A bald appeal to male vanity

When the narcissistic Nineties man starts to lose his hair he is an easy target for wonder cures.

F ifteen years ago, Mark Hamilton, 35, stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror and realised that it was time to face facts: he was going bald. "It was the worst time in my life," he recalls. "I remember standing frozen in horror. I stared and stared trying not to believe I could see so much scalp between a few lank fronds of hair. Then it was the moment of having to swallow and accept it."

Accept it he did. At first, it was hard to concede that his long black locks, a la Keith Richards in serious Seventies pompadour-mode, would never return. "It took me three to four years of acute self-consciousness before I could resolve it.There's nothing you can do to change it - in a way it's the first intimation of your mortality."

Mark was wise not to go down the path of miracle hair-loss cures that begins in the classified section of newspapers and, increasingly, men's magazines including FHM, Maxim, Men's Health and GQ, and ends with an overdraft and an even greater sense of failure.

Last week businessman Derek Tubb was taken to task by the Office of Fair Trading for the controversial claims of his book, The Natural Cure To Baldness (pounds 19.99).

Despite receiving complaints from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), Mr Tubb's company, Quest Hair Research Ltd, had continued to publish misleading advertisements in various national newspapers - including this one. John Bridgeman, director-general of the OFT said, "Claims made for the book and the formula left consumers in no doubt that they would provide a cure for baldness."

The book suggests a series of exercises to increase blood circulation, along with some illuminating tips such as standing on your shoulders for a short period each day. Due to gravity, it explains, it's a constant battle for blood to fight its way upwards and so the scalp is left undernourished. If his logic were to be followed to its natural conclusion, our feet, not our heads, would be covered in hair.

According to Bill Lennon, spokesman for the ASA, consumer complaints about hair-loss treatments are relatively few but definitely on the increase - 25 last year compared to 18 in 1993. "A low level of complaints doesn't mean there's not a problem," he says. "With these products people tend to attribute failure to themselves."

Mr Tubb, who also sells a hair-loss lotion, Restore, pounds 19.99 for a month's supply, is convinced - naturally - that blood supply is the solution. He discovered his hair was receding at the age of 22 which is when his experiments began. Now 35 and still hairy where it counts, Tubb assures me that he practises what he preaches. "I'm not qualified or nothing - not in the medical sense - but I don't think that matters."

Glenn Lyons, a consultant trichologist, would disagree: "These people are giving false hope to thousands of men and I just think it's wrong." According to Mr Lyons, certain genes are responsible for hair loss as well as "androgens", male sex hormones. "Baldness is irreversible," he says.

"I'm involved in controlling the effects of the male hormone on hair. We use a topical lotion on the scalp called anti-androgen therapy. We're interested in slowing the process down. It's the best treatment - within limitations." Mr Lyons is adamant that the circulation theory is "a load of nonsense". "If a gentleman superficially cuts his head, he bleeds profusely - so there's enough blood up there to start with."

Entrepreneurs such as Derek Tubb and the trichology industry itself rely on the assumption that bald is undesirable - a no-no to the opposite sex.

Mark's narrow escape from hair loss products is partly due to the shift in male identity. Fifteen years ago, grooming and self-image were for women only. But today, self-image is second nature to the narcissistic Nineties male. With grooming comes vanity. With vanity, anxiety and the incumbent pressures to achieve a healthier, sexier and youthful look. And that must mean hair.

Which is why the widening range of supposed hair-loss cures is flourishing. An estimated pounds 100m plus a year is spent on hair-loss products in the UK, according to the trichologist Philip Kingsley.

"Hair-loss problems? They can cause loss of self-confidence," announces the Neo-Clinic ad. "We have a lotion treatment five times more effective than standard solutions!" - prices on demand. "Combat hair loss," proclaims Nourkrin, which sells itself as "a remarkable new food supplement which helps to feed dormant or weakly growing hair roots with specific nutrients" - pounds 44.95 for a month's supply.

Alternatively, there is "natural hair replacement therapy" using the latest micrograft transplantation techniques - at approximately pounds 2,000 a go.

Derek Tubb's public reprimand may sound the death knoll for extravagant cure claims. Indeed, advertisers may even be one step behind the times: the follicularly-challenged are about to come into their own. "The most important thing is to come out and say, 'I'm a balding bloke and I'm proud of it'," says Mark Hamilton. "What a lot of men do, as I've done, is to crop what's left very short."

Mark's look, as well as his attitude, may soon become de rigueur. Steve Stone, 24, the Nottingham Forest and England footballer, is a positive role model. "Steve getting into the team was wonderful," enthuses Mark, "it was the first time we've had a baldie player since Bobby Charlton."

Meanwhile Bill Dunn, GQ's style editor, is running a feature in a few months' time advising readers how best to shave their heads. "Baldness can be sexy," he says. "Bruce Willis made a bit of a statement for men losing their hair by shaving his off. It fitted in with Pulp Fiction and now he's carried it on. I think that's the way to go." The message is, if you haven't got it, flaunt it.

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