Baldness in women may be more common that it seems. Most men make no attempt to hide their baldness, because they know that plenty of others will keep them company. Balding women are likely to feel more embarrassed, and hide their problem under a wig.
Nevertheless, baldness is rarer among women that among men, where it is caused principally by the male sex hormones, androgen’s, of which female bodies produce little. If women become bald, it is usually through disease, such as psoriasis, the use of chemotherapy to treat cancer, from severe stress.
Hair loss may occur on ceasing to take contraceptive pills. Anaemia and lack of iron, due possibly to menstruation, also can have a severe effect on hair fall out to leave the scalp bare. Even in severe hair loss, which sometimes occurs after the menopause, the more usual pattern is an all-over thinning, again making the problem less noticeable to others.
Why do some men go bald?
‘Grass doesn’t grow on busy streets,’ is the common reply of bald men to taunts about their shining pates. But despite claims that baldness results from too much thinking of from tight hats, dandruff, a dry scalp or an oily one, the naked truth is that most bald men can blame only one cause – heredity.
Find a bald man and you won’t need to look far in the family photo album to find the source of his baldness. Sometimes the affliction skips a generation or two, but usually the condition is evident on one or other side of the family.
The average scalp produces some 100,000 hairs, each sprouting from a follicle supplied with nutrients as its bulblike base. At any time, five out of six follicles grow hairs; the sixth is at rest. When a hair reaches maturity – shoulder length or longer, if left uncut – its follicle becomes dormant and the hair shed. The average head loses about 100 hairs a day.
A man showing signs of male-pattern baldness, the kind due to heredity, sheds no more hair than anybody else: his dormant follicles become permanently and irreversibly inactive. Some drugs, and diseases such as shingles, psoriasis and ringworm, may cause, may cause excessive hair loss, but growth resumes when the basic problem is cured. This is not the case with male-pattern baldness.
The process may start as early as the teen, but usually begins in a man’s mid-twenties, when the hair follicles produced excessive amounts of the enzyme, 5-alpha reeducates. The male hormone, testosterone, the balding man’s major foe. Under its spell, some follicles wither, producing thinner hairs and then just fine vellus, a kind of fuzz. Other follicles stop work for ever.
Centuries ago the link was discovered between male potency and hair loss. Aristotle and Hippocrates observed that eunuchs didn’t go bald. And the castrati singers of seventeenth – and eighteenth – century opera – males castrated to prevent their voices breaking in adolescence – kept full heads of hair. Indeed, for the truly desperate, castration is the most effective way to ward off baldness. The notion persists that bald men are superbly virile, and idea that some are keen to perpetuate but which has no basis in fact.
Is ther hope that baldness can be cured? Indeed, there is. One method – more camouflage than cure – is by hair transplant or ‘punch graft’. tufts or plugs of hair from healthy fringe are surgically grafted into the wide open spaces. The average bald head needs about 250 plugs. New hair, sprouting from the crown, covers areas from which the plugs are taken. Another method, similar in style, is known as scalp reduction. Skin covering the crown is replaced by that from the hair-covered sides and neck.
New drugs also offer promise – at a price. A few years ago, 70 percent of patients taking minoxidil, a drug that combats high blood pressure, reported a growth of new hair. The drug company, spotting a rich potential market, adapted minoxidil for external use. The treatment, however, is for younger men, whose baldness is recent – and it’s a lifetime process. Stop using minoxidil and fall-out process.
More recently, thirty-two men tested an experimental drug, cyoctol, at the University of California, Los Angeles. After a year, they had 12 percent more hair. Without affecting a man’s sexuality, the drug appears to be block certain male sex hormones from interaction with hair-follicle cells.