Men behaving baldly

Tomorrow the first Hair Grower of the Year awards will go to those who have successfully reversed hair loss. But a fresh thatch is a vain hope for most men, says Jojo Moyes
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The Independent Online
When Sean Lennoy discovered his wife was having an affair, a court heard last month, he decided to impose upon her lover the most humiliating punishment he could imagine. He held his rival down and rubbed Immac hair remover into his head.

Unfortunately for Mr Lennoy, his rival regrew stubble after four days. But the fact that this was held to be the ultimate embarrassment shows the degree to which hair loss among men is still seen as stigmatised.

In recognition, or perhaps in exploitation, of this tomorrow sees the first ever Hair Grower of the Year Award at the Savoy Hotel in London, where one of six finalists will receive a pounds 10,000 cheque for having "grown back the most hair on a previously bald head".

The competition, organised by the two-year-old Hair Growers Club, has monitored entrants worldwide in their year-long "race" to re-thatch their scalps without the aid of plastic surgery.

"There can be no doubt whatsoever that, for the majority of men, baldness is now an option and not an irrevocable problem," says Andy Bryant, author of The Baldness Cure and previously best known for undergoing a vasectomy without anaesthetic.

"We know how to grow back hair on bald heads," he says. "This is a bit like the Wright brothers with their first 59- second flight - it destroys the myth that it cannot be done, perpetuated by vested interests and people with closed minds."

Unfortunately, for the vast majority of those with thinning thatches, a 59-second flight with the Wright brothers is more likely than a return of their locks. One in three men between the ages of 20 and 40 will have noticeable hair thinning or bald patches and around eight million men in Britain are balding to some degree.

There are a number of causes, but the principal one is male pattern baldness, caused by an over-sensitivity to the male hormone testoterone. It is thought to have a genetic link, while stress, poor lifestyle and poor nutrition may also contribute.

There are more temporary forms of baldness, such as alopecia areata, a disease of the scalp in which baldness is patchy. This can develop into alopecia totalis, loss of all scalp hair.

Few men welcome the first sprinkling of hairs on their pillow, mostly, according to experts, because it is seen as an obvious sign of ageing. But the idea of baldness as a psychological disadvantage recently received scientific backing with a report in the British Journal of Psychology.

"Far from being a laughing matter, male hair loss is clearly associated with a marked decrease in psychological well-being," said the report, entitled Does Fortune Favour the Bald? It claimed bald men feel more depressed, are more unsociable and feel much less attractive. And the younger the man, the report said, the worse he felt.

This goes some way to explaining why the market for hair-loss products is flourishing, with worried men spending an estimated pounds 100m a year, despite widespread cynicism about the efficacy of such "cures".

Few have any degree of official backing. Minoxidil, sold under the brand name Regaine, is the only treatment to have satisfied the American FDA that it can be marketed as a drug that grows hair and licensed as a medicine by the British Medicines Control Agency. It claims to show an improvement in a third of all patients, but it has to be taken continuously or the scalp will quickly return to the stage of baldness that would have occurred anyway.

Less orthodox "cures" have included Baby Bio, Marmite and Balti curry mix - all to be rubbed into the scalp. (It has not been noted whether these also inadvertently provide an effective contraceptive.) And in between are a whole spectrum of "cures" that promise to increase circulation to the scalp, adjust the hair growth/loss cycle, regulate the sebaceous glands and stimulate the hair bulb.

According to a spokesman for the Hair Grower awards, the most popular method among the six finalists (only one of whom had succumbed to a transplant - on the only area of his scalp where hair no longer grew) was that of a lifestyle change encompassing a high water content diet, vitamin supplements, stress management - and inversion. Or hanging upside down.

This method, espoused by Andy Bryant's Natural Hair Products company, claimed to have achieved a 50 per cent re-growth for the ex-Labour MP Bryan Gould.

Hanging upside down apparently counter-acts the effects of "vaso-dilation" whereby blood vessels constrict through stress, eventually affecting circulation to the scalp, and cause hair loss. This may indeed have been the case, although Mr Gould admitted that the improvement in his hair could have been a "coincidence".

But not everyone is as satisfied by their "miracle cures". The Advertising Standards Authority says that complaints about hair loss treatment are on the increase. They are, however, still low - the authority says that many men do not like to complain because they tend to attribute the failure of treatment to themselves.

The levels to which men will go to avoid baldness is perhaps best exemplified by the available plastic surgery, the best known method of which is Micrografting. This is where hair is moved to areas where it will fall out, ie the temples and crown. A more extreme method is scalp reduction, where the central area of baldness is "cut out" and the edges of skin pulled together.

But no method shrieks of serious desperation more than tissue expansion. This involves the insertion of silicone balloons under the scalp, which are gently expanded over three months, the aim being to create extra hair- bearing skin, until the head ends up bulging. When the balloons are removed the bald area is cut out and the stretched skin stitched over it. An additional downside is the pounds 5,000 it will cost ... and the three months spent in hiding.

According to Sarah Cremer, style and grooming editor of Men's Health magazine, men's magazines have to be "very careful" when talking about hair products, for fear that desperate men will regard articles as an endorsement and rush out to try the products. But she believes men are getting better at coping with baldness, largely because of the increasing presence of high-profile role models.

"They're getting the hang of the fact that a scrape-over is not the way to do it, that it's much better to go short and stay short," Ms Cremer says. "I think people like Andre Agassi and Bruce Willis help because you have positive images of balding men who are seen to be very sexy. Someone like Sean Connery is balding and still incredibly sexy."

And that, apparently is the root of the problem. For the majority of men, a full head of hair is still inextricably bound up with the idea of youth, virility and ultimately attractiveness. Until those perceptions change, the market for scalp fertilisers of all sorts is likely to stay as buoyant as ever.

"It's ironic really in that most surveys show that women don't care if men are balding," says Ms Cremer. Much more likely to be a turn-off is the scrape-over, the spray-on hair in an aerosol, the badly fitting toupee, or worse - an awful, self-conscious obsession with hair loss. Learn to love your pate, says Ms Cremer, and be loved in return. "I think unless they're terribly disturbed by it men should just to do it gracefully, keep their hair very short and carry it off."

Keep your hair on:

five `cures'


Micrografting will not create a dense mane, but offers hope to the receding hairline. A strip of hair-bearing skin taken from the back of the head is divided into thousands of tiny plugs which are "replanted" into lasered holes. Within 25 days the transplanted hair falls out leaving the live follicle from which the final hair will grow two or three months later. The method works best with curly hair which conceals the scalp. Micrografts cost pounds 8 to pounds 10 each.

Scalp reduction

At between pounds 1,200 and pounds 1,500 the minimisation of extensive baldness comes at a high price, but scalp reduction boasts instant results. Usually carried out under a local anaesthetic, the central area of baldness is cut out and the edges of scalp drawn up and stitched together, immediately covering more of the head with hair. A drawback is an ugly scar which takes seven to 10 days to heal.

The curry miracle

A West Midlands builder was talked into rubbing curry on to his bald patch by a friend who made the cure out of Indian herbs. After a week of applying the mixture twice a day, Tim Deeley from Sedgley found tufts of blond hair sprouting where there had been none for 12 years. On a Radio 5 chat show one Welshman was so convinced of the miraculous qualities of a certain curry that he refused to make his secret public so that he could market it.

Take the tablets

Available over the counter, Regaine is the only drug to have shown potential for regrowth. Its manufacturers claim one-third of users can expect some results, while a lucky 8 per cent will enjoy "dense regrowth". However, regrown hair tends to be fluffy and will fall out if the treatment is stopped - a costly commitment at pounds 25.95 per month. An American scientific journal commented: "As a whole, the amount of hair regrowth is modest at best." .

Head over heels

The patient hangs from The Inverter for a few seconds each day as part of a pounds 360 programme that also includes lessons in stress management, diet and exercise. Increased supply of blood to the head and scalp is supposed to stimulate hair growth, as demonstrated by Bryan Gould who experienced new hair growth after three months of the head over heels treatment.Experts remain unconvinced.

Research by Anna Davies