Think about hair-loss treatments and you probably think of Shane Warne’s cheesy TV ads, or picture your ageing uncle wearing his not-so-subtle toupee.
It’s an industry that has been mocked and plagued by doubt – and then there’s the bad press. The Advertising Standards Authority ruled those Warne ads were misleading, for instance, while the infamous spray-on hair, as seen on late-night infomercials, made a Time magazine list of The 50 Worst Inventions. As Time’s Dan Fletcher wrote, “Cheese, Spam, sardines – nothing really good has ever come from
But treatments for hair loss have changed a lot since those days – and so have the people seeking them out. Today, the majority of patients looking to beat hair loss are in their 30s, followed by those in their 40s and 20s. The number of females on the list has steadily increased over the last ten years, too. According to the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery, women now represent 40 per cent of non-surgical patients and 15 per cent of surgical patients.
“Women never really go bald like men do, but they do thin on top,” says Medical Hair Restoration Australia trichologist Kate Dawes. “With the vast majority of men, it’s male pattern baldness, but with women there are so many other causes.”
As a trichologist – a hair and scalp specialist who diagnoses the causes of hair loss – Kate has seen female hair loss caused by genetic alopecia, medications (including progesterone-based contraceptive pills), eating disorders, menopause and pregnancy hormones, body-building supplements, and hectic routines.
“I see a lot of young women in their 20s,” says Kate, “because the lifestyle we have today – the poor diet and stress – isn’t conducive to healthy hair. Women tend to diet a lot, so they’re nice and skinny, but their hair is the first thing that suffers.
“When we’re nutritionally deficient, whether it’s iron, magnesium or vitamin D, the body will minimise how much blood it sends to the scalp, because it’s required for the vital organs. So your hair gets starved and starts to fall out.”
The range of treatments available for women is varied, and depends on the cause of the hair loss. It can be as simple as an amino-acid shake, which Kate says has been highly successful on patients as diverse as a nine-year-old boy who suffered from the hair-pulling disorder trichotillomania, and a young woman whose hair loss affected her so badly she was suicidal.
“Psychologically it can be really devastating for some people,” Kate says. “I’ve had men in tears in my office because they’re losing hair.”
As a result, the market for hair transplants around the world is huge: it accounted for more than $3 billion last year, reflecting an increase of almost one third since 2012. That’s a figure that doesn’t even include the plethora of non-surgical remedies out there, including topical solutions, laser therapy and scalp micropigmentation, which Kate says has become very popular in Australia.
Micropigmentation is a cosmetic tattoo inked onto a bald scalp to create the appearance of a shaved head of hair, or make thin hair appear fuller.
“It’s new to Australia but clients are amazed by it,” says Vinci Hair Clinic Perth director, Alex Howarth. Patients at his Subiaco clinic are mostly males in their late 20s to 40s, but have been as young as 18 and as old as 70.
“We have different shades of pigment we use, so we can draw on the hairline to make it age-appropriate,” he says. “You don’t want a 70-year-old with a 22-year-old’s hairline.”
The treatment costs $6500 (or less, depending on how much hair you have) and usually consists of three tattooing sessions. After each session, you can be back at work the following day.
That might seem like a lot of money but Alex, who opened the Subiaco clinic after having the treatment done himself in London, says it’s a simple solution that’s replacing other treatments. “We had one guy who spent $40,000 over four years on two hair transplants and pigmentation done in another clinic,” he says. “You have to be careful about who you go to.”
While she didn’t want to ‘name names’, Kate agrees consumers should be careful because “there’s a lot of shifty people out
for a dollar”. “You have the medical side, with doctors and trichologists, then hair-loss clinics, where you get signed up for contracts, and then really bad ones,” she says.
“A guy in Melbourne claimed to be taking patients’ samples to send back to America to be cloned. They were paying $5000 or $6000 then getting a cheap Chinese rug that was definitely not cloned. We’re
not at that level yet.”
For those with less up top than they’d like, Kate advises visiting a GP, or looking up the International Association of Trichologists, which can advise on local practitioners.
Alex, who has first-hand knowledge of confronting the issue, says the
road ahead can be challenging, but rewarding. “It can be a vanity thing, but it’s also a confidence thing,” he says. “It’s life-changing.”