Those who are desperate to slow down the hair loss process have probably tried every method under the sun, from scalp treatments to handfuls of daily supplements. But do these complicated and often expensive treatments actually offer any benefits? Well, with 70 per cent of men experiencing some kind of thinning by the age of 50 – it’s time to fact check these so-called solutions and finally get to the bottom of this very hairy problem.
In an attempt to better understand the complexities of such a prevalent issue, Starts at 60 spoke to Dr Russell Knudsen, Australian hair transplant surgeon and founder of Australia’s leading hair loss treatment service, The Knudsen Clinic, about the most common myths surrounding hair loss in every day Australians.
Before looking at hair loss, Dr Knudsen says people first have to wrap their heads around the natural cycle of hair growth which involves growing, shedding and then regrowing. This cyclical growth period varies from person to person from around three years, which evens out to be about 100 hairs per day, to five years which is about 50 hairs per day. This determines your natural shedding rate, which some often mistake for hair loss.
Dr Knudsen says recognising the difference between these two concepts is majorly important for anyone worrying about hair loss, adding: “Hair loss and hair shedding are two different things. Loss of hair means there’s less hairs growing back normal. Shedding means the normal cycle, which is a random process of hairs falling out and three months later growing again for another three, four or five years. The cycle is determined by your genes.”
Shedding can also be seasonal according to Dr Knudsen who says mid to late summer is the most common time of year for the most complaints about increased shedding to occur. He adds: “What that means is that the temperature warms up, the scalp warms up, the body supply warms up and the hairs are hanging around longer than they usually would and eventually they have to fall out so you get this big shed around mid to late summer.”
The short answer is no. Dr Knudsen is determined to debunk this commonly shared myth that an increased or decreased washing routine will affect your hair’s growth status.
“The frequency of washing or brushing determines how much shedding you notice but none of this impacts ability of the hair to grow,” he says. “So if you wash your hair once a week, you’re going to lose a week’s worth of hair – if you wash your hair once a day you’re going to lose a day’s worth of hair. At the end of the week it’s the same number. So washing does not increase shedding rates and does not increase hair loss.”
The same can be said for hair scrubs and oils which Dr Knudsen says is a lot of “marketing hype”. And while they do succeed in making your hair shiny and easier to manage, they actually do nothing to promote healthy growth. This even includes the popular concept of rubbing coffee grinds into your scalp as a natural stimulant.
Meanwhile, those who often wear hats and helmets no longer have to worry as the doctor assured it has absolutely no impact on the rate of hair loss. But he did suggest people stop shaving their heads in an effort to grow their hair back stronger as this is also completely false.
The only thing shaving your head will be successful in doing is giving you back a new head of hair with much less environmental damage from external forces such as sun, wind and heat.
When it comes to dietary supplements and vitamins, the professionals recommend you save your money and just stick to a healthy diet instead. Dr Knudsen adds: “Are things like zinc, vitamin H, vitamin D and vitamin B all essential for hair growth? Yes, they are. Is supplementing them required? Probably not. At the end of the day you just need to eat healthy and you’re probably supplying more than enough of the vitamins and minerals that you need in your scalp to keep your hairs going as well as they can.”
While most of the time, hair loss is genetic and essentially unavoidable, it can also be linked to other causes – one of which is natural ageing. For men, their mid-20s begin to see a decline in their total number of scalp hairs while for women this process generally begins in their mid-40s, which is also due to the impending hormone change that comes hand-in-hand with menopause.
Unfortunately there are not many solutions to hair loss, however one of the most successful and least invasive is hair transplant surgery. These procedures are quickly growing in popularity due to their easy recovery process, minimal scarring and over 90 per cent guaranteed success rate.
The hairs in the lower scalp are genetically different to the hairs on the upper scalp due to a specific enzyme that makes them more balding resistant. So to solve balding on the top of the head, hairs from the lower scalp are carefully cut out and transferred to the problem areas. And because they are coming from the same tissue, the immune system allows it to regrow – hence the guaranteed success rate.
The downside to the surgery is some mild discomfort afterwards which can be controlled with pain killers and some minimal scarring on the back of the head which, if the surgery is done one hair grouping at a time, will turn out to be a scattering of small dot scars. However when it comes to facial hair, Dr Knudsen says the hair loss process is slightly different.
“Eyebrow thinning is usually a mechanical thing. There’s a little bit of age in it so we think that’s to do with growth hormones. For example, it’s not uncommon in women from the age of 50 on for their eyebrows to become somewhat thinner and that’s something to do with the diminishing of the growth hormone so there’s just less stimulation of the hairs,” he says. “So that’s one cause, but most causes of the thinning of the eyebrows is from people over plucking them.”
Facial hair transplants are definitely possible, however not as popular in patients possibly due to the increased grooming that’s required afterwards. The same hair is taken from the lower scalp to replace the missing hairs in eyebrows or beards which means it then grows at the faster rate that it would naturally grow on the head, creating the need for more maintenance in the future.
Myths about stopping hair loss have been circulating for years – for example in ancient Egypt they were encouraged to rub crocodile dung into their scalps to stimulate hair growth. But Dr Knudsen assures people it’s simply better to get the opinion of a professional, adding: “The irony of that is that these myths persist and there’s no scientific basis to it. There’s a lot of myths about hair… These are things we can fool ourselves into believe because you observe something without understanding exactly what’s going on.”
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