Health: I don't want to go bald ...

Male hair loss is not necessarily hereditary, or incurable. With luck, it may be reversed without surgery or expensive lotions, writes Simon Grey

It was the day before my 30th birthday that I realised I was losing my hair; or rather, my girlfriend did. We were watching EastEnders. I was on the settee. As she walked behind me she lovingly stroked the top of my head, and asked if I knew about the bald patch. It came as a shock: my self-image was that of an active young man who enjoyed working out and playing football with the guys. Something had to be done - and quickly.

My first call was to my GP. Rather embarrassed, I asked if there was any treatment for male hair loss. He made me feel as if I had asked a stupid question: "Hair loss is hereditary and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it, bar wearing a wig."

Undeterred, I tried a treatment that I'd seen advertised in the papers: a solution applied directly to the scalp. The first shock was the price: if used every day, as recommended, it costs about pounds 50 a month. The manufacturers state that you should apply it for at least nine months before expecting to see results. I applied it for a year, shelling out about pounds 600. My bald patch steadily grew.

I was getting desperate. My pathetic attempts at hiding the bald spot - combing the remaining hair sideways - were causing amusement at the office. My girlfriend's attempts at reassurance - she pointed out that Sean Connery was bald, and said it added to my character - were having the opposite effect. I decided to try contacting a hair clinic advertised in the back pages of a men's glossy.

The clinic oozed luxury: an immaculate receptionist, soothing Muzak, plush furniture, flowers everywhere. I was given a free consultation, in which the surgeon impressed upon me the wonderful results that could be obtained by "painless" surgery. He showed me a gruesome-looking piece of equipment that would be used to pull out hairs and follicles from the back of my head and replant them on the bald bit (the same piece of equipment would have made a welcoming hole in my scalp). My replanted hair would continue to grow as normal. When I asked him whether I would not simply be relocating the bald area, he seemed uncomfortable, but only briefly: he then explained that he would spread out the hair "plugs" or follicles evenly to minimise thinning. If I continued to lose my hair, further surgery would be required.

"What happens when I have no hair left to transplant? Won't I look a right pillock?" I asked innocently. "Not at all," was the crisp answer. "We can reduce the size of your scalp by cosmetic surgery and hence reduce the size of the bald area." This is effectively a face-lift: an area of skin is removed from the top of the scalp and the two sides are sewn back together. But I was 31 - I didn't want to start thinking about face- lifts. The cost for the initial treatment was pounds 3,000; further treatments could cost more. I retreated as politely as possible. I did not wish to spend several thousand pounds having my scalp relocated.

At this point, it struck me that although I had been trying for 18 months to reverse my hair loss, at no point had anyone actually bothered to establish what the cause of it was. Why do some men start balding in their early twenties, while others have full heads of hair in retirement? I remembered being told by a doctor that it was something to do with the genes; but wasn't there more to it than this? I decided to read up on the subject.

However, there was a problem: for the punter, there is almost nothing written about male hair loss. Despite the fact that 50 per cent of men are balding by their 40th birthday and many are depressed about it, it is extremely difficult to buy a decent book on the subject. Maybe this is because men don't buy books about their health.

I therefore began to do my own research into male hair loss in the hope that not only would I understand why I was losing my hair, I would also learn what treatments would be effective and be able to spot when I was being conned. I contacted doctors, hair clinics, hair-care manufacturers and several trichologists, and I read just about every specialist book on hair that has been written, almost all aimed at student hairdressers.

In the past two years I have discovered that although most male baldness is caused by hereditary factors, this is not always the case. There are many causes of hair loss, in men as well as women, and some are simple to treat. The reasons for my own were eventually explained to me by a trichologist: my diet (damaging my scalp); a habit of nervously twisting my hair (pulling it out); and poor hair care (rubbing in shampoo vigorously and rubbing my hair dry with a rough towel).

I started to watch my diet and treat my hair more gently (I bit my nails instead). After six months, my hair started to grow normally. I now have a full head of hair; not thick, but certainly covering the top of my head.

It is not always as simple as this - I was fortunate in that my hair loss was not hereditary. But as with any other condition, it is important to establish what the cause of the problem is before rushing into expensive treatmentsn

The writer's unpublished guide, `The Male Hair Loss Report', is available by mail order, pounds 14.95 inc p&p (from tomorrow, 01904 673944). The Institute of Trichologists (01625 862679) will provide a list of specialists in different areas.

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