenic alopecia.
In this hereditary condition, hair loss is noticed first on both sides of the front of the head and on the crown. Women can also have “male” pattern baldness, although usually not until after menopause, when estrogen levels fall.
Since balding is often perceived as “the beginning of the end,” an irreversible slide into unattractive old age, there is a huge market for remedies. To date, however, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved only one drug for the treatment of male pattern baldness: minoxidil, now available over-the-counter as Rogaine in the United States and as Regaine in some other countries. (This is not to be confused with the tonic drink Regain sold in Japan.) No one is quite sure how Rogaine works, although it is known to dilate small blood vessels such as those in the scalp and may stimulate the hair follicles as well.
There are a few catches. Rogaine doesn’t work for everyone, the new growth of hair may be less dense than the original thatch and take many months to develop, and new hair is usually lost when treatment stops. Best results are found among people less than 50 years of age with small areas affected and whose balding began within the past five years.
Rogaine is available over the Internet from a number of sources. One is http://www.c-star.net. An alternative is to order from the Foreign Buyers’ Club here in Japan–call (078) 857-9001 or fax (078) 857-9005. You are only permitted to import up to a three-month supply of medication at one time, for personal use only.
Another drug attracting much attention but not available without prescription is finasteride (Propecia or Proscar). Finasteride blocks the conversion of testosterone to another androgen thought to control both prostatic hyperplasia and androgenic alopecia. Some studies show finasteride and minoxidil used together are more effective than either alone. However, if you or someone in your household is taking finasteride, use extreme caution.
If a pregnant woman handles crushed tablets–not to mention takes the medication itself–it may cause birth defects.
Hereditary “female pattern baldness” begins as early as 25-30 years of age. New hair becomes progressively finer, grows shorter, and may become transparent. It is first noticed where hair is parted and on top of the head, not as a receding hairline. Minoxidil may help some women.
Surgical treatments for bald spots include transplants, in which plugs of hair are taken from the “rich” areas of the scalp and given to the “poor,” and scalp reduction, or removing small areas of bald skin and stretching the remainder to fit. These treatments are expensive, usually not covered by insurance, can be painful, but may work. See TV ads or newspaper inserts.
Baldness remedies are right up there with arthritis cures and cellulite removers as big moneymaking scams. One U.S. company no longer in business offered “a permanent lifetime answer to baldness,” which turned out to be a hairpiece sewn to the scalp. Infection, scarring, pain, sutures that needed to be replaced–no miracle cure. Buyer beware!
Since “hair today, gone tomorrow” is a reality many of us will face, treat your tresses with tender loving care. Avoid excessive use of harsh products such as sprays, gels, bleach or dye, which can cause gradual thinning.
Frequent perming, heated rollers or irons, tight plaiting (braiding) and stripping color with peroxide or ammonia–bad ideas. Use a mild shampoo, taking a minute or two to massage the scalp. Condition lightly to make hair easier to comb, use a wide-toothed comb, and let hair dry naturally.
Eat plenty of wakame, konbu, hijiki and the other sea vegetables abundant in Japan and thought to promote hair growth. The B vitamin biotin found in saltwater fish, soybeans, whole grains and yeast may deter hair loss in some men.
Macrobiotics experts also recommend avoiding alcohol, sugar, chemical additives, large amounts of fried foods and red meat–sound advice for general health!