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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Save your crowning glory

When your hair starts to go, the doctor is your best bet to get it back.
The Straits Times - June 16, 2011
By: Chia Hui Jun
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Save your crowning glory Only about a fifth of men suffering from hair loss seek help from a doctor. -- PHOTO: EILEEN TAN SKIN, LASER AND HAIR TRANSPLANT CLINIC

Many men here who are losing their hair turn to products that do not work rather than effective and scientifically proven treatments. A study conducted online last November of 215 Singapore men found 64 per cent turned to shampoos that claimed to promote hair growth and 38 per cent tried vitamins and health food. Only 19 per cent saw a doctor.

Altogether, 1,057 men from India, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan between 20 and 40 years old who had male pattern hair loss were polled in the survey commissioned by pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp & Dohme.

Male pattern hair loss, or androgenetic alopecia, is caused by dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a male hormone that shrinks hair follicles until they no longer produce visible hair. The levels of the hormone are higher in men who are genetically disposed to male pattern hair loss.

Such hair loss can begin in the 20s and 30s, and half of all men will experience it by the age of 50. Men should seek medical attention if they have male pattern hair loss. Shampoos, vitamins and health food do not work, said Dr Cheong Wai Kwong, a senior consultant dermatologist who practises in a clinic in Orchard Building.

He said men may be unaware that hair loss can be treated, or think that medical treatment would be costly.

In the early stages, hair loss is treated either with minoxidil, a topical lotion, or finasteride, an oral medication. Minoxidil is the only lotion for countering hair loss that can be bought over the counter.

When applied to the scalp twice a day, it increases blood supply to the scalp and enhances circulation, thereby reducing hair loss and stimulating hair regrowth. It costs $100 for a month's supply.

One can also take 1mg of finasteride daily, a drug that has to be prescribed by a doctor. A month's supply costs $95.

This drug blocks the conversion of testosterone to DHT and reverses the shrinking of hair follicles. It slows down hair loss in 60 to 70 per cent of patients, and 50 to 60 per cent experience hair growth, said Dr Lim Kar Seng, a dermatologist who practises at Parkway East and Gleneagles medical centres and Paragon.

In severe cases, when most of the hair is gone and the scalp is exposed, surgical methods such as hair transplants can be used.

A strip of the back of the scalp, which is not affected by hair loss, is removed, cut into pieces and transplanted to the front of the scalp. Sustained medication is required to maintain the growth of hair on the transplanted scalp, said Dr Cheong.

A former sufferer of hair loss, Mr Harry Teo, did not think his noticeably receding hairline was a problem when he was 19.

It dawned upon him only a few years later when he realised that his fringe was thinning and his hair had less volume.

'One or two people made comments but I didn't take them seriously. It was only when my hairstylist told me that my hair was thinning that I decided to do something,' he said.

By then, the hair on the sides of his head was falling and his hairline had receded further.

Hair tonics that his mother bought at hair salons did not help.

Mr Teo saw a dermatologist last June and was put on finasteride.

Now 28 and a tuition teacher, Mr Teo said his hair loss slowed down after three months of using finasteride and his hair began to grow back in the next nine months.

He said: 'I feel more secure and confident now. Even though I won't tell people about my condition, I will encourage those with hair loss to see a doctor. Most other hair treatment methods are often disappointing and a waste of time and money.'

TIPS: Minimising hair loss

Everyone loses up to 100 strands of hair every day, as part of the normal growth cycle of hair.

During times of stress and illness, both men and women can lose up to 200 strands of hair, in a dramatic but reversible process known as telogen effluvium.

Adequate rest and good nutrition minimise hair loss, said Dr Lim Kar Seng, a consultant dermatologist who practises at Parkway East and Gleneagles medical centres and a clinic in Paragon.

Choosing the right shampoo and conditioner helps to make hair more manageable and minimises damage from washing, said Dr Cheong Wai Kwong, a senior consultant dermatologist who practises in a clinic in Orchard Building.

People should not use shampoos that are too harsh for their scalps. For example, those with sensitive scalps should not use shampoos for oily scalps, said Dr Lim. Dr Cheong said people should use shampoos with laureth sulphate as this substance cleanses hair well but leaves it in good condition.

Women should also avoid tying their hair too tightly to prevent unnecessary hair loss.



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