Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hair, Give Me a Head of Hair

h, let us count the 50 ways to lose your hair. There's androgenetic alopecia (pattern baldness), traction alopecia (evil minded hairdressers), telogen effluvium (physiological trauma like meds, chemo, stress, illness), and alopecia areata (an autoimmune disease) just to name the top ones.

Male and female pattern baldness is based on genetic background (thanks, Mom and Dad) and refers to progressive loss in predictable stages over predictable areas of the scalp. For men it can start in late puberty and peaks about age 40; for women the onset is at menopause. It accounts for about 95% of all pattern hair loss in both men and women. Mid-frontal hair loss increases with longevity; by age 80 over half of all women and 73% of men are affected. If you are wondering about the other stats, the average head of hair contains 100,000 hair follicles, while each follicle can sprout about 20 individual hairs. A healthy head of hair might lose 100 strands a day. Length comes 1.25cm a month.

There's a reason we associate bald-headed men with sexiness. In the primate world frontal balding conveys male status and maturity. A powerful sex hormone (DHT, the metabolite of testosterone) triggers the hair loss through folicular miniaturization and it takes a certain amount of confidence and bravado to just shave off what's left. Think Samuel Jackson, Patrick Stewart, Telly Savalas, Sean Connery, Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, Vin Diesel, Ben Kingsley, Bruce Willis, Andre Agassi. Not a wimp among them.

Some clinical treatments for male pattern baldness exist, primarily finasteride (Rx Propecia) and topically applied monoxidil (OTC Rogaine). It works for most, but only if taken daily for eternity. The balding Olympic skeleton slider Zach Lund dropped his drawers and tested positive for fenasteride, netting a yearlong suspension and missing the 2006 games in Turin, Italy. In 2004 it had been added to the list of banned drugs in international sports because in tests it masks detection of cheater-drugs like the steroid nandrolone.

Hair replacement systems are widespread. Of course, there's always the wig, though we dignify it for men with a more elegant word: toupee (from the French toupet meaning hair tuft). These small wigs or hair pieces have been used since ancient times. The earliest known one was found in a tomb in Egypt circa 3200 BC. Julius Caesar wore one. True to form, only dead Hollywood men admit to wearing them: Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, George Burns, Bing Crosby, Bobby Darin, Fred MacMurray, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne.

"I'm amazed by how often people ask me whether or not I wear a hairpiece, a wig, or a rug, as it is affectionately known."

And there are newer alternatives. Lord Xenu can't grow hair on his head, but a hairweave can approximate it for John Travolta. In 'netting' a thin, breathable net (similar to illusion tulle) is interwoven with the existing hair and supplemented with extensions. Even without the extreme closeup, his graying sideburns give it away. Other technologies include bonding, tracking, fusion, clip ons. Let's just say HairClub for Men has come a long way in the last 30 years.

Any number of female stars have experimented with these alternative methods for adding fullness and length to existing hair. Here's a whole webpage devoted to Paris Hilton's fake hair escapades! Sometimes, the look is less than successful, as displayed here on Britney Spear's head.

The permanent solutions involve cosmetic transplant of hair from one part of the scalp to another (here's a good journal article). The most up-to-date involves a surgical office procedure that harvest hair from the back or sides where it is thick and transplanting it in the thinning front regions. Using a local anesthetic, mini grafts of just a few or single follicles are used in place of the 'doll plug' punch grafts of yore. Four or more sessions, three months apart are usually required. Rob Schneider exhibited classic male pattern baldness pre-2005: hair receding from the lateral sides of his forehead and a thinning patch on the vertex (top). He's had some really nice hair transplant work. Less skillful is the work Ben Affleck has had done.

The unintended loss of one's locks is generally more disturbing for women than men. Sudden diffuse hair loss, telogen effluvium, is caused by an interruption in the normal hair growth cycle. A greater than normal number of hair folicles enter the rest stage (telogen) at all once, instead of in sequence. It takes another 3 months for the affected folicles to move into the growth state (anagen). It's at this point that the new hairs force out the old hairs and profuse shedding occurs. It has a myriad of traumatic causes: chemotherapy, childbirth, puberty, major surgery, chronic illness, severe emotional or physical stress. Usually the mechanism is a temporary disruption of hormonal balance.

Taking away a woman's hair can be a form of punishment. In ancient Greece it signified an enslaved woman. In France during WWII it marked collaboration with the Nazis. Even today it's used in US prisons. Then there are the women who chose to go bald. Sigourney Weaver may have been first with Alien 3. Demi Moore took it all off for G. I. Jane as did Natalie Portman for V for Vendetta. While praised for her unique voice and original songs, Sinead O'Connor is also noted for her expression of anger. When Britney Spears shaved her head, it triggered institutionalization in a treatment center.

Most Americans see a healthy bald woman and assume she’s a lesbian, radical feminist, political extremist or understudy for an alien role ala Star Trek. The sight of a woman’s bare scalp still makes society’s hair stand on end.

Beauty and sexuality remain tied to a woman’s hair. Natalie Portman said post V haircut: "It was kind of wonderful to throw vanity away for a bit."

Here are those tunes you heard on the broadcast:

Original Broadway Cast - Hairspray - Original Broadway Cast Recording - (It's) Hairspray

The Cowsills - 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of The Cowsills - Hair

Hear Anne live on the Kevyn Burger show 10:00 to 11:00am Thursdays featuring Knifestyles of the Rich & Famous.


Courtney said...

I had never heard of the weave deal thing that John had. When I opened the photo I could see it clearly. My gosh! Why not just do the hair transplant thing?

ANNE said...

It's a mystery. Maybe he doesn't want to invest the downtime after the sessions or his remaining hair is too sparse to harvest. The results can be really spectacular for moderately balding men like Travolta. Check out the leading specialist in the Twin Cities:

Big Micky said... my experience real women like real men (and vice versa); there is nothing worse than starting to run your fingers through a woman's hair and finding extensions, or weave or even hairspray. And there is nothing nicer than a woman stroking my bald head and telling me she can't resist it..... It's one thing to admire the stars from a distance and another entirely to get up close and personal and find that the pieces don't move quite as they should.

(And Anne, I will never eat Chinese hair again.)

ANNE said...

Nibbling on those imported extensions could be a problem.

Pius Mulvey said...

A female friend recently had hair extensions costing close to $2,000.
I noticed a new length to her hair and commented to others not knowing she had the work done. It looked great.
How long before these expensive pieces droop or become noticeable?
What about hair washing or hair dryers? Does sun exposure change the "scene"?
And lastly,why can't men indulge themselves --what's good for the goose...

ANNE said...

The price of hair extensions depends on location, the experience of the stylist, the quality of hair (synthetic, processed, virgin, etc.), and the application method. By 6-8 weeks your own hair may have grown by 1.5 inches - the weft or strands will have to be removed and reattached closer to the scalp. These "maintenance" visits extend the life of the hairdo, but not indefinitely. Hair washing and styling go on, but with certain precautions. Men can (and do) indulge in this, but you've got to have a head of hair to which one can attach the strands or wefts. It just happens that healthy bald men have their own charm.

Anonymous said...

Really interesting article on Head full of hair. Your description is really nice. For getting a head with full of hair we need to seal all the possible hair loss causes in men and women from the beginning. Good diet, regular exercise and tension free life can also help a lot for healthy and head full of hair.