The Bald Truth
Male hair for the most part sits on a pretty wide spectrum. Some guys roll out of bed, get dressed, and give less than a second’s notice before leaving the house while others use enough products, tools and grooming time to make a Kardashian blush. But on whatever side of the scale your comb is perched, its no secret that men like their hair. Although for some men the topic of hair is a contentious one and is often met with looks of anguish and despair given that much like the contents of your bank account there never seems to be enough and every day it seems to get less and less.
At the age of 16 my awkward puberty of pimples, lanky limbs, terrible music and Ed Hardy clothing (don't judge me, it was the early 2000's) was met with an incredibly unforeseen and unforgiving guest, Male Pattern Baldness(MPB). MPB describes the continuous thinning, receding and eventual elimination of male hair around the temples and crown of the head. Like any sane, reasonable thinking individual met with this type of news I completely freaked out and began pounding my keyboard for any time of cure or remedy.
Now, brace yourself because here's two hard truths about this condition.
1 There is no known cure. The reason for this is that male pattern baldness differs greatly from other forms of hairloss such as alopecia. Alopecia is a type of hairloss in which hair falls out due to non-hereditary factors such as deficiency in diet, exposure to certain chemicals and radiation and illness. Male pattern baldness on the other hand is genetic and is no more 'curable' than the colour of your eyes or the shape of your head. This type of baldness is caused (and I am speaking completely in layman's terms) by hormones in the body called DHT(dihydrotesterone).
Now DHT has both a good and bad side( much like contents of a Quality Street packet) on one hand DHT is absolutely tantamount to most male characteristics such as the deepening of the voice, the growing of all body hair(except head hair) and for the growth and development of male sexual health throughout their lives. However DHT’s ugly side manifests in its ability to cause the thinning and eventual loss of head hair in roughly 1 in 4 males. DHT creates a oily deposit on the scalp that essentially smothers the hair follicles causing them to thin and fall from the follicle.Eventually once the follicle is essentially bare the DHT will
form an oily layer over the follicle, forbidding any future hair growth. This is why blading and/or bald men have a sort of glossy shine on their heads. Now there are no doubt men out there who shrug their shoulders and say, “so what?” . These are the guys that rock the Bruce Willis look, shave their heads or indeed go bald with grace and ease. To those men, I salute your confidence and coolness. But to the rest of us who secretly( or maybe not so secretly) let out a shriek of abject terror imagining a life without hair, don’t worry, it’s perfectly understandable.
Various studies have found that men without the male pattern baldness gene( or at least with a full head of hair) were found to be significantly more confident and happy. On the converse men with the gene cited their hairloss as their most focal issue, saying, for the most part that it robbed them of their self-esteem, forced them to suffer a lowered self image and made them feel less attractive or likeable.
If during the reading of this article you began scratching your scalp in dismay or thought of a friend or significant other suffering from deforestation around the head, keep reading and don’t worry there are solutions to this problem. For the rest of you, get off your computer and stand in a wooded glen and let the wind gently caress your beautiful, genetically superior mane, you beautiful, lucky stallion.
Now although there is no penultimate cure, there is a way that this problem is able to be controlled to allow you to maintain the hair you still have but more importantly there is a way to grow the hair back that you lost!
Who to Approach
The top three things that companies seem to make make money off of in the medical(or indeed pseudo-medical field) are the following 1. Acne 2. Weight loss
The reason for this is that most people are close to levels of desperation to alleviate these issues and as a result are willing to pay hand over fist for anything that may offer relief. Now although this is an opportunity for well to do businesses and medical practitioners to help people while
also make a profit it is also the worst kind of bait for fraudsters and con men alike.
I myself, in my frantic effort to find help in anyway managed to drink enough snake oil to leave more than a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Here are some tips to avoid the scams.
Now although I’d like to publicly name and shame the companies who are out right conning people, intellectual property laws are pretty darn strict in South Africa and a multi-million Rand civil suits are hardly worth it for an honest blog. Instead I will try my hand at some subtle descriptions of red flags to avoid.Basically if you see it on billboards or hear about it on the radio or if the name reads along the lines of it being a ‘hair studio’ or ‘clinic’ avoid them like the plague.
If their ‘studio’ or ‘clinic’ claims to grow back hair by the miracle of laser therapy. Save yourself the time and money and simply go home and shine a torch on your head on your head for 30 minutes because thats exactly what you’re getting for the whopping +/-R16 000 upfront payment they’ll no doubt ask for.
These clinics and studios (for lack of a better word) are fly-by-night smash and grab artists capitalising on an untapped market fuelled by people’s insecurity. The shake-down goes a little like this. The first step is a free consultation in which a person who is not an qualified
doctor( but some how managed to wrangle a lab coat) will tell you what you already know. You’re going bald and pretty soon you’ll be completely bald. Any normal person in this position would cling to the very idea that there may be a cure and sign over the deposit without a second’s notice. Especially since most of the walls of the office are littered with pictures of celebrities (South African and international alike) in startling before and after pictures claiming to have used the clinic.
Following this is a payment you will get free monthly medication and roughly 4x laser hair sessions a week for 6 months. The medication is essentially a tub of 30 pills that might as well be saw dust and a green goop shampoo and serum cited as having “hair thickening properties”. By now you must be asking yourself, who in their right mind would fall for this stuff? Surely someone would notice in the first month that its all a hoax? Well here’s the thing.
Amongst the free medication they give you( which has all the medicinal substance of a bag of salt and vinegar chips) there is one singular diamond in the rough, a chemical solution known as ‘minoxidil’. Minoxidil is a clear liquid that has shown to aid in the rewowth of new hair from hair follicles once ravaged by DHT and thicken existing hair. It has furthermore earned FDA approval. The minoxidil causes new hair to grow which would make anyone at the clinic believe that the miracle of hair growth is happening right on their very skull and the looming life of baldness has become a distant memory, right? Wrong.
Minoxidil may be able to help new hair grow and allow old hair to thicken but it does nothing to stop the effects of DHT from continuing to attack the hair follicles and cause the baldness cycle to start over. Essentially with minxodil you are borrowing hair for as as long as you use it, and in the case of these ‘clinics’ as long as you are willing to fork out exhorbeftent amounts of money for 6 month trials. Although there is a further safety net for these clinics who’s customers are claiming to be ‘unresponsive to treatment’. It’s called a ‘hair lace’ which is a non- surgical fitment of fine material resembling hair on the person’s head. It looks very real and apart from a few fitment dates is permanent but at the end of the day it’s simply a glorified toupe. As you can guess this Donald Trump-esque doily is not cheap and can only be fitted by a trained stylist.
Beyond the seedy clinics however men are bombarded with products in every pharmacy worth its salt claiming to be a hair growth shampoo or the ‘be all and end all cure to baldness’. Save yourself the disappointment and save yourself the money. They don’t work plain and simple.
At this point you might be wondering, what the hell am I still reading this for? This article promised me a solution to my problem and instead I’m reading a very poorly written rambling by some prophet of doom? For that I apologise, but good news is on the way.
In May of last year I had exhausted every possible avenue and was already contemplating how buff I would have to get so that my impending bald make over would make me look more like Vin Diesel and less like Ewan Mcgreggor in Transpotting. In a last stitch effort I decided to run my usual google search of ‘balding treatment,
Johannesburg’ and found link that I had often seen but never clicked on. The site in question was Dr Kevin Alexander’s hairloss clinic. Dr Alexander is a qualified physician who’s speciality and interest is vested in hair growth mostly regarding female alopecia and male pattern baldness. With an attitude of “what the hell do I have to lose?” I decided to give his practice a call, and it is possibly one of the best decisions I have ever made.
The fact that Dr Alexander was a real doctor came with the normal medical snag, a hefty consultation fee. The consultation usually takes place with one or two other men due to the congestion of his waiting list. In the consultation your type and nature of baldness is explained to you in elaborate detail and aided with graphics and scans. Furthermore Dr Alex is a straight shooter and gives you the exact nature of treatment necessary, its expense and how long you can expect to see results. He cited me as a ‘common case’ of MPB and that my treatment could be solved by taking three medications( there are more accessories medications such as shampoos, conditioners and gels) that he described as the ‘bare necessities of hair regrowth’, which on a student budget is all you’ll need. He said I could expect to see the first signs of growth in 3 months and that I’d see greater yields within 6 months. He of course added a disclaimer that there were ‘no guarantees in this game, although 98% of his patients had a high success rate’. This gave me bitter-sweet comfort as it completely contrast the blowhard sales tactics of the other snake-oil sellers.
The first of these medications is Finesteride, which comes in its generic pill form as ‘Finpecia’ at R200 for 28 pills or its more upmarket and widely known relative ‘Propecia’ at R350 for 28 pills. Finesteride is the magic chemical that the ‘competitor’ hair clinics intentionally miss in order to turn a profit. This due to Finesteride being a hormone blocker which blocks DHT from reaching the scalp to cause break down to the hair follicles. So while minoxidil grows hair back, Finesteride allows you to keep the hair that you grow back, so long a you keep taking the pill. Which is far more practical than continuously ‘renting out’ new hair follicles for massive amounts of money.
Furthermore the ‘competitor clinics’ may aid in the growing back of hair, but only from limited follicles on the scalp as their treatments do not aid in the break down of DHT on the scalp. Essentially it is throwing
hundreds of seeds into one part of the soil because the rest of the soil is not fertile. The answer to this problem is ‘Solution B’(R250 for a 28 day supply) ,a liquid applied directly to the scalp with a needless syringe and then gently dabbed and rubbed on. Solution B aids in the breaking down of the layer of DHT on your hair follicles, thus increasing surface area where hair can grow. This assures that the all familiar Minoxidil(R400 for a 28 day supply) is able to sew new hairs into the once dormant follicles.
Already skeptical of paying more money for something that may not work, I vowed this would be my final attempt at curbing my shiny headed monster and if it failed I would graciously go bald with the dignity of Professor X.
At first the process of applying the medication in its precise dosage at it’s precise time was tricky but the process has since become second nature to me. I The first month did not give me the results I wanted and in the first 5 weeks my hair actually thinned out even more! Horrified I was ready to slingshot my bottle son minoxidil into the side of his office but was assured that this was ‘part of the process’ and regarded my DHT levels initially rebelling against the new medication, and it would soon subside. Skeptical but still hopeful I continued.
Over the next few months my hair had thickened up somewhat, but in my opinion it was definitely nothing to write home about and eventually I started to accept that I simply had to be grateful that ‘I still had hair’. Sometimes, however it takes someone else to show you the truth behind things you have long since become desensitised to. I walked into my 6 month consultation and was astounded and Dr Alex was pleased. On the screen in his office he displayed a series of pictures. They were examination shots of my scalp from May 2015 to October of that same year. The pictures were meant to catalogue and display the growth of my hair over this period as a result of the medication. And I was speechless as my hairline was almost completely unrecognisable. Needless to say Dr Alex had earned my trust and I picked up my medication on the way out of my consultation, as I do and will continue to do every month.
It’s no secret that body dysmorphia is far from over and in my mind i still have a long way to go before I have a hairline that I’m well and truly
satisfied with, but I’m leagues away from where I once was and am beyond grateful that I’ve been able to retain my hair.
The giant bushy, gelled up mess on my scalp is more than just a collection of cell matter arranged in a tawdry attempt at Morrisey’s quiff( but rather resembles a porcupine fighting with a disgruntled pot scourer). It’s my personality. My character. My confidence and my aesthetic peace of mind. And although I speak in a string of hyperboles stating the opposite, it really wouldn’t be the end of the world if I did lose my hair, but given that there is a way to stop this, why not take it?
The people who know of my treatments usually vocalise their concerns as it being ‘time consuming and expensive’. Sure. I can’t argue with that. But in the same way that you take 5 minutes out of your day to brush your teeth with tooth paste to avoid them rotting and falling out, I spend 10 minutes a day applying gunk onto my hair to avoid it falling out. Sure my stuff is a little more expensive and lacks a minty fresh fragrance but its important enough to me to pursue it.
More importantly the thought of losing my hair has taught me to appreciate it a lot more. Like any normal guy prior to my ailment washing my hair consisted of water and whatever runny soapy liquid someone had left in a bottle in the shower for me to use. Now it’s helped me
understand what shampoos I should be using and why and the importance of conditioning and hair masques( just kidding about the last one, I still don’t use them and still don’t know what it is to be honest). Styling has also become something of an adventure (where before it was simply a gelled catastrophe) and after 23 years of being on this earth I finally bought a comb and hair-dryer and more importantly know how to use it( sort of).
I wrote this piece for my fellow brethren with the elusive and unfeeling recessive gene that causes them to look in the mirror with dismay thinking as though there’s no option to stop it. Well you can and if it means as much to you as it does to me, I say go for it. If not step outside and sport your dome with pride, you’re a braver man than I am and I salute you for that.
Thanks for letting me ramble.
Find out more about Dr Kevin Alexander at:
or contact the Clinic Tel:011 450 4400